They say everyone has two families—the family we’re born into and the family we choose. For theatre folks, I think there is also a third family—the ensemble that you find yourself a part of. Theatre families have a strange, magical mix of the first two types of families. You don’t necessarily choose who exactly is in your ensemble—unless I guess, you’re the director (even then though, some choices are made for you)—but you can choose whether or not to stick around and how you open yourself up to being close with those people. Because of this, theatre families have one part dysfunctional family dynamics from biological families along with one part loyalty, trust, and love from a close, chosen friendship.
Theatre families, just like biological families, experience all of life’s stories together—the triumphant ones, the embarrassing ones, the hilarious ones and the serious ones. Theatre families see you at your highest and your lowest. They see you when your talents and skills on stage shine; they see you when you are a sobbing mess after a bad break-up. They see when you inspire audience members; they see you’ve had too much to drink. For every artistic disagreement or backstage quarrel I can remember, I can easily recall a dozen or more celebrations and truly joyous moments together.
I became a family member of Unexpected Productions in 1998 shortly after I’d moved to Seattle from Kentucky. I started, not as an ensemble member of course, but as an apprentice. However, I felt like a full-blown family member right away. I was always at the theater. At first it was because I didn’t really know anyone in Seattle and I missed my own home dearly, but soon, it was simply because I loved the shows, the classes, and the people. It instantly became my home away from home.
As an apprentice, I was told that I could audit any class. And I did, every single one. At that point, I’d only been performing improv for about six years. I wasn’t totally green, but I had a ton of things to learn. When I wasn’t in class, I was painting the stage, scraping gum off of the now famous gum-wall, helping to organize the booth, or doing any variety of the multitude of chores necessary for upkeep of a theater. I was ecstatic when I was welcomed into the company as an ensemble member. I loved all of the work coming out of UP—the long form, the short form, the narrative based, the abstract, the character-based, the styles shows, the goofy, the dramatic, the old-school harolds, and the cutting edge new forms. As time went on, I became less intimidated of the senior ensemble members and (I hope) more helpful to the junior members of the family.
In the nine years I lived at my Unexpected Productions home, I experienced weddings, break-ups, birthdays, going-away parties, babies, deaths, family secrets, adopting our pet cats out to another home, minor squabbles among siblings, bonding with every single family member, road trips to visit and play with our extended family, late-night parties when the parents were away, late-night parties with the parents, and special family trips with dad to Europe.
For the thirty-year anniversary of Unexpected Productions, I wanted to write a little story—share a memory of something that happened at the theater or because of the theatre. But it was harder than I thought it would be. Not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because I’m thinking of too much. There are so many stories that I could tell: sharing beds and rooms on our travels; my Austrian lemon drop with Randy and Jill; going on the off-ramp and late-night scavenger hunts with Jay; winning a bet with Brian Mac; 3am meals in the international district; getting paid to argue with Brandon; 4th of July on Bilsy’s houseboat; staying late to hang out and play Celebrity after doing three shows in a row; performing in an old stone tower in Switzerland; free breakfasts with Purcell, Michelle, and Jesse; weekend-long retreats near the ocean or in the mountains; the Edmonton trip with Paul; hearing German with a southern twang with Troy; City Life rehearsals and excursions; Jeff and Susie helping me be a better ball-player and not just cursing like one; falling off the stage during an Improvised Christmas Carol and having Kameoka rush to my aid; fun Bellingham weekends; wearing a sombrero in my waning moments of the Improvathon; having to hitch a ride in Boulder with Elicia and Gabe; the traveling eel of Hamburg; late nights at the theater with Ron, Stackhouse, Leona, and everybody—everybody, at one time or another hung out late at the theater and I love everyone and I know I sound drunk but I’m not and if you’re a family member of Unexpected Productions, then I love you! I love [insert your name here]!
Some of us have moved out of the house, but we are all still family. And whenever I’m in Seattle and I walk down Post Alley, I have many of the same feelings I have when I go back home to my biological family. So, to my dear theatre family of Unexpected Productions, I wish you all a very happy thirtieth anniversary. Hugs, kisses, and love from Chicago.