Watch: Meg Heimstead & Shawn Paonessa — Best Theatrical Talent Merger in this year's Best of the Bay — talk to CL's David Warner about why Shawn had to compete with Al Roker when he proposed. Taped during The Loafies, Sept. 19, at Creative Loafing.
The soon-to-be-married Shawn Paonessa and Meg Heimstead had these answers to CL's questions about their relationship:
CL: How and when did you meet?Meg: "Shawn and I knew each other for a few years before we started dating. He actually cast me in a show shortly after I moved here from North Carolina, but the show didn't really 'speak' to me so I turned down the role. We got to know each other a bit better when we did The March of the Kitefliers the first time in 2005. We liked each other but the timing wasn't right. Shawn asked me out for the first time on closing night of the second Kitefliers production in 2007. He was so sweet about it! We had just finished strike and he told me that he wanted to speak to me for a minute privately. I had no idea that he was going to ask me out. I was a bit shocked, and my answer was a bumbled, 'Um…Yeah…Uh…Okay.' It wasn't exactly the response he had hoped for but the rest is history."
When did you get engaged?
Meg: "We got engaged on my birthday, eight months ago. We had been talking about it so it wasn't a complete surprise but I didn't know when he was going to ask. On the morning of my birthday I was sitting in my pajamas watching the Today Show and checking my email. He asked me if I wanted my present now. I told him that I could wait until after work. He told me that it was something that I would really like. He tried for a few minutes to convince me that I really wanted it now. I saw that he was intent on giving it to me right away so I agreed. He got down on one knee and popped the question. I was so excited! I said yes right away. I kept hugging and kissing him [so] that I didn't pay a lot of attention to the ring that he had designed himself. He had to stop me for a moment and get me to focus on the ring. I never expected to get engaged in my PJ's but that's how it happened and I wouldn't change a thing."
What drew you to one another?
Meg: "I was immediately drawn to his sense of humor. He is soooo funny! He would always make me laugh backstage. He still makes me laugh on a daily basis. Shawn is also so smart and well read. I love that. He likes a lot of the same things that I like; music, art, travel, books. I also respected him (still do) as an actor, writer and director. I admired his work and thought that he had great creative impulses. I have always thought that I was a bit weird and silly and he totally appreciates that about me. Other men that I have dated thought that I was too weird. Shawn has always liked me just the way I am.
…"For many years I swore off dating actors. I felt like they were either too unstable or I worried that we would be too competitive with each other. I wanted to have a work/life separation. But all of those relationships didn't work out because they couldn't understand my career. They resented the long hours that I would put in. Many of them hadn't been to see a play in years. They just didn't get it. Shawn totally understands why I do what I do because he does it too. I sometimes work seven days a week. I work nights and also bring a lot of work home with me. So does he. We understand that what we do is fueled by love and a great compulsion to create. It is wonderful to have a partner that respects and supports who you are and what you do. I can't imagine spending my life with anyone else."
Shawn: "For me, I think it was a combination of Meg's senses of humor and fun with her work ethic and common sense. Like her, I was sworn off actors, because… well, they're almost all crazy. Actually, we're all mentally deranged; it's just a matter of degree. Meg and my versions of crazy border about as close to normal as possible, so the chemistry started there. That, and a lot of serendipitous commonalities: what we do, art, photography, music – it all just fit.
"…It works surprisingly well. Like Meg said, there's a mutual understanding of our schedules, and that goes a long way. Because we work in the same field and know so many of the same people, but don't work at the same companies, we can bounce a lot of ideas and projects off each other. There's no metric for creative success, so you have a lot of 'Am I deluded, or does this work or not work?' moments. To have someone you can trust with a fresh set of eyes/ears is really invaluable. We have very similar standards and tastes, and a lot of complimentary experiences. We're very good constructive critics."
How do you help each other with your respective work in the theater — with writing, acting, company-founding, etc.?
Meg: "Shawn helps me all of the time. He just finished the sound design for the American Stage School Tour show that I am directing. He proofreads grants and play guides that I write. He runs lines with me and also helps with my audition pieces. He is a great sounding board for ideas, and he gives helpful advice about managing people. We compare notes about challenges that he has had with Jobsite and that I have had with A Simple Theatre or American Stage."
Will you be working on any projects together in coming months?
Meg: "The biggest project that we will be working on next is our wedding. It's now just over three months away and there is so much to do! I have cleared my fall schedule of shows so that I can focus on planning. Our wedding is what this year is all about for us. I did a lot of shows these past few years and I told Shawn that this year I would slow down a bit and focus on us."
"I would love to act in a play with him again. We haven't been onstage together since Kitefliers. However, when both of us are in a show at the same time, managing regular life gets difficult. It's easier if we take turns. I am also waiting for the day that he and Neil write a part for me in one of their films. But the truth is that we work together all of the time in little ways. I couldn't do my job at American Stage or with A Simple Theatre without his support and wise advice."
Shawn: "The wedding is a pretty big production. Shy of that, I don't know when I'll be on stage next. I miss performing immensely, but I'm devoted pretty heavily to getting Kitefliers off the ground. I'm sure it'll happen again one day, but nothing's set in the foreseeable future."