Peggy Barnell, a former Wells County resident, now lives in North Carolina. She is a playwright, as well as an actress who recently made a cameo appearance in a new Tyler Perry movie.
“I was a late bloomer in many ways,” said Wells County native Peggy Barnell. “I spent years hiding who I was.”
Barnell will be familiar to many Ossian residents as a former religious columnist for the Ossian Journal. She is the author of plays that have been produced in Wells County and served as Director of Drama for Voices of Power, a local teen performing arts ministry.
Barnell also participated as an actress with several Wells Community Theatre productions, including “The Music Man”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and “Annie”, as well as The Pulse Theatre in Warren, First Presbyterian Church; and Arena Dinner Theater in Fort Wayne.
Today, Barnell lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Barnell’s theatrical talents have caused her to be cast on the silver screen in an upcoming film starring several of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Perhaps even more importantly to Barnell, her writing talents will lead her back to Indiana for a special event scheduled for October 2010.
Strangely, Barnell’s chosen profession is neither writing nor acting. Barnell, a Bluffton High School graduate, attended Ivy Tech’s School of Nursing where she earned a degree as a Licensed Practical Nurse. After working at Caylor Nickel Clinic for 13 years and local nursing homes, she accepted a position with the medical staff at Fort Wayne Orthopedics.
Growing up, Barnell didn’t plan to work in the medical profession. She recalled having a ‘Cinderella glass slipper’ theory. “I could imitate all kinds of voices and act out dozens of characters,” she said. “I wanted to be the next Carol Burnett on stage.”
After putting aside her acting tendencies for many years, Barnell’s life changed when she became a Christian at age 28. She considers this part of her existence her “late bloomer” period. “Life had gotten in the way of my natural gifts of storytelling,” she said. “After I gave God my talents, He helped me blossom.”
At Sonlight Wesleyan Church in Bluffton Barnell participated in the church’s drama ministry. She loved the performing arts, but when she felt God calling her to write a play, Barnell hesitated. “I didn’t think I was a writer,” she said.
She persisted and Barnell’s first full-length play was performed at Sonlight in 1996. The play called “A Place to Call Home” was based on a song Barnell had heard. “Some songs speak to me with messages and I can’t leave them alone,” she said. “The first time I heard someone sing ‘A Place to Call Home’ I knew I would have to do something with it.”
Over the next few years, Barnell wrote eight full-length plays. Though none have been published traditionally, she has made her plays available at an online Christian drama ministry site called http://www.dramatix.org. Through this site, Barnell’s plays have been produced across the US and in other countries, including Spain, South Africa, Jamaica, and Canada. “It’s a blessing to know my ideas are blessing people around the world,” said Barnell.
In January 2009 Barnell moved to Charleston. “I felt God leading me here,” she said. “I don’t have a clear picture of what He wants me to do here,” she said, “but I’m glad to be here for the opportunities He’ll provide.”
She is not waiting sitting idly by waiting for a sign. To hone her acting skills Barnell has joined a professional improvisational acting group that performs skits at corporate functions in the Charleston area. She also is involved with children’s ministry at a local church where she writes skits and she has begun a speaking and drama ministry to Christian singles.
All of those skills came to fruition last summer when Barnell met someone at the hospice facility who helped arrange an audition for her in a film starring comedic actor Tyler Perry.
After auditioning for the role in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Barnell was cast, appropriately enough, as a nurse in a hospital.
Barnell warns that this movie is different in theme from other Tyler Perry movies. “I only know a sliver of the story,” she said, “but it is not a comedy. It is tragic.”
The movie is a series of 20 poems performed by a cast of seven women characters on themes of love, abandonment, and other serious cultural issues. The film is scheduled to be released nationally on November 5, 2010. Tyler Perry bought the theatrical rights and cast several well-known actresses in the main roles: Janet Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopie Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad.
Though Barnell was on the set with all of the actresses at Perry’s studios in Atlanta where the movie was filmed, she did not have the opportunity to meet them.
Though she was paid minimum wage for three days of work, Barnell considers her first experience on a movie set educational. “It was fun learning how things work on a movie set,” she said. “I’d like to do more in the future with other movies, hopefully in a role with dialog.” Barnell says she will not know until the film is released if her character will remain in the hospital scene. “We’ll have to wait and see,” she said.
To add to her resume Barnell has done voice-over work for a TV commercial that will air nationally this fall. “It is for a product called Key Kitty which clips your keys to a purse,” she said. Her latest play, “A Bus to St. Cloud”, will premiere at Sonshine Theater in Indianapolis several weekends in October. Barnell will attempt to travel to the Hoosier capital for the showing.
“I’ve learned to take one step at a time,” said Barnell. “I don’t like stepping into thin air, but God is there to meet me and He is faithful.”
Previously published in the Ossian Sun Riser; reprinted with permission