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Inspiring Alumna Shares Journey From West Side to Hollywood

Iman Zafar, Reporter

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       As a high school student, the uncertainties of what your future will look like are always there, while dreams and aspirations always remain. A West Springfield High School 1988 alumnae, actress and director, Kimberly (Quinn) Melfi visited the school this holiday season. Quinn came to watch the play “Peter and the Starcatcher” and spent time interacting with the cast and crew members, telling her story and offering advice for aspiring actors.

       Kimberly Quinn didn’t really know what was beyond high school during her teen years. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so my aspirations for going away to college weren’t really a conversation during high school,” she recalled. Right after high school, Quinn studied marketing at the Springfield Technical Community College for two years, but moved to New York, after a modeling trip with a local agency.

       After commuting to the city, staying five days a week, and returning home on the weekends, Quinn finally landed a acting job for a commercial which convinced her to move to Los Angeles, California. There, she quit modeling and started taking acting classes. “I was so scared to act that I didn’t get up on stage for two years. I went to two different acting schools and observed. One day, I did a scene in acting class, and then I thought, ‘wow, I can do this.’ I had a feeling and just knew. So, I said ,’let’s go to Hollywood.”

       After moving to Los Angeles, Quinn went through her fair share of struggles trying to land roles. “It was terrible. I didn’t know anyone there. I was praying, crying for a sign.” Her opportunity came when she landed a role on the show Partners. After getting her first role on the comedy sitcom, Quinn said, “I was labeled as the ‘funny girl’, I kind of had to breakout from that because they wouldn’t let you audition for anything serious. If you were a comedy actress, you couldn’t audition for a dramatic role. I rebelled against that and went off and made a little independent movie with my now husband Theodore Melfi, called Winding Roads.”

       Quinn has continuously worked to expand her craft and pursue work that would enhance her abilities. Producing was an unexpected but essential next step, even though she still wanted to continue acting. Quinn knew that she needed to produce to expand her skills. “I had to learn how to write and how to produce which meant being able to develop a script from beginning to end. I just wanted to be an actress but learned that if you’re not ambitious, and if you’re not creating your own content then you’re always at the whim of someone else. I was waiting for a lot of different opportunities, and I realized I had to create my own stuff, or I’d be stuck.”

       Quinn’s journey into producing eventually brought along one of her biggest projects with her husband Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures. Hidden Figures is the untold story of three extraordinary African American women in NASA, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson who act as the ‘computers’ at NASA. They served as the brains who figured out the mathematics in order to successfully launch John Glenn, the first American astronaut, to orbit Earth, into space. It tells the story of how their work helped to advance the role of the United States in the Space Race. The Space Race was a competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union and the United States, to gain supremacy in spaceflight capability. The film highlights the struggles of the women working to cross racial, gender, and professional lines and to be recognized for their contribution to history.

Kimberly (Quinn) Melfi, Class of 1988

       The inspiration for the film came when her husband read the story for the first time. “Ted got the transcript of the book and started reading it. We immediately, ‘thought what is this? Why does no one know about this?’ And that’s why we wanted to make it.” Melfi produced the film, which involved helping create and develop the story and the characters with her husband. “I always considered myself a writer. We are always a team effort,” she said.

       Along with developing the film, Kimberly Quinn also played a character named Ruth in the movie, who was a secretary in the NASA office. “The perception of the character verses how I prepared for her was very interesting. Ruth had a job to do; from an actor’s point of view, she was in a room full of men in the 1950s, when that was very uncommon for a woman. She needed to run that office and do it in an intelligent, proficient manner. She wouldn’t cause any trouble or be discriminatory.” Hidden Figures went on to be the the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee at the 89th Academy Awards. The movie grossed $169.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $66.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide gross of $235.9 million, against a production budget of $25 million. With a tremendously positive critical response, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 255 reviews. Quinn’s intention with the movie was to just tell an important story. “You make this movie and think about how this movie takes place right in the middle of change for women of color. We knew that it was an important story, and we wanted to tell it, the big mind blowing thing was seeing that it was going to be in schools. We didn’t think it was going to be that big but that really started to shift when Pharrell (Williams) signed on to do the music, that’s when we knew something was happening,” Quinn remembered.

       The three lead characters in the movie were played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Quinn enjoyed and was truly inspired by working with them. “The women were fantastic. They had a sisterhood about them that was unbreakable. Their acting ability and their way of bringing the characters to life that, honestly, is what completes the movie. If we had different actors who didn’t have the chemistry these women had, this would be a much different movie.” Hidden Figures is one of the highlights of Quinn’s career.

       Quinn attributes her success in acting and producing to many factors including attitude and passion. I stay motivated by believing in creativity. I expanded myself into writing, producing, directing and acting. Painting, dancing and staying excited in the field that you’re in is important. You have to keep feeding yourself in all areas.[/pullquote]” A West Springfield High School graduate, Kimberly (Quinn) Melfi continues to have impressive achievements by passionately performing and supporting projects that she believes in. Always working on her craft to create a meaningful impact on her audience, Quinn shows the importance of being persistent, creative and following your dreams.

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Inspiring Alumna Shares Journey From West Side to Hollywood