FORMER WINNIPEGGER KEVIN STEINBERG PROVES THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
By MYRON LOVE
Kevin Steinberg has led a tumultuous life in his 45 years – a journey that has taken the former actor-turned-designer to Toronto, Boston, LA and San Francisco. This past October, he once again returned to Winnipeg, this time to stay.
“I see Winnipeg now as my primary home,” says Steinberg (who also maintains a residence in Los Angeles). “From here, I can market my furniture lines, using social media, anywhere in North America.”
Steinberg spent his early years in Garden City. As with many young Winnipeggers growing up here in the 1970s and 1980s, he made the move to River Heights with his mother, Donna (who is divorced from Steinberg’s father, Ed), when he was a teenager – and the youngster left Winnipeg as soon as he could after high school.
The young Steinberg’s dream was to become an actor. “I was addicted to television and movies,” he recalls. “I grew up watching Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I loved all those old movies.”
After graduating from Grant Park High School in 1985, Steinberg headed for Toronto where he had been accepted into Ryerson’s acting program. For the next seven years, he pursued acting largely in Toronto. He was also involved in writing and producing theatre. He and a colleague formed “Under the Umbrella”, their own theatre festival, for which fellow former Winnipegger David Gale (also a former neighbour of Steinberg’s in Garden City) co-created a production for the inaugural season.
In 1993, Steinberg’s golden moment arrived. He won a green card in the lottery which allowed him to work legally in the U.S. He quickly headed down to L.A. where, within a short time, he connected with a major director and began getting guest-starring roles on network television (on shows such as Seinfeld and Married With Children).
That’s when life threw Steinberg his first major curveball.
“I was 30 and I couldn’t handle the pressure of being called in for bigger and bigger parts and not being hired,” he recalls. “I didn’t realize at the time that this is part of the process. Producers keep calling back people they like and believe in.”
Another issue that Steinberg struggled with was being in front of the camera. “When I was filming, it felt to me like the camera was probing my soul,” he says.
So Steinberg headed for San Francisco to get away and try to focus on his writing. He also worked in catering. “In L.A.,” he notes, “a lot of actors, writers and musicians work in catering between assignments. The hours are flexible, you meet other creative people, and you go to posh parties and eat well.”
After two years in San Francisco, he returned to L.A. to try working behind the scenes (when not catering). “I worked for two years in L.A. in TV and film,” he says. “Then 12 years ago, reality programs began taking over. I left for Boston.”
In Boston, he did some stage work but found that, while he enjoyed the research and the preparation, he was self-conscious on stage.
So what was Kevin Steinberg to do with his life if not live it in the theatre? “I thought about it and it occurred to me that I had always been interested in design,” he says. “I had always enjoyed reading design and architecture magazines. And I was particularly drawn to furniture design.”
So he enrolled in Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston (where, he recalls, he was twice as old as most of the other students). Mid-way through his first year studying Industrial Design, he was hired for two jobs: one was in a high end furniture store, the other in a fabrication shop – making high end metal products. Life was beginning to turn out well from him.
But just then, life reared up and knocked him down. First, he developed a herniated disc during exams just before winter break. Then, he was struck by something much more serious.
In January, 2006, he was on a plane going from L.A. to Boston when he suffered a mini stroke.
“I couldn’t talk. I knew what I wanted to say but the words were coming out as gibberish. I couldn’t use my right arm either.”
Fortunately, within six months, he was almost completely back to normal.
He came back to Winnipeg for a few months to recover. While back here, he did some work with Design Manitoba.
In 2007, he went back to Toronto to build up his design career. “I thought I would follow my route as an actor from Winnipeg to Toronto to L.A.,” he says.
He worked first for a leading Toronto design firm then started out on his own. Just as his new business was beginning to grow, life delivered Steinberg another knock-down blow. This time, it was a diagnosis of cancer.
On November 24, 2009, he underwent 12 hours of surgery to remove a tumour in his neck. “Because I had always been physically fit, I recovered quickly,” he says. “While I didn’t need chemo, I did need radiation treatments.”
Once again, Steinberg moved back to Winnipeg while he recovered. “I didn’t want to come back, but it seemed to be the right thing to do,” he says.
Back in Winnipeg, he was hired by a design firm and gained experience in designing a variety of structures – residential and retail, educational and governmental.
“About a year ago, I decided to go back to L.A. and try to work there as a designer,” he says. “I found there was a lot of competition there and, when I applied to work for design firms, either I was told I was overqualified or underqualified – and most firms were laying people off rather than hiring.
While recovering from cancer on his previous stay in Winnipeg, Steinberg met Lisa Magnusson, a local designer, who invited him to collaborate with her.
This last time when he returned from L.A. to visit his family, his doctors, and Magnusson – to talk about some joint projects, he says, he felt as soon as he landed at the airport, that he was here to stay.
“My wanderings are over,” he says.
Steinberg says that he loves where Winnipeg is right now. “There is a renaissance going here right now,” he says. “It’s exciting being here. Some new buildings going up here are being lauded as among the best in the world.
“The next 20 years are going to be exciting times here.”