Title: A Realtor’s Life For Eleanor
Cast of characters: Eleanor Aiken, a thirtysomething professional actress and Realtor, and Kim Coulter, founder of Kim Coulter Chattanooga Homes.
Scene: A local coffee shop.
Time: The present.
Setting: Sunlight is beaming through the storefront window on a tranquil Thursday morning at Goodman Coffee Roasters in St. Elmo. A young couple is reclining on a couch near the counter, sipping beverages from thick mugs. At a table beside the window, a woman is locked in a stare down with her phone. Other than the barista behind the counter, there’s no one else there – until the door opens and a blonde woman in a black-speckled white dress steps inside and scans the shop. Spotting an open table, she waltzes across the room, pulls back a chair and sits. As she throws her long locks off her bare shoulders, she looks at the audience and blinds them with her smile.
As an actress, Eleanor Aiken knows how to make an entrance. After honing her craft in a litany of plays, television shows and films, memorable first impressions come easy.
Sustaining this energy is also second nature for Aiken, 37, who’s fresh off a crowd-pleasing performance as Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Burr Performing Arts Park in Dalton, Georgia.
“A woman told me she loved my Helena,” Aiken says, somehow without sounding like she’s boasting. “She said she was relatable.”
Given that the love-struck Helena is akin to a modern-day stalker in Shakespeare’s 1605 comedy, the woman’s comments could have raised eyebrows. But Aiken agreed, saying there’s a bit of Helena in everyone.
“Helena loves Demetrius, but Demetrius loves Hermia, so Helena does everything she can to turn the tables,” Aiken says, grunting out the words “everything she can” to emphasize the physical toil involved in attracting a love interest whose attention is elsewhere. “But Demetrius doesn’t return her affections, so she’s a basket case.”
Aiken bit into the role like it was a fatted goose. Although she relished the theatrics involved – which she demonstrates by crying out “Demetrius!” like she’s Brando screaming for Stella – she says her favorite thing about playing Helena was her humanity.
“Helen doesn’t believe she’s beautiful enough for Demetrius. Hermia is as beautiful as a goddess and Helena think she’s as ugly as a bear. Everyone is insecure about something, even when they have no reason to be.”
A native of Lookout Mountain, Aiken had bouts with insecurity as she endeavored to break into acting. Unlike Helena, she didn’t believe she was unattractive, but whenever she arrived for an audition, all the other actors looked just like her, she says, and she struggled to be noticed.
Aiken eventually found her niche in her “bubbly personality,” which she says helped her to land several roles onstage, including Sophia in Neil Simon’s “Fools” in California, Hope in the musical “Anything Goes” in Nashville and Annie in “Chicago” at Cumberland County Playhouse.
Aiken also fared well in front of a camera, landing a recurring role on “Gossip Girl” and appearing in an episode of “Law & Order.” On the big screen, she appeared in Angelina Jolie’s action film “Salt” and Drew Barrymore’s romantic comedy “Going the Distance.”
“Acting is competitive. You have to know what makes you different and find a place that’s yours,” she explains. “I’m quirky – and I’m OK with that because it makes me stick out.”
Aiken has spent the last two years searching for a unique place in the real estate business, where being quirky usually is not a selling point.
Before the advent of COVID-19, Aiken had never considered becoming a Realtor, she says, despite her flair for interior design. But when the pandemic shuttered theaters and film productions, her father suggested she return to Chattanooga and sell homes.
“Real estate was never in my brain. But my dad encouraged me. And I learned more about houses than I’d ever imagined there was to know.”
Aiken hung her license at Keller Williams Realty but soon found herself on familiar ground when she realized she was competing against hundreds of agents who offered the same services.
Once again, Aiken knew she needed to find a place that was uniquely hers.
As if on cue, the front door opens again and Realtor Kim Coulter enters Goodman. Coulter is a six-year veteran of the real estate business and a fellow Keller Williams Realty agent.
In a second act twist, she’s also the head of the newly formed Kim Coulter Chattanooga Homes – the team for which Aiken is now working as a buyer’s specialist.
“Kim asked me to show a house for her. I told her I would but that I might be transitioning to a different brokerage,” Aiken remembers.
Aiken had already signed the papers to switch to a different company when Coulter approached her for help. The two had met when Aiken had babysat Coulter’s children and remained friends.
But when Aiken said she might be leaving Keller Williams, Coulter urged her to stay.
“I said, ‘Don’t go anywhere! I need you!’” Coulter recalls. “It was time for me to bring someone on. I work with a lot of investors and they ask to see a lot of homes, but there are only so many hours in a day.”
Coulter pitched a script that included growth for Aiken. Not only would Coulter mentor Aiken, but she’d also elevate her to supervising buyer’s specialist as the team grew.
Aiken was sold. “I knew Kim would be a great leader and help me to further my career. And she’s been terrific at preparing and guiding me.”
Not only that, but Coulter also wants Aiken to continue acting.
“I want Eleanor to have an outlet outside of work,” she says. “It’s mentally healthy. Life is supposed to be about experiencing different things, not just one thing.”
As Aiken reflects on her new role, she jokes that she hopes the critics will be kind. If the trust and admiration of Coulter is a sign, she has every reason to be confident.
Plus, Aiken has a bit of Helena in her. “I loved playing her,” she says. “She saw what she wanted and she went after it.”
(End of scene)