—Arshia Simkin, writer, teacher and cofounder of the Redbud Writing Project
Tracy Kilpatrick wears many hats: locally, she is the owner of Tripp’s (a community space and store in Chapel Hill, which she affectionally calls “an emporium of fun and funk”); nationally she is an Emmy-winning casting director for films and television; and she herself is an artist. I recently spoke with Kilpatrick to learn more about her various roles, how they intersect with and enrich one another, and about what’s she’s learned along the way. There were several through lines in the conversation, including the importance of storytelling, of cultivating community, and of being open to opportunity.
Kilpatrick was born and raised in Chapel hill and worked in Atlanta, New Orleans, California, and Australia, among other locations, before returning Chapel Hill about six years ago.
As with her casting career, Kilpatrick happened upon Tripp’s serendipitously: she was on her way to Wilmington when she passed an empty store that had once been a Mexican restaurant and bodega. All the way to Wilmington, Kilpatrick said, “the wheels were spinning.” Kilpatrick recounted how, when she was a little girl, Tripp’s was a gas station and “all the gentlemen of the community would sit around a wood stove there and tell stories, so when it came available, I took it back to its original name.” She wanted the space to be a place where the community could gather and tell stories once more and, as the Covid-19 pandemic has eased, this is happening: on a recent Saturday an informal “salon” has sprung up in which people with diverse interests and talents gather and share ideas. Tripp’s has also recently hosted a “Recycle for Art Day” in which people can exchange art supplies, and Kilpatrick looks forward to hosting more events, involving local musicians and food trucks. “I would love to have a stitching group, I would love to have a writing group,” Kilpatrick said.
Tripp’s is also a place where Kilpatrick can share a wide collection of folk art (as can been seen on Tripp’s Instagram page). She first became interested in the genre as she traveled for her job as a casting director and began to collect it. During her travels, Kilpatrick said she had been fortunate enough to meet acclaimed folk artists such as Mose Tolliver (“Mose T”) and Bernice Sims. “The Coen brothers sent me on a lot of searches and I’ve always sort of made my searches kind of work around places I wanted to go…I had a friend in New Orleans who was a painter and had a gallery…and we used to do fun, crazy road trips to meet artists,” she said.
Kilpatrick has been a casting director for thirty years and worked on major projects such as the HBO’s series John Adams, for which she won an Emmy for her casting; Dallas Buyers Club; The Spectacular Now; Pitch Perfect; and 2019’s The Peanut Butter Falcon. Recently, she worked on HBO’s The Staircase, which stars Colin Firth as Durham author and suspected murderer Michael Peterson.
When Kilpatrick is working on a casting project, she often likes to make a collage of what she is working on, so she can visualize the film and “see the big picture.” Once, she recalled with amusement, the collage helped her to see that they had inadvertently cast all bald men. Ultimately, it’s her storytelling instincts and her desire to help tell stories “truthfully and with empathy” that helps her to cast effectively, Kilpatrick noted.
Kilpatrick got introduced to the world of casting by happenstance: she was living in Wilmington, NC and a friend of hers knew somebody who needed a roommate—that person happened to be a casting production assistant. Soon, many people from the film industry began hanging out at their shared rental and Kilpatrick began volunteering to help out when an extra hand was needed. Eventually, she was hired as a casting assistant for location casting, and “it just kind of went from there,” Kilpatrick said. “You have to be available and open to opportunities, because if you’re not, nothing’s going to happen. I put a backpack on and went halfway around the world and ended up staying in Australia…and running backpacker’s hostels while I was over there. If you’re open to opportunities, anything can happen. But if you got your door closed, there you go. So be available.”
Kilpatrick herself enjoys painting in the folk art style, especially as it relates to memories and color. She has recently begun stitching and doing pottery as well. She concluded of all of her endeavors: “It all boils down to storytelling. You know, at the end of the day, when we’re all said and done, at the end of our lives, all we have left is the story, and we hope ours is interesting, so that’s kind of the way I look at it.”
You can learn more about Tripp’s store on Instagram; check out the store’s Etsy page at https://www.etsy.com/shop/trippsstore/; or visit in person at 1617 Mt Carmel Church Rd, Chapel Hill, NC from 12-5 Wednesday through Saturday.