Erin Chandler moved to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1989, hoping to make a career as a film actress.
She had her shots: a few TV roles on shows such as Chicago Hope and The Net, and film work that included producing and acting in fellow UK alum Leslie Jordan's autobiographical movie Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel.
But a point came when Chandler realized the big break that thousands of aspiring stars in L.A. long for probably wasn't coming.
"I talked to my Aunt Toss, and she was like, 'You're not some little waif with nowhere to go,'" Chandler recalls. "She said, 'Come home.'
"When I got here, it was like I was just flush with creativity, like I was dropped in this totally amazing little town that I am having a totally different experience with than I did the first time around."
Chandler, 45, is one of the Kentucky Chandlers, granddaughter of A.B. "Happy" Chandler, the two-time Kentucky governor, U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball; and cousin of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Versailles Democrat who is Toss' son. Though politics and law are what the Chandlers are known for, Erin Chandler says there is an artistic streak in her family. Her aunt Mimi Lewis acted in Hollywood in the 1940s, and her grandmother Angelee Bryant is a published poet.
Lexington audiences will get to see Chandler at work this week as she plays Violet Weston, the pill-popping matriarch of an Oklahoma family that falls apart after the death of Violet's husband, Beverly, in the University of Kentucky Theatre production of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. Chandler is in her final semester of work on a master's degree in theater from UK.
Director Vic Chaney said he did not know quite what to expect from Chandler when she auditioned.
"There was a point where I thought, 'Is she paraphrasing?' because her delivery was so natural, it seemed like she was making it up," Chaney recalled. "So I had the stage director look at the script, and it was word for word."
Chandler says Chaney told her to "find the 'vile' in Violet," a woman who mercilessly tears her children apart and simultaneously reveres and loathes her philandering late husband.
For the actress, it's been a treat to work on an acclaimed piece of modern theatrical literature because, after she finishes her master's at UK, she plans to start work on a master's in creative non- fiction from Spalding University in Louisville.
"I feel like everything I went through was perfect preparation," Chandler says. "It's given me so much to write about."
Though she is from a prominent family, her life has had rough patches, including the divorce when she was 8 years old of her parents, Dan Chandler, who died in 2004, and Lynne Bryant Chandler, who now lives in North Carolina. Her brother Chan died at age 30 in 1993.
After the divorce, her father moved to Las Vegas and worked at casinos including Caesar's Palace. Erin Chandler and her brother spent the school year in the idyllic world of Woodford County and summers in Sin City.
Those experiences fueled Chandler's writing, primarily the novel Junebug vs. Hurricane, which she said her agent is shopping to publishers. The book also has been turned into a stage play; writer-director Nick Cassavetes is interested in turning it into a movie.
While Vegas wasn't the best environment for a child, Chandler says, the theater bug bit as she hung out backstage with dancers for artists such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Andy Williams.
"By the time I got to UK, I knew I was going to be a theater major, no question," Chandler says.
Now, she is enjoying being back on the stage of UK's Guignol Theatre, though life has presented her another challenge. In her late 20s, Chandler was diagnosed with polymyositis, a chronic inflammation of the muscles that makes acts such as climbing stairs difficult. It's an ailment she has been able to work into her portrayal of Violet, who is supposed to be 20 years older than Chandler, but she says it was another reason she realized she needed to look at things other than acting.
"I can live life, but I can't go mountain climbing at the moment," Chandler says. "It's not fatal, it just makes you physically weak."
Since being back in Lexington, Chandler says, she also has read at the Holler Poets Series at Al's Bar.
Although she has written a play, Chandler would like to follow in the footsteps of new-journalism writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion.
"I can't think of anything more fun," Chandler says, "than to go out and have these really wild experiences and then come back and write about them."