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

Archive for the tag “Family”

Winter Solstice…

I woke up this Winter Solstice morning– well to be honest it was afternoon…

(Side-note: I haven’t been sleeping well most of the year.  I have been living out of suitcases and boxes, traveling to Oregon, California, New Mexico, Illinois, Pennsylvania & New York, working on a role that has enhanced/exhausted my emotional capacity, and I think my body has finally decided to REST. My appetite has been limited as well, I just haven’t felt like eating much. Yet the minute I got home to NM I’ve been eating serving after serving of homemade meals, sleeping so soundly, and I realized that being home in New Mexico has shifted me into a mode of sustenance and recuperation.)

So, I woke up today and saw this post by my mom:


Winter Solstice has been a special day for me and my mom for almost 20 years now. We would regularly take walks along the Rio Grande river since I was able to walk, with our various dogs (Chula, Simpre, Sola) throughout the years. We ventured to a particular spot  along the Bosque that had a little juniper tree growing amongst the cottonwood trees. At the beginning it was only about 2 ft tall, and today it is about 20 ft. I feel as if this tree and I have been growing together, like she is my Bosque sibling. (My name Sabina translate to a species of juniper tree) We have created a tradition of decorating the tree with edible goodies for the birds and coyotes of the area to enjoy. Most of the time we make bird seed ornaments with peanut butter and pine cones. But this year we decide to just leave some cinnamon raisin bagels on the branches.

After decorating the tree we find a space along the river to sit and watch the sunset while watching the migrating cranes, Canadian geese and other fowl. We usually bring a little picnic and hot beverages… It is a celebration of the final light before the longest night. The time before the days begin to get brighter. A moment of silence in nature to reflect on the year, the ups and downs, the in-betweens.

I am so grateful to have had this moment this year, because what a year 2017 has been…


Walking along the Bosque trail.


The path to the tree…


My Tree Sister, who has been trimmed for passing bikers…


Mom decorating the tree…


We found a pine cone from years ago that we had hung on the tree with peanut butter and birdseed.


Bagel decorations for the birds!


Bosque Tree decorating accomplished!


Panorama view of our Winter Solstice picnic area


Salud to our days getting brighter!


My inspiration for looking towards the future, one of the brightest sources in my life to help me keep going…


EL SOL, the life force that will grace us with more and more light after today…

Winter Blessings to you and all of your loved ones, may your days not only bring you more sunlight but also more love, joy, hope and action towards change. May your kernel of courage unfurl and bring strength into 2018!


Winter-Solstice-and-Yule-A-shift-from-darkness-to-light.jpg.optimalws prayer

Flying the coop: from one Tribe to another…


In many regional theaters there is a wall where actors can “leave their mark” to commemorate the end of a run. Sometimes it is in the dressing rooms, sometimes in a backstage hallway or in a rehearsal space. Back in 2012 I signed my first wall when I closed my first professional Equity show: Bruja by Luis Alfaro, directed by Loretta Greco. On Sunday I signed the dressing room wall at Portland Center Stage where we just closed Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, directed by Juliette Carillo.

The journey of this show has been one that has shifted, flowed, moved and transformed over the years. In part because of the writing, the change in casts, locations and the political climate. I myself changed with the role, as one has too. She is a woman who has so many facets, so many thoughts and feelings, just as I do. The beautiful thing about live theatre and running the same show day after day is the growth that you accomplish, the flexibility and the surprises. I learned more about my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears and desires through this myth of Medea.

I also built family with this cast, joined a Tribe. We worked on this show for a better part of the year and as this play shares, dissects and explores the many facets of family, we did that too. It is a strange thing we do in the theatre, constantly joining and separating. Creating moments that become memories…

And now we are closed. This story sleeps as December comes into the world and I reflect on the final weekend in Portland:

Andy and Irene Robinson caught the Saturday Night show with their Daughter and Son in Law. Andy was the head of my MFA program at USC and led our class through some of the hardest, challenging, fulfilling classes for 3 years. He directed us in a studio project of Ted Huges adaptations of Greek myths: Tales from Ovid and then in our final year he directed us in 12th Night. His work in the classroom/rehearsal room, was one filled with charged energy, yearning, demands, love and joy. I couldn’t believe that he was there, probably better that I didn’t know. It’s an honor to continue to create with the spirit and passion he helped me recognize in myself.


In 2003 I formed a theatre company with an incredible group of New Mexican artists, organizers and community members. It came out of a feeling that there needed to be more Latin@ voices on our stages, more stories of authenticity. Michael was one of those creative forces that helped found Teatro Nuevo Mexico and produced my first Luis Alfaro experience when I played the title role in Electricidad. Michael, Janette Sanchez-Izenman and I all attended The University of New Mexico and continue to work in our creative arenas. They drove all the way from Seattle to complete our circle and hear our story, and I know that the fact that there is a painting behind us that highlights COMMUNITY is not an accident. Both of these folks are tearing it up in Seattle and working hard for their Tribe. UNM Lobos reunited!IMG_E5724Just before our final show we gathered on stage to recognize the culmination of this great journey…


Our stage manager, Chris Bolender, shared this letter with us. When we were in Ashland, OR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Mary Meagan Smith was our assistant stage manager and she sent these words to us to hear before we said goodnight to our story:IMG_5729

Probably the most emotional part of closing this show was saying good by to Jahnangel “JJ” Jimenez, the young actor who played my son. We were all overcome with the feeling of finality, of familia separating, of not breathing the same air in the same space any more…IMG_5743

He became one of us, embraced and trusted us…IMG_5739

For that I will be forever grateful…IMG_5740

I know that this world is in good hands because of JJ… he makes this a better planet to live on…IMG_5742

The obligatory empty dressing room capture…IMG_5731

Tita’s garden and all of our set props broken down and packed away…IMG_5732

The empty stage…IMG_5733

Our Tribe, Our Family, forever connected in the trials and tribulations of telling our story…

Left-Right back: Vilma Silva (Armida) Nancy Rodriguez (Josephina) Chris Bolender (Stage Manager) VIVIS (Tita) SZV (Medea) Lakin Valdez (Hason) Front: Ken Yoshikawa (Soldier)


And now I am in New York, seeing the sights, watching plays, taking meetings, connecting with family and friends. I missed my Tribe, so I reached out to another one…

One the eve of a Full Super Moon, I gathered a few Kick Ass Womyn I knew were working and creating here in The Big Apple. Most of them I met through theatre and others I happened to meet through mutual friends. We gathered in the Parlor of Gloria Steinem’s house and had a salon. I was interested in hearing from others how they were feeling, how their creativity helped them through tough times, what are they working on, what are our dreams, who/what inspires us, how can we help each other.

We held space for each other, gifted each other with stories, laughter and truth. We also played dice, raffled off some beautiful thoughtful tokens and broke bread.

One of the activities was to take a moment in silence and write wishes for each other, express thoughts, quotes, beliefs in how to face life as a creative force. I then typed them up and sent it to the group, a manifesto of support, love and inspiration.

To remember we are not alone…


It was a feeling I will never forget… and I hope that even after I leave NYC they will continue to connect, reach out, communicate and gather.

KickAss Womyns Gathering.jpg

Clockwise, starting under the elephant portrait: Hanna Zwyben, Rachel Jenison, Vivia Font, Regina Bain, Kristin Condon, Alexis Roblan, Adriana Gaviria, Jamie Ann Romero, Agunda Okeyo, SZV, Cassandra Lopez, Erin O’Connor and Stephanie Swirsky.

Tribe is where your heart is, we can find it if we look. If we reach out, if we invite, if we share. Taking time for self-care can be an ongoing battle for some of us. Sometimes we can find help with others. Reuniting us with that sense of family, connection and love. Saying goodbye is an opportunity to say hello…

Who are your Tribes?

Tribe Feathers circle





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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