Trish Harnetiaux could only laugh when a friend she hadn’t seen in years came to a stop outside her window seat at a downtown Spokane coffee shop to mouth, “Trish Harnetiaux, is that you?”
That just doesn’t happen in Brooklyn, and Harnetiaux, 36, who hasn’t lived in Spokane since graduating from Lewis and Clark in 1993, is definitely a New Yorker.
“Only in the last couple years could I see myself leaving New York, but only for (the right job),” Harnetiaux said during that January visit. “I did my pioneering there, my training. I’ve carved out a good niche.”
What exactly that niche is takes some explaining for the former Tigers soccer captain and basketball player.
“There are two sides to it,” she said. “There’s what I do professionally as a writer, and then what pays the bills in New York.”
Professionally, she is a playwright now branching into films. She was home for the Spokane International Film Festival and the premier of “You Should Be A Better Friend.” More on all of that later.
What pays the bills is her work in public relations and consultant work in the magazine industry, which morphed out of an early job with GQ magazine when she moved to New York early in 1999.
“I was accidentally good at what I did in the world of the magazines,” Harnetiaux said. “It was kind of a natural companion to what I did in theater, writing, how you create a show. There’s the same skill set. It has more to do dealing with people and how to get things done.”
But writing is her thing, which is natural for the daughter of local playwright Bryan Harnetiaux, who had her on stage in “Gypsy” at age 5, a year before the start of a serious soccer career that included the premier level and four years of high school varsity.
“Growing up I was in all sorts of shows,” she said. “(I wanted) to be an actor like any kid then realized I was awful when I was in college. I didn’t know it until I actually had to do it.
“In college, I started figuring out I was really excited about creating; I was much more interested in being behind the scenes writing. You can hide when you’re behind the scenes. I was a little too self-conscious to be on stage.”
That was at the University of Washington, where Harnetiaux graduated in 1997 with a double major in political science and drama.
“The first couple of years in New York were very hard, awful; a cliché in that way,” she said. “Of course, I was a waitress.
“I knew like three people when I moved to New York. One was an actress that was friends with my father. We met for a cup of coffee, that opened one little door and I met a whole group of people I worked with the next five years.”
Success came fast, and not just because she found that niche in the magazine world. Her first play in New York, “Inside a Bigger Box,” earned high praise from critics 10 years ago.
“I was 26 when I got that review and I very much remember Eric Nightengale, who was a mentor to me and I still work with, saying to me, ‘You’re so lucky. You don’t even realize this might not ever happen to you again.’
“You try to chase that.”
She followed that by earning a Masters of Fine Arts at Brooklyn College and kept pounding out work while slowly branching out.
“For a while I was producing my work as quickly as I was writing it because I have no patience,” Harnetiaux said. “For the last couple of years I’ve been writing and honing; I have two or three projects that are in different stages, that are close to being ready but I’ve spent years on. I haven’t had that feeling before. It’s exciting to me to know the time and effort I’ve put in (is about to pay off).”
The short that premiered in Spokane was written and directed with her boyfriend, Jacob A. Ware. Anthony Arkin, son of Alan, was part of the project that won a silver medal in Spokane.
“It’s been amazing and so fun,” Harnetiaux said. “Coming from a world of theater that it’s gone after you do it to a world of film which you can spend months honing moments. It’s opened a whole new field to get rejected. … I’m kind of excited about that.”
Her newest endeavor is teaching creative writing to women prisoners at Rikers Island under the Prison Education Initiative.
“That was a pretty intense experience but it was wonderful. I’m going to do it again,” she said. “That could open another door.”
Where the time comes from is anyone’s guess.
“We work hard,” Harnetiaux said. “You don’t go to New York to not work hard. … I’ve found some really great people to work with. That’s half the battle. It’s feast or famine in New York.”
She still has time for fun. Her second passion – and it’s obvious she’s a passionate person – is her softball team. Eleven years agao she even helped start the bar league in Brooklyn in which she plays.
She suffered her first sports injury last season, a broken leg when an opponent slid into her at second base. But she knew how to deal with that from her past experiences, which also helps her deal with the ups and downs of writing.
“I’m so lucky to have played a team sport growing up,” she said, even if that meant quitting basketball after Terry Reed, who taught her discipline, stepped down as the LC coach. “My peers that haven’t played organized sports, I’ve actually talked with them (about) being able to see your way through failure a little bit easier.
“That disappointment, those highs and lows, giving your best,” she added. “When you come from an athletic standpoint (you understand that).”
But its in writing that she’s most passionate.
“I think writing is something you spend your entire life learning how you want to do it and how you want to represent yourself,” she said.
Even if you barely have time for a cup of coffee.