A Maine songwriter and actor finds her way
“Do not wait until you’re perfect at something to go after your dreams,” says Stephanie Atkins, teacher, actress, songwriter, and lifelong Mainer. From starting with a pipe dream as a kid, to becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild, she is now working on her second album. Stephanie Atkins will tell you, if she had waited until she had the best singing voice, the best guitar skills, or the best performance skills, she would never be fulfilling her life’s dream to be a songwriter. “I had to let my desire to fulfill my dreams outweigh my desire to be perfect,” she says.
The meandering road that led to Stephanie’s songwriting career began during her high school years. Throughout high school, Stephanie was always involved in theater, but any other performing remained only secret dreams. After high school, she decided to study psychology and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Saint Michael’s College.
She quickly put her degree to use and worked in the social services field for many years before having her own children. After the birth of her first daughter, Sydney, in 1999, she decided to take a break from her career to focus on being a mother. Her other children, Benjamin and Maggie, were born in 2002 and 2009 respectively.
The year 2009 was a pivotal one for Stephanie as she began pursuing screen acting. She joined the Screen Actors Guild and frequently traveled to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where state-offered film incentives could bring in the Hollywood productions. The acting world was both exhilarating and exhausting. Stephanie’s persistence paid off when she landed several commercial parts and many acting roles. She was fortunate to land some principal roles on a few bigger films that were filmed in Maine, as well.
“I love acting, but I hate auditions,” Stephanie said with a chuckle, “I would get all dolled up, dressing for the character, drive to Boston for my one-minute audition, and nine out of ten times I would leave discouraged.” During the long and pensive drives home, Stephanie would distract herself by making up and singing songs.
On one of those rides home she vividly recalls slamming her hand on the steering wheel saying, “I have to do this,” planning out her next ambitious move. Her first song, “Skinny Jean Bonfire,” was a song that had been with her since she was 17 and the one she felt most compelled to write and share. “I really wanted to share this song that addressed life’s self-esteem challenges and eating disorders in teen girls. It was about how badly I wanted to fit into a pair of size three jeans and how my life would not fall into place until I did. I knew the song would resonate with so many girls and women.”
Stephanie continued acting and began to write songs. Although she had minimal guitar skills, having taught herself a little bit in high school, she began to study guitar from Barry Young at Mid-town Music in Biddeford. He encouraged her songwriting and eventually recorded the guitar music for the title song of Skinny Jean Bonfire, her first album, released in 2019. In addition to Young, other outstanding local musicians joined this project, including Gerard Carey, Victor LeClerc, Bob Whytock, Chris Neal, Andy Happel, Ethan Scott Baird, and vocalists Kari Hodgens and Christy Colburn.
In 2012, Stephanie’s mother, Jean, passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s. Stephanie was still making those long commutes to audition and work in Massachusetts. While part of her had felt strangely too busy to be able to truly mourn the loss of her mother, Stephanie found these long rides the perfect time to process the emotion that comes with losing someone you love.
While cleaning out her mother’s closet shortly after her passing, Stephanie thought she would cling to her belongings, but she didn’t. They weren’t her mom, so letting go of them was easy—except for two things: her mother’s worn-out penny loafers and her lipstick collection. Stephanie wondered what made her keep these particular items, but soon they inspired her to write the song, “Lipstick and Loafers,” about her mother’s impact on her life.
Staying open to opportunity and making connections, in 2017, Stephanie joined some talented musicians at a weekend songwriting retreat on Bremen Island, hosted by musician/songwriter Ethan Scott Baird (of J. Pesky Nixon) and teachers/songwriters Susan Cattaneo and Jesse Terry. Stephanie recalls, “Here I was, barely able to play guitar, having yet to record a song, and there I was sitting alongside some genius songwriters and musicians. It was a life changing experience.” It was there she felt accepted as a songwriter.
The song that would be a catalyst for turning her aspirations into reality came through the song, “Finding Finn.” It’s the tragic story about a 14-year-old transgender boy named Finn Winn Bousquet who had taken his life months earlier. She came across the story of Finn. And as a mother, she could not imagine the loss of a child, and she felt drawn to send love to this family.
It was this song about young Finn that would bring her into the studio. This song and the people she connected with to produce it would be a catalyst for her musical journey. Because of this song, she met Sean Slaughter of Bam on the Cage Studio, and one by one she brought her songs in to record.
“Skinny Jean Bonfire” was played several times on Music from 207 on WCLZ and was nominated for both “Inspirational Song of the Year” and “Breakout Single” by the International Music Network in 2019. After Stephanie’s courage for performing increased, she also played the song at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. She was also encouraged to perform her songs locally, first during a musician’s “break” at a gig in Kittery, then at open mics.
Stephanie is now in the studio working on her second album, Promise Street. The songs on this album are about challenges people face in life, such as judging others, facing big events during a pandemic, embracing nerves, and taking care of unfinished business. One thing that makes this album even more exciting for Stephanie is that she was recently awarded a grant from the Maine Arts Association to help fund its production. She was awarded $2500, the highest individual award available.
Stephanie is currently teaching at Saco Middle School. Interestingly, she and some of the middle school students wrote a song about their lives during the pandemic, called “Hindsight 20/20,” which was featured on WMTW Channel 8. Stephanie still acts when she can, but she is mostly focused on songwriting and working in the studio. Her CDs can be purchased at Bull Moose Stores in Maine and New Hampshire and digital downloads are available on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify.