The Acting Mom Karissa Barber
By Brenda Eggert Brader
She’s an actress, singer, wife and mother, writer and ‘influencer’ on Instagram. But she is so much more.
Actress Karissa Barber exudes emotion, shares lots of character for her craft and slides energy into a role as she performs on stage or before a camera, easily sliding back into her life as wife to her husband, Craig, and mother to their four children. Turning to writing as what she calls an “influencer,” Barber stresses her environmental concerns. She also adds to her lifestyle as a student working on Montessori certification while working full-time at a Montessori school. The actress is one busy young woman.
Barber, 33, has applied her talents on stage and film since she was in high school, college and after graduation. She has found herself in operas and in many a musical. Karissa performed in “La Boheme” with the Opera Tampa at the Straz Center, as Maria in “Sound of Music,” Fantine in “Les Miserables,” Kate Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” and Winifred Banks in the Florida premiere of “Mary Poppins.”
“I do acting because it feels like it fits me like a glove,” Barber says. “Not that I am the best performer, but the way my brain works fits. I am a storyteller so theater works for me. I find stories that excite me and I will feel I need a part to tell that. My goals are just to continue to find it.”
During the 2015 Christmas season, she was Doris Walker in the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” while adding singing and dancing to another part as Heather Stovall, dressed in a crop top and pushing around a 19,000-pound truck in “Hands on a Hardbody” with TheatreWorks Florida. Her most recent performance has been “Silent Sky” written by Playwright Lauren Gunderson.
“I know Karissa from the play ‘Silent Sky,’” says Emilia Sargent, equity actress. “We were cast as sisters at Tampa Repertory Theater and worked together April to May in 2016. During that short time, I learned that Karissa is a consummate professional, always early, prepared, and ready to work. She is a wonderfully attentive listener onstage, giving her fellow actors all she has. She is a delight as a person to work with. We became very close during the production and I believe that fostered the sisterly relationship on stage. She brings an incredible energy to an ensemble, which is a gift to the others she works with.”
Although the actress represents herself in obtaining theater roles, she has an agent for film, television and commercial work.
“She (agent) will send me a booking she thinks I am right for or if it is something I would be interested in,” Barber says. “She tells me the story, and what I will make, how much time it takes – it’s all viable and having the agent is flexible. Unfortunately, Florida has not renewed the tax break to the film industry so many of the companies I used to work for have moved operations to Atlanta. I do not go out of the area and most of my work now is theater.”
Since she isn’t an equity actor, there is a lot of work for her in the Tampa and surrounding areas in theater, Barber adds.
Mark Hatfield, director and actor, says Karissa Barber became a good friend while working with him cast in a production of “Kiss Me Kate.”
“But it was really during ‘The Sound of Music’ where we were cast as Maria and Capt. Von Trapp that we became friends,” Hatfield adds. “Karissa approaches her performance as a trained professional, so with actors in general she is open and friendly, but professional and hard working. In some cases, based on the number of shows and time, she becomes friends with fellow actors socially, but always works hard in rehearsal and performance. She is a very giving actress, which is to say, she works to make it a better experience for everyone involved.
Easy to direct because of her skill, Hatfield chuckles, “that I will be honest and say that since we both know each other so well that can be both good and bad. Good in that I know what to expect from her as an actress and can ask more, ask her to stretch. Bad, because sometimes it is hard to stay focused on work and not have too much fun.”
Hatfield pays her many a compliment saying “she has a beautiful speaking and singing voice, good presence and physical movement, understands how to find the character from the text and translate that into action and she understands storytelling and her place in the story as an actress.”
Last year she was spending full-time in acting theater in the evening, but this year she decided to take a bit of a break from acting and writing, but still doing professional theater.
“I am a full-time assistant to a Montessori classroom and having the opportunity to be mentored and also take classes to get the Montessori classification. In Polk County there are three public charter Montessori schools which is really exciting,” Barber says. “Three of our children go to the Magnolia Montessori and my husband has been an educator for 13 years and my oldest is with him at his school.”
She has performed a lot in Winter Garden at the Garden Theater last year, Barber says.
“It takes me one and a half hours to drive there from Lakeland. I would drive for rehearsals and drive back and forth for four to six weeks of rehearsal and usually about four weekends of performances with local theaters, Wednesday through Sunday and sometimes you have doubles on Saturday and Sunday.
“My husband was on kid duty,” Barber says. “He is really the only way that life can work. My husband is so supportive of my dreams and my career that whenever my life gets really busy he does laundry and dishes and puts the kids to bed. He is special.”
“Living with an actress is an adventure,” Craig Barber says. “There aren’t necessarily any funny tales that stick out, but our usual day-to-day lives are a bit more ‘musical theater’ than most. We’ll frequently break out into impromptu songs about whatever happens to be happening at the time. I always make it a point to remind her that I’m supportive of her and her goals.”
He shares that he loves being a dad and hanging out with his children is “a blast, lots of hard work of course, but very rewarding.”
The Barbers have four children, the oldest is a biological son age 8 and their only daughter will be age 7 at Christmas. Two adopted sons from Uganda have recently turned age 5 a few weeks apart.
“They are stepping stones with each other,” she says. “They get along pretty well and all play on the trampoline and are tree climbers and love to play in trees. We are a digital-free family (not watching much TV) so the kids spend a lot of time reading and doing things together as a family, especially outdoors. The family has been all together four years in November.”
Barber says she and her husband, Craig, decided to adopt because it was something she always wanted to do.
“When I worked in Romanian orphanages every summer in Germany, it broke my heart to see these children without family,” she says of the experience she had as a high school student residing in Germany with her military family.
When she and Craig had children both were emergency Caesarean sections and wanting more family they decided to adopt.
Barber says she and her husband’s goals for the future of family is “to be a mentor for children out of foster care and that is where we see our future going for increased family.”
Barber’s other love is writing, once for a blog, now moving on to writing her own play, she is using Instagram.com/theactingmom where she shares dealing with mother topics and her passion of sustainable fashion that is her desire to purchase clothing and jewelry where artisans are paid fair wages or the profits go to a good cause.
“I have over 3,000 followers in Instagram because I try to highlight companies that preserve the earth, that have a story to tell and treat workers fairly. It is an important part of me where my clothes come from,” Barber says.
And now she says it is time to get back to vocal training or acting exercises and writing that all had needed a break.
As Craig Barber takes over kid duty when the next performance comes his wife’s way, he will send her off with a chipper ‘break a leg’ or ‘have fun tonight’ and “I always make sure to send her off with a lovely bouquet of flowers,” he concludes.
For more info on Karissa and her adventures visit KarissaBarber.com.