Earrings

2 07 2015

Then, there are those dreams

when you see your sister

and she’s still alive

and you sit across the table from her

and you want to explain to her

that the reason you’re wearing her earrings

is because it was a way to have her with you.

But here she is—

she’s across the table from you

she isn’t gone

so you sort of feel bad for having her earrings while she’s still here

but there was a reason you had the earrings

a bothersome, sad feeling

which becomes a slow washing over

a tiny river of realization

this odd knowing

this knowing

that she is both here and not here.

She is both dead yet alive.

Gone from this world, but very much present in your heart and mind.

These dream moments are too quick

too fleeting

and you don’t realize how precious they are

until you have left them

until you are awake

and alone

in your room

thinking of her

and her earrings

your sister

the love





Northwest Tour Update

9 11 2013

I lived in the pacific northwest–Seattle, specifically–for nine years.  Although I’m from the south originally, the pacific northwest always felt like home.  It was a no-brainer for me to at least attempt to do a tour out this way.  I toured my first solo show, The Good, the Bad, and the Monkey to Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland–the same three great cities I’m visiting for my 185 Buddhas tour.

But because the nature of this show is even more personal and quite conspicuously about my journey as a performer, it has been an honor and a joy to perform in the region where so much of my journey transpired.

Last night I had the first of two performances of 185 Buddhas in Seattle hosted by my home theatre of Unexpected Productions.  It was sort of like coming home and doing a show for my family and all of their friends in our living room.  I couldn’t have asked for a better night.  The audience was delightful and I am filled with gratitude that I got to share my story in a theater that takes up a big part of my heart.  And I get to do it again tonight!

185 Buddhas Walk into a Bar 
Written and performed by Amanda Rountree, directed by Jen Ellison 185 Buddhas
Unexpected Productions at the Market Theater
1428 Post Alley
Seattle
$15 Buy tickets
Saturday, November 9, 8:30 pm

And next week, I’ll be in Portland, Oregon:

185 Buddhas Walk into a Bar 
Written and performed by Amanda Rountree, directed by Jen Ellison
The Brody Theater
16 NW Broadway
Portland, OR
$12
Thursday, November 14, 7:30 pm

185 Buddhas Walk into a Bar
The art of improvisation creates stories from thin air, making the unseen seen. For Amanda Rountree, this is not just an art form, but a way of life — one that includes unexpected twists and turns — leading, if not to mastery, to enlightenment.  Written and performed by Amanda Rountree, and directed by Jen Ellison, this show follows the artist on her path with all of the funny and touching moments along the way.

The Chicago Reader says, “Amanda Rountree is a riot!”  Audience members have described the show as “inspiring,” “funny,” “beautiful,” “insightful,” and “a must-see!“  The Chicagoist picked this show as one of their “three to see.”  Click here to watch a trailer for the show.  You can also click here to read a review of the show.





Theatre Family

24 05 2013

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.

goofy, old-school photo w/ us and our A.D., Randy

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.





Other Times and Places

17 06 2012

Right now I am in Chicago, sitting at home and thinking about stories.  Stories are like dreams.  They are intimate, revealing, and can transport us to other times and places.

June 5, 2012.  I’m in Seattle on vacation, taking the bus to see a friend.  When I get on the #44 and ask for a transfer, a homeless man chimes in and gives me almost-correct directions.  During the 90 minute visit with my friend we cover years and distance.  We reminisce about our Chicago trip ten years ago.  We laugh about old and new inside jokes.  She hugs me and tells me she’s sorry to hear about my sister.  After our time together, I am greeted once again by the same homeless man I saw at the beginning, sitting in the same spot on the same bus.  We both went many places by being in just one.

February 1, 1998.  I am flying out to Seattle, WA from Louisville, KY with a one-way ticket.  My sister says I am brave, but I don’t really hear it.

June 1, 2007. I am moving from Seattle to Chicago.  It’s a Friday around 5pm and I’m in traffic in my rented moving truck on Devon—except I’m pronouncing it “Devin” ‘cause I haven’t lived here yet.  I pass a street called “Pulaski” and it hits me that I’m going to be living in a very different city—one where maybe I’ll even get to hear Polish being spoken from time to time.  I pass a street named “California” and I feel so very far away from the west coast.  Later, I will arrive at my new home and load all of my belongings up three flights of stairs with the gracious help of my landlord.  Then, when the door is closed, I will sit on the floor and cry and cry.  But I know deep down that everything will be okay.

June 1, 2012.  I am in Seattle, walking past apartments I’ve lived in, restaurants I’ve dined in, and fields I’ve played Frisbee in.  I am raw with memories.  A stranger wakes me from my reverie by saying, “Are you a local?”  “Ah, I used to be” I reply.  I give her almost-correct directions.  But her question has shaken me and I worry that I’m in danger of regretting my move.  To cure this, I think of all of the reasons I am grateful I moved to Chicago (the lovely friends I’ve met, the way the windy city inspired me to do solo work, how nice it is to be living closer to my family in Louisville).  Just then, walking toward me, is a man wearing a shirt with “Chicago” written across it.  I think I’m dreaming.  But it’s real.  Later, I will sit at my favorite donut spot in Seattle, wearing my Kentucky shirt, and hear them play a Sufjan Stevens song about Illinois.  Places and times will converge in one spot, in one moment—kind of like they do in a dream.

I dreamt of Kentucky last night.  It was a different time.  My sister was still alive.  We were all in the kitchen talking, joking, and laughing with each other .  I was so excited to see her.  I got to tell her that I love her, which felt so good.  But she didn’t really hear it—I realized I was dreaming before she could respond. It wasn’t real.  I guess I was stirred awake by the impossibility of it.

October 11, 2007.  I have lived in Chicago for four months. My parents are up from Louisville to visit me.  When we go to the lake, I experience a rush of de ja vu.  The last few years that I lived in Seattle, I had this recurring dream where I lived in an old hotel on the beach.  My mom, my dad, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew were all in the dream. It made me think that maybe one day I’d live by the ocean–maybe even own a B&B–and have lots of good family visits.  But here I was, with my mom and dad on a Lake Michigan beach and it all made sense.  I will get this de ja vu feeling again every single time a family member comes to Chicago to visit me, like when my sister comes up for a brief visit three years later.

May 19, 2012.  I am in Kentucky for my niece’s wedding.  As I’m walking outside, I see a key chain lying in the grass.  It’s one of those silver key chains with the outer circle and the spinning middle part.  The middle part says, “Illinois” and the outer circle says, “Chicago, the Windy City.”  I smile and remember the very first time I saw this type of key chain.  It was in 1998 when I first moved to Seattle from Louisville.  I was working in the gift shop of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. I was in love with my new city and homesick for my old one.  In the stockroom I opened up a box of our new key chains.  The inside said, “Woodland Park Zoo” but the company had made a mistake and outside said, “Louisville, KY.”  I thought I was dreaming.  I took them around to everyone in the shop, asking them to read it to me.  It was real.

October 1, 2011.  I buy myself a purse in Chicago.  It looks sort of like an owl.  My sister loves owls.  It has always been her thing.  Deanna loves owls.  Laura loves turtles.  Amanda is the weird actor one that switches what she likes a lot.  If I was younger, I might question if it’s okay for me to like owls.  But I’m older and I like the purse.  So I buy it.  I wonder when I will see her next, because I know she’ll think it’s cute.  I see an older man trip on the escalator going into the store.  I try, without success, to keep him from falling.  But he tumbles and tumbles and tumbles on the unforgiving escalator.  It feels like a dream.  It makes me think of how fragile we all are. The man kept falling and the stairs kept moving and none of us were able to stop it from happening.  That night, I dream about being in a combination city made of Louisville and Chicago.  I’m trying to get a hold of my family and my family is trying get a hold of me.  But, the buttons on the phones aren’t working and I’m panicking and it seems so urgent for me to see them.  I wake up, heart racing.  I know it was a dream, that it wasn’t real.  But I switch on my phone and see all of the missed calls starting early in the morning.  When my mom tells me on the phone that my sister has died, I will cry and cry.  It will feel like a dream.  But it’s real.

Right now, I am in Chicago, traveling to other places and times while being in just one.  May we all be wakeful enough to appreciate the dreamy moments and restful enough so that we are not stirred by the impossible ones.





Transcending Loss

21 03 2012

After I lost my sister, a dear friend gave me a book on grief.  It’s called, Transcending Loss by Ashley Davis Prend and has been incredibly helpful.  Dealing with the death of a loved one is not something I can encapsulate into a sentence or even a blog entry.  At least, not right now.  Or maybe I can on some days and other days I cannot.  Something truly valuable I’ve gotten from this book is that, yes, there are lots of stages of grief, but that no, you will not necessarily feel them in any certain order.  Sometimes, you’ll be in multiple stages at once; sometimes, you’ll revisit stages you thought you already passed through.  Dealing with death is weird, sad, frustrating, gut-wrenching, liberating, and–despite my trying to do so–impossibly indescribable.  So when this book lays out in front of you all of these things you’re feeling and does so in a way that says, “Yep, what you’re going through is pretty shitty and all of those thoughts and feelings you’re having are COMPLETELY NORMAL,” it just makes you feel so much better.

This morning, I woke up with a Garth Brooks song in my head.  My sister loved Garth Brooks.  The song accompanied an image of the three of us–my two sisters and I–standing with our arms around each other.  The film maker in my head sure does know how to direct a tear-jerker, right?

Anyway, it made me reach for the book, which I actually haven’t done in a month or so.  I opened up to different pages and am moved to share some excerpts of the book here.  Who knows?  Maybe it will even help someone else who is dealing with grief.

“After the stage of Shock, grievers commonly enter the stage of Disorganization.  This is the heart of grief, and thus the most difficult……You remember the good times and the precious, ordinary moments.  You remember the bad times and all the things you wish you had said that you’ll never be able to say now.  Some days are punctuated by gut-wrenching, bittersweet, lonely moments, but on other days, you don’t feel anything at all.  You might have nightmares, health problems, or irrational phobias.  You probably think that you’re going crazy and you may even want to die.  This is a particularly difficult stage since it seems endless and in fact it may reemerge, off and on, for many years.”

Like I said, it’s helpful to have your feelings validated and to know that no, you’re not going crazy–you’re just normal.  Here’s another passage that found me this morning.

“The point is that in the beginning, in the stage of Disorganization, things are not okay.  Life is not fine.  You are not doing all right.  Someone you loved dearly, someone precious to you, has been wrested from you, and your life is left in shreds.  If someone describes a griever to me by saying, ‘Oh, she’s so strong and together; she’s handling her grief really well,’ that’s when I worry.  I think someone is handling her grief well if I hear that ‘she’s terribly upset, she’s crying constantly, she’s falling apart.’  Emotion isn’t the problem to be fixed; it’s the natural response and the ultimate solution.”

Thank you, beautifully validating book.





the small moments

15 02 2012

condolences

is a big word with lots of sylables

that folks use when they don’t know what to say

if you ask me when I miss her most

it’s in the small moments

the unexpected times

the ones that don’t always make sense

washing a plate

stretching out on the floor, listening to a song

dusting my dresser

cutting through the greeting card aisle in the drugstore

crossing the street

folding a blanket

and anytime

I remember

that she’s gone

 

 

 

 

 





Deck the Halls and Roll the Balls

16 12 2010

Nearly every year around this time I make my Grandma’s Russian tea cakes (veganized, of course).  They are yummy, fun to look at, and an all-around great Christmas cookie.  But this year, they turned out even better for me than they usually do.  I don’t know if it was the 1940’s radio program (Phillip Marlowe) I was listening to, the quiet evening I had leading up to them, or just having one right out of the oven, but hooo-boy!  They taste just like Grandma used to make!  Memories of Christmases past came flooding back in just one bite.

I should probably research this more.  I’ll make a control group and then a hot chocolate group.  Yep, it’s going to be a long night.