When Kirsten Vangsness landed the role of hacker Penelope Garcia in CBS’s Criminal Minds, she was still working multiple day jobs. She was also working in theatre, which she now participates in as a playwright and actor. We talked to her about her career, her bullet journal, and why she likes to wash dishes and wipe down tables at her distillery.
Current gig: Playwright, actress, distillery owner, philanthropist
Current computer: Apple from like a year ago?
Current mobile device: iPhone
One word that best describes how you work: Imperfectly
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I was a starving artist with a bunch of day jobs (working at a nature center, substitute teaching at a public school, working in murder mystery theatre, etc). I auditioned when I could and got an audition for a two-line co-star in a new show. Needless to say, they brought me back and I became a series regular, and that show was Criminal Minds.
CM has been on for 15 seasons and during my time on the show, I have continued to do playwriting and am on the board at Theatre of Note in Los Angeles. I also became a part-owner of Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana with two of my dearest friends in 2016. Basically, I got to where I am today because I said yes to a lot of opportunities!
Take us through a recent workday.
Well yesterday, I got up and worked out, and while I was working out I sent myself text messages and voicemails about ideas that came to my mind. Then, I got “TV dressed” which is different than regular dress, because with regular dress you don’t have to worry about people taking photos of you.
I went to a podcast interview to discuss the two plays I’m taking to Edinburgh Festival Fringe, drove home and made some work calls. I spoke with the producer of my plays and some of the actors to hash out anxieties, and when I got home, I checked emails. I spent some time corresponding via email with a connection from Taiwan who is helping us with distribution for Blinking Owl over there.
I then walked to Theatre of Note for rehearsal, had a stumble-through with the costume designers as the playwright, tried on outfits as an actor, and went to a production meeting. Finally, I returned home, re-wrote some parts for my one-woman show “MESS” and went to bed.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I use voice memos like crazy. I write songs, story ideas, list things I need to talk to people about, etc. My job is basically learning how to be a human being and then writing about it. I can’t live without my journal and bullet journal, which is new to me! I also love stickers and am a proud member of Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Club.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Typically, my workspace is mobile. I generally have a backpack (or two) everywhere I go filled with things I need to get my work done. For example, when I’m learning my lines for Criminal Minds I need many highlighters, and then I sort of pace around. I generally need a big area to spread out on to dump the many contents of my backpack onto said surface. My emotional state is very dependent on whether I have a good work flow or not.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
Delegating! I read this book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and he talks about your zone of genius, competence and incompetence. I have a lot of things in my zone of incompetence, so I felt like this book really spoke to me. It can often take me a really long time to complete a task that it takes some people a shorter time to do, and they’ll do it better. So, I have found solace in hiring these people to do those things. The key is delegating and then customising the projects to fit your own voice and needs.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
I must have three beverages at all times while working. I have one caffeinated drink, one non-caffeinated drink, and water always within an arm’s length.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
My assistant helps me because I brain dump everything that I have going on and she sorts it out and makes it all happen. My publicists keep me on a timeline and come up with ideas I wouldn’t usually come up with myself. My manager and business manager keep me in check for regular life stuff because otherwise I’d be in a homemade blanket fort. All these wonderful people peek their heads into the blanket fort and say, “Hey, Kirsten, here’s what needs to be done.”
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use the Calendars 5 app on my phone, and my bullet journal.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I like to read, make soup, write in my journal, and I love a good dance party.
What’s your favourite side project?
Blinking Owl Distillery. I go in on weekends and bus tables, wash dishes and just hang out and take in everyone enjoying themselves.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I’m currently reading a biography of Cleopatra and a book about the female “sexual response” as part of research for the play I’m working on. I highly recommend The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How to not be a mess!