Single-Minded Entrepreneur: Karen Allen

By Paula Santonocito

smw - karen allen, jpegSMW: What do you like most about running a company?

KA: The creative challenge of it: that I am creating my own path, making my own decisions about the kind of business I want to build and run.

SMW: How has owning a successful business changed you?

KA: It has made me experience myself as more self-reliant, more personally empowered to move forward in my life. As an actor I was often waiting for a film or theatre project I was interested in to come along. Often there are projects I love, but the competition for the role is great and then there are roles that are offered to me but don’t fascinate me enough to say yes, so it’s a waiting game and sometimes the wait can seem long. I love that in my work in design every day I am involved in doing something that fascinates me and there is no force outside of me that will prevent or allow my engagement with it. That’s freedom.

SMW: Your work as a designer is highly creative, as is acting. In what ways are they similar, and in what ways are they different?

KA: Acting is a very collaborative art, both in the theatre and in film. You can’t really act in a room on your own. You do a lot of preparation for a role on your own but the work itself is a collaboration. As a designer, at this point because my company is small, I have had the opportunity to work a great deal on my own and am finding that very satisfying. I achieve a kind of inspiration and excitement in the solitude of my studio. I love the emptiness, the quiet, the fact that I am relying solely on my own imagination to begin work each day. For me that creates another kind of thrill. I am someone who seems to need both of these creative experiences to feel whole and satisfied. I love to collaborate with other people, but I need sometimes to rely completely on myself.

SMW: Although you’re a very hands-on business owner, you continue to act, and you also teach. Is it important to you to have a varied professional life?

KA: Yes, very important I think. After so many years of working as an actor, it would be difficult for me to walk away from it entirely. I am about to start a film now and am very much looking forward to the collaboration with the director and actors and to working with what I think is a beautiful script. It’s a deep passion of mine, both as an actor and a director. I have begun directing in the theatre in the last four or five years and that has also been very satisfying creatively. Teaching is something I will continue to do whenever I can. It’s such a commitment that I have to take a break from it from time to time, but I love working with young actors and hope I will continue to do it the rest of my life.

SMW: A lot of single women, who are their sole source of income, find it difficult to deviate from a successful career path, even though they might have other interests or a strong calling in another field. Do you have any advice for them?

KA: Well, I think that if there is an opportunity to do what you love for a living, that is something worthy of trying to achieve. Where there is a will there is often a way, although it is more difficult to do when you are simultaneously raising children and have all the financial responsibilities on your plate. I felt I had no choice. I had to make a shift at a certain point because my profession became incompatible with parenting.

Someone said to me recently “Find what you love to do for a living and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” That’s of course simplistic, but I like the spirit of it and in essence it’s true. I remember the time when I had fallen in love with studying acting and working in the theatre and almost everyone I knew was trying to talk me out of pursuing it because it was in their minds such a risky choice to make. No one I knew growing up was an actor. I’d never met a professional actor at that time in my life, when I was in my early 20s and living in Washington, D.C. Sometimes we just know things about who we are and what we need to do and I think it is important to listen to that voice inside regardless of how improbable something might seem.

Karen Allen, actress, director, instructor, and entrepreneur, is founder of Karen Allen Fiber Arts, a company that designs and makes knitwear.


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