Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey…

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Making Much of Time….

One of my favorite photos of my parents...

I’m currently back in Dallas, TX working on A Christmas Carol for Dallas Theater Center! It’s great to be back in the “Big D” after a whirlwind of traveling this year. I’ve been to New York and Chicago twice, the Bay area, Ashland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington D.C. and New Mexico. It feels good to be settled for two months surrounded by an amazing group of talented artists. I am playing The Ghost of Christmas Past who, in this adaptation, is the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge’s mother. During some table work in rehearsal last week the actor playing Scrooge (the electric Chamblee Ferguson), the director and I began to talk about memory. This story involves time travel and the memories that show up are very specific and poignant for the character of Scrooge on his journey to redemption. At one point during our discussion, I mentioned the feeling that one gets when around their parents, that feeling like you are still their child, no matter how old you are. It’s a feeling that at the same time comforts me and amazes me. Embodying a character that watches her son re-live his past is very emotional and joyful. I can only imagine what it is like for my parents to have been watching me grow all these years, for them to observe the choices I make and to see my life unfold before them.

This month my parents celebrated 38 years of marriage. 38 years filled with memories. 38 years of life together. I am amazed at all they have done for each other and especially for me. Their union brought me into this world and connected me to two incredible extended families. In October I had two opportunities to travel with my parents. The first was a 10 hour round-trip car ride to southern New Mexico for a funeral and the second was a 12 hour day of travel by planes and trains to Virginia for a wedding….

Recently discovered photo of my parents Lorenzo Zuniga Jr. and Maria Varela

Recently discovered photo of my parents Lorenzo Zuniga Jr. and Maria Varela

Fishing, one of my favorite pastimes!

Fishing, one of my favorite pastimes!

My father is from Carlsbad, NM, which is where we had to drive to for the funeral of his Aunt Lorenza “Lencha” Duarte. It’s a 5 hour drive south east of Albuquerque that covers a lot of open land and sky. We hadn’t been back to that part of the state for many, many years. The day of the funeral my dad drove us around his home town and gave us a tour. He showed us where his house used to be, where his best friend’s house was, where he used to go fishing, in fact we were able to locate his childhood friend and pay him a visit. We sat with my dad and his friend while they shared stories from their past. In one story they got in trouble for emptying a bathtub that, unbeknownst to them, was filled with home brewed beer so they could keep the fish they caught alive. In another tale they were on the roof trying to knock down a wasps nest because it was good bait for fishing and they couldn’t care less about being bit by the wasps or falling off the roof, which I think one of them did! Almost all of their stories had to do with fishing! I’ve always known how important fishing is to my dad, he met my mother fishing and I have been fishing with him since I was little, but it was hearing these stories retold between the two of these old friends that really cemented this for me.

At the funeral we saw a lot of family that we hadn’t visited with for a long time, my Godfather made the trip from Alaska, my aunt came from Texas and there were cousins I hadn’t seen in forever. It was great to have so many Zunigas and Duartes in the same room. When we got to the cemetery we searched for the headstones of my Great Grandfather Jose and Great Grandmother Sabina, who I was named after. My father happened upon it and called us over. It was the first time I had seen it and for a moment it was a bit startling. I was reminded of the scene in the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol when he is confronted with the headstone with his name engraved on it. Other family members came over and shared memories of her and I took a few photos knowing that it may be another several years before I return to that part of New Mexico.

What I gained from this trip with my parents was a sense of history, a sense of place and a sense of family. Having that time in a car for 10+ hours just gave us a chance to soak up each other’s energy, share a cup of coffee, listen to good music and sightsee out of the car windows. Being around our extended family gave us all a sense of belonging and shared love. Death in a family is so bittersweet, we mourn the past but celebrate the present. We shed tears for those who have departed but smile in recognition of those who are still with us and carry on the energy of those who have passed before us. I know Tia Lencha was there in spirit, looking down on us and watching her family gathered together.

Dinner at Penny's Diner & My Great Grandparent's headstone

Dinner at Penny’s Diner & My Great Grandparent’s headstone

The second trip with my parents was for the wedding of my cousin James who lives in Virginia. We hopped a plane at 6am from Albuquerque and had to stop in Denver and Kansas City. By the time we got to Regan National Airport we were exhausted! We took the D.C. Metro into Union station and found a little cafe where we ordered a dozen oysters, clam chowder and ribs! We then jumped on another train to Virginia and the family festivities began!

Virginia is beautiful country, filled with green rolling pastures, beautiful trees, rivers and a special smell to the air. My cousin James is the son of my Aunt Margaret, the baby sister of my mom. It’s hard for the Southwest family to see the East Coast family as often as we would like. Similarly to the funeral, this wedding brought so many people together that hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Saturday morning was the wedding and it was perfect from beginning to end. It took place at the Alwyngton Manor in Warrenton Virginia. The bride looked gorgeous, my cousin was smiling from ear to ear and all of our family was dressed up and catching up with each other as much as they could for this limited time that we were brought together to celebrate. It was an early wedding with lunch and dancing that ended with the entire wedding party watching the the bride and groom drive away in their truck to their honeymoon. While rehearsing the Ghost of Christmas past showing Scrooge the Christmas Eve party at Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig’s. All of the dancing and  singing reminds of  the celebratory and communal feeling of a wedding.

Spending time with my family from the east coast was so important to me. To connect as an adult and yet still have the joy of feeling like a child around my family was thrilling. It was wonderful to have both of my parents with me, to have had the time wandering airports, train stations and the back roads of Virginia. Being that I travel a lot we usually only get quality time when I visit home or when they fly out to whatever city I am performing in. So this time we had together was priceless, filled with family, food, exhaustion, joy, old and new memories.

One the plane to Virginia, having lunch at Union Station in Washington D.C., On the VRE to Virginia, at the Wedding and me and my cousin James.

As I’m in the rehearsal room watching, and participating in, this spectacle of a Christmas classic unfold in song, dance and text, I am reminded how important family gatherings are. This is a story of a man who was separated from his family, separated from the community and separated from his own humanity. His exposure to the memories of his past, the snapshots of the present and the dark possibilities of the future are all there to remind him that he is alive and he is a part of something bigger than him. One quality that was present in both family gatherings, at both a funeral and a wedding, was laughter and tears. Being surrounded by family I am reminded of the memories that came before me, the memories that were being forged in the moment and the potential for new memories to be created. All of this is possible because my parents worked on a life together and welcomed me into it.

“He was consious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” 
― Charles DickensA Christmas Carol

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig dance in a vision the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge.

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig dance in a vision the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge.

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