Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Christina Baldwin grew up on a hobby farm near Jordan, the two youngest of eight siblings - and the only girls. That probably helped to solidify a bond that continues in work and friendship.

"We were those rare siblings who loved each other from the git-go," Jennifer says. "That's probably the only reason we could work well as partners in business."

Professionally, each sister does a wide variety of work, from opera to television commercials. While they love working together, they also have separate careers.

Their unique sister-performer partnership blossomed with Skylark Opera. The program, sponsored by the Twin Cities Opera Guild, sent the sisters to middle schools to introduce opera. Students of that age make tough audiences. But, says Christina, "You knew that if someone really liked it - it was like you just scaled Mount Everest. We would get converts who had never even heard opera before who would give it a chance."

Even before they themselves reached middle-school age, the Baldwin sisters were immersed in music and the arts. Their parents had moved to a farm to give their children "fresh air and nature," but the children "were privileged enough to be shipped back into the Cities for lessons, for arts."

By the time the youngest two were born, Mom and Dad "were ready to get on with life and go see stuff," with season tickets to the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Orchestra and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. They took the sisters to lots of live performances from a very young age.

Today, Christina and Jennifer take their own children to music and theater performances "whenever we can." The problem, says Christina, "is that our children want to be up on stage with us." Because they get to go backstage, their kids - they each have a 4- and a 6-year-old - "see mom in her battle armor and think that's normal."


Varied careers

In high school, both sisters sang and acted. "In our small town," says Christina, "we had a great public school that had supportive musicians and performers who recognized that as a necessity of rounding out your education. I miss that in today's public school system ... seeing the lack of support for the whole person."

The sisters headed off to separate colleges. Jennifer went to DePaul University in Chicago, where she planned to major in biochemistry. Christina attended the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis. Jennifer's major soon changed to voice, and later both sisters completed master's degrees in voice at the University of Minnesota.

Then came richly varied careers in music and theater. They worked at Theatre de al Jeune Lune for its last 10 years, and they have performed at local institutions ranging from the Guthrie and the Minnesota Orchestra to "A Prairie Home Companion."

One of the high points in their joint and separate careers came when Nautilus Music Theater's artistic director Ben Krywosz commissioned four one-act plays titled "Sister Stories" for them and they were performed in 2009.

Facing challenges

Not all roles are so felicitous. Jennifer, whose higher voice has meant being cast as the ingenue, wants to get "more experience being the 30-plus whore. No, really, guys - I can play a grown-up. ... I'm done with the virgins."

They agree that women actors have to deal with things that are never an issue for men, like "the image thing ... sometimes you have to fight to have substance out there," Christina says.

Adds Jennifer: "I can't say how often someone in the business who's not a good friend will come up and say, 'You're the sexiest sister.' It's silly. I don't think they would do that with men."

If finding the right roles is a challenge, balancing motherhood and performing can feel like being between a rock and a hard place.

"I find that the need to hire baby-sitters is a pretty awesome way to determine whether a project is worthy or not," Jennifer says.

The Baldwin sisters have high praise for Twin Cities artistic directors, writers, composers and fellow performers. And audiences.

"We have a very smart audience in the Cities here," Christina says. "If you're not honest with them, they'll know. They can sniff it - like a dog can smell fear."

IF YOU GO:
Want to see the Baldwin sisters on stage or in concert? They say the best places to look for them are at the Nautilus Music Theater or The Moving Company. Their personal schedules are on Christina's website.
Christina Baldwin www.christina-baldwin.com and Wits Radio at www.witsradio.org
Nautilus Music Theater www.nautilusmusictheater.organd www.facebook.com/NautilusMusicTheater
The Moving Company www.themovingco.org

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to
editor@womenspress.com.