Post Cards

I love mail. I was a ’90s child, so I associate mail with Steve and Blue singing the mail song on Blue’s Clues (not Joe… forget him). A more noteworthy reason (pun intended), is because of napkins. One day when I was little, I ventured over to the Fellowship Hall as a few church ladies were putting up tables and place settings for an after-church luncheon. They were stewing over the big decision of how they wanted to fold the napkins. Samantha to the rescue! I so cleverly suggested that they fold them in triangles (so original, I know). Later, I received a handwritten note in the mail from one of the ladies, thanking me for the suggestion and for helping fold the napkins. Her note required much more thought and effort than my simple suggestion, and the lesson of how that made me feel has stuck with me.

I have to also credit my mom for furthering my love of mail. Whenever I went to overnight camp, even if it was just a week, she would send me a letter every day. Then in college, I must’ve gotten something in the mail every other week. Sometimes I would chuckle because she’d spend $4 to send me a package of M&Ms when I could’ve easily bought myself M&Ms. But practicality is not the point of mail. Another time I was disappointed to open up a large envelope to find underwear that I had accidentally left in the laundry on a recent visit home. It doesn’t matter what she sent; it was thrilling seeing something in my little box and knowing whatever was there had been in my mom’s hand just a few days before (or more if USPS was slacking).

When I started my first tour last summer, I decided that it would be fun to send post cards. After all, not many people get to travel to a new town every week. Post cards normally are associated with vacations or particularly touristy areas, rather than towns with a population of less than a thousand. So, I quickly learned that my writing project is also a weekly treasure hunt.

There have been a couple weeks where the hosting theatre has post cards, so that is an early victory. However, most weeks I devote an hour or so to wander through locally owned shops for a 3.5×5 piece of paper. It’s actually been a cool thing because what started as a way to connect with friends and family has led to several wonderful conversations with shop owners, parents of cast members, and other townspeople I run into while on the hunt. Yay, human interaction!

Is my hunt successful? Usually, yes! The goal is to have it say the name of the town and state. Sometimes, however, I have to write in the town name if I can’t find a town-specific one. You’d be surprised at how many small towns have them, though. I think the hardest ones to find are suburbs to bigger cities because it seems like they identify more with the larger city than claiming their own town. Anyway, I can count on one hand the number of weeks I haven’t sent anything.

Each week, seven post cards go out to some of my closest family and friends. With modern communication, people could argue that mail is unnecessary, but sometimes I feel more connected through a handwritten note than using FaceTime. I like that people have something tangible from me since I can’t see them in person.

If you could use some happy mail, please let me know. I would love to send you a post card! (But not every week because more than 7 per week would start to get excessive!)

Love,

Samantha

 

P.S. Real life worry: I write almost exclusively in cursive, and apparently they don’t teach that anymore. I like to think that all of these things I write could be held on to read years later, but I think those years may be more numbered than I’d like to admit. I’ll be teaching my kids cursive….

Me Party

A few weeks ago, in preparation for singing at my brother’s wedding, I rehearsed at home with my favorite accompanist, my mom. What started as a necessary task on the to-do list turned into a full-blown song session including songs from my repertoire dating back to the song I sang for my first musical audition in 3rd grade. (Side note: The audition was for The Sound of Music. I sang a song from The Tap Dance Kid that the angsty, overweight, but starving for attention, African American character sings. I was not cast.) It was such a joy to return to the comforting musical bubble my mom and I share, without the stress of an upcoming audition, jury, or other pressing vocal event. One of the songs I pulled out of the stack was, “Me Party,” from the 2011 Muppets Movie. Ironically, it’s a duet with Amy Adams’ character and Miss Piggy, but, in true “me party” fashion, I sang it solo.

As I was squinting to read the lyrics on the page (the piano light situation is not ideal), I laughed to myself thinking about how many “me parties” I attend regularly. Of course, the difference between what Mary and Miss Piggy have going versus my life is they have men/frogs who just happen to not be around. My “me party” is a more regular affair.

Tonight I was a party of one at a small-town restaurant where the owner’s face is on the cover, the decorations look like they came from an antique store, and there are columns wrapped in fake vines. I sat down and took my time with the menu, not having to look and hold a conversation simultaneously. I ordered, then dove into reading my latest Kindle book. I savored my meal, my book, and I even conversed a bit with the waitress. Then, I walked back to my hotel room, which is the space where I sleep, shower, eat most meals, watch Netflix, do yoga, talk to my mom, read, etc….

This job is tricky because you definitely have to be a people person. We are in a new town each week with a different group of kiddos to meet and direct. We work with the contacts who bring us in. We often live with a homestay. Sometimes, we’re invited for dinner with a family of someone in the cast. Yet, despite all of that, there is a ton of alone time, so you need to enjoy people, but not be dependent on having them around. Otherwise, it would be very very lonely.

Of course, I have a tour partner, but working together, driving together, and spending all of our free time together would just be too much. Alone time is necessary for a healthy working relationship. That being said, last night we enjoyed a post-show dinner together at a restaurant bar & grill, recommended by several cast members. “It’s a bar!” whispered a child, encouraging us to go.

This post is not to invoke pity, by any means. Sure, sometimes life on the road is a little lonely. I miss my friends and family. I miss hanging out with people my age (once again, minus my tour partner). But I know that these days of hanging out with myself won’t last forever. One day, I’ll probably have a family of my own with a busy schedule full of my kids’ activities, and then I’ll be wishing I had a hotel room to myself to do whatever I want for hours on end. So, I do my best to celebrate each “me party” I throw myself. After all, as the song says, “I’m such good company!”

Now, it’s your turn! Throw yourself a “me” party! Take yourself to dinner. Go to a movie. Go to a museum. Explore a new shop in town. It’s fun! You might be surprised how much you like spending time with yourself!

 

P.S. In case, you haven’t heard the song, please watch. I wish singing desserts would join me at my me parties. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXH3Gnvxpw0

 

 

Exercise on the Road

I consider myself athletically challenged. My two brothers, Jacob and Will are not. In fact, they are both incredibly athletic and played/will play on their college baseball teams. Here’s a visual:

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Anyway, I never minded that much. I always just laughed it off and said that I balanced the family out by being the artsy one. The performer. The pageant girl. Little did I know, my two-year pageant career is what led to the most embarrassing “active” moment of my life.

Because I competed in the teen division, we were saved from walking on stage in a bikini and heels. Rather, we had an activewear competition where we strutted around in little exercise outfits and did a couple “flexing” poses (sometimes accompanied by a duck face), and then peppily exited the stage.

The first year was fine. I mean knew I was a total poser, but I was pretty sure that the judges didn’t. Year two at Miss Indiana’s Outstanding Teen, the week of the pageant we were informed that instead of the usual pep and pose deal, we were going to do an activewear routine. I was not prepared for that. They taught it to us, and it wasn’t overly difficult, but when my moment came… well…

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Needless to say, I was not crowed Miss Indiana’s Outstanding Teen. Thankfully, I had already ordered the DVD to treasure this moment forever. When I watched it for the first time, I had actual tears because it was so funny. I knew it hadn’t gone well, but I didn’t realize exactly how bad it was. I mean, how could I not look normal when I’m running in place?!

Due to my lack of athletic ability, I had never been into exercising. I was always so busy with all of my other activities. Plus, I was always fairly thin naturally (thanks for those genes, mother).

College. I realized that exercise is a thing that people do. It’s not just for athletes. Also, my metabolism was changing (rude)! Plus, you’re paying for that rec center as part of your tuition, so you might as well take advantage of it. I started to go on occasion, but felt very lost in a sea of people who looked like they knew what they were doing. Don’t get me wrong, I had taken gym class, so I knew how to use machines, but there’s a difference between knowing how to use a machine and knowing how to create a workout that isn’t just 15 reps on each machine. So, I’d hop on that elliptical and run for awhile.

One time I was adventurous and decided to go to a zumba class at the rec when they were all free the first week of classes. Unfortunately, I came directly from another class and was a little bit late, so I had to stand in the back of the class. Normally, that would be a good thing, but because half of the gym was the zumba class and the other half was full of guys playing pick-up basketball, I wasn’t too thrilled. Things were going okay, and then the zumba instructor said, “Who’s ready to tweeeerrrkkk?!”

I was not ready.

Sometimes, people are confused about my ethnicity because I tan really easily and my curls are confusing. Those people should see me attempt to twerk. I digress.

“Samantha, this post is called Exercise on the Road. Why are you telling us stories about your past?”

Right, right. I’ll get on with it.

With this job, I have a lot of free time, so I can no longer use my favorite excuse for not working out, which is that I’m too busy. I like to find different ways to be active. First, the job itself is pretty active with directing on my feet for four hours a day. We also put up the set and get some arm workouts carrying the heavy bags. Sometimes, though, I try to convince myself that the job itself is an actual workout. It is not.

I’m a big fan of finding places to walk/hike. A few weeks ago I walked for almost five miles (the point of the walk was to find a good cup of coffee, but nevertheless, I walked!). Sometimes, we have access to a fitness center. I always act like that is something that really excites me, but then I get there and I kind of go back to my activewear moment. People surely know that I do not belong at a gym.

I have discovered, however, that I like working out in my hotel room. Alone. No one is there. I pull up some cardio dance youtube videos and look like an absolute fool, but it doesn’t matter because I am the only one there. I am glad that I do not have these workouts captured on DVD. I’m also slowly figuring out yoga. There are also lots of cool exercise apps! It’s nice to be told what to do, so that I don’t quit the moment I start feeling tired (aka, me on an elliptical).

This is all really great, but on weeks where I am staying in someone’s home, rather than a hotel, it gets awkward again. Why is working out so awkward? I mean, it’s something that everyone does (or should do), but wow, I do not like doing it in front of other people. I don’t even really like working out in someone’s basement and them knowing that that’s what I’m doing.

Anyway, I guess the point of this post is that exercise on the road can be hard, but not much harder than exercise in everyday life. I just need to get over myself. Hopefully sharing these stories will get me one step closer to not being awkward. Or not.

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Byeeeeeee

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy…

… but let’s spend a very concentrated amount of time with each other, and then see you never, maybe.

On the road again. I began a contract with Missoula Children’s Theatre on December 27 (and am just now getting around to writing a blog post). Anyway, I rang in the new year with what an outsider would call a complete group of strangers – the other tour actor/directors training for the job. Yet, as we were all squished into a hotel room hugging each other and wishing one another a Happy New Year, there was so much love in the room.

One of the people I hugged New Year’s Eve was my roommate, Christina, a fellow tour actor/director. She and I instantly clicked. We would finish a full 10-hour day of work and then, though we were exhausted, would stay up late chatting, crying, and giggling — like we were young girls back in the days of sleepovers. Finally, one of us would cut the other off in the middle of conversation and say, “It’s time for bed!” We would go to sleep maybe ten minutes later. Maybe. Actors have a gift for bonding quickly because we love to study people (and talk about ourselves). It’s also a necessity because we don’t have the luxury of being with our family or long-time friends, so we have the responsibility of filling that void for one another.

Training ended and I drove to Alabama, and she and her tour partner went to California. We’ll see each other when we return our trucks to Missoula, but after that, who knows? (Just kidding, Christina. We’re going to be next door neighbors and I’ll knock on your door when I need to borrow a cup of flour.)

Speaking of the end of training, that marked the beginning of the 32-hour drive from Montana to Alabama. Just me, my tour partner, Jacob, and our truck. Our friendship began during training, and as we drove across the country together, opening up about our lives. I was struck that in just two weeks I perhaps knew him more than most would learn about a co-worker in a year. Maybe I’m wrong, as I don’t have much experience with more traditional jobs, but I’m guessing that normal everyday banter doesn’t include your favorite music, guilty pleasure snack, or details about your childhood.

For those of you unfamiliar with my job, my tour partner and I travel to a different town each week and teach a different group of students Treasure Island. It may sound mundane to do the same show week after week. However, each week a new group of students transforms it to be something entirely unique. As I say goodbye to the students when they turn in their costumes after the final show, it means so much to think how far they have come in just a week. Sometimes I look at some of the younger kids and wonder what they will be like as teenagers or young adults. Many of them may not remember much of the week, but for some it may spark a passion. Either way, I feel lucky to have been involved in what is hopefully a fun, enlightening experience for them.

When we’re in each town, we either stay in a hotel or a family opens up their home to us for the week. My own family has hosted three different exchange students, several baseball players, and then there are my brothers’ friends, who always seem to end up on our basement floor. From my experience hosting, I know the importance of host-guest interaction. So as a guest, I don’t want to just go to my room; rather, I want to take advantage of this small window as life intersects with these people. So far, we’ve stayed at just two different homes, but both experiences have had a deep impact, resulting in a nearly choked up goodbye.

Tour life could be very lonely. There’s only one person that you consistently see, and the majority of the people you interact with are under 15. Yet, by allowing myself to be vulnerable and really connect with these people that I’ll likely never see again, I don’t feel alone. Goodbyes are hard, and sometimes it’s tempting to not open yourself up to such short-term relationships. Why have a conversation with someone who’s basically a stranger and is only in your life for a week when you could instead call home? Maintaining existing relationships is important, but so is living in the present. The heart has no boundaries – it continues to expand with each new connection. I am so lucky that every week I meet so many beautiful, colorful, interesting souls. And, who knows? Maybe somehow the universe will find a way for our paths to cross again.

New Acting Gig!

Blog time! It’s been awhile, as my children’s theatre contract ended mid-August. I haven’t really had much to say in my BFA blog because I have since been spending some quality time at home saving money and searching for the next acting gig. However, when I started this blog I said that it would tell of adventures during contracts and in between, so here we are. In between.

As I mentioned, I am at home saving money. I have been hired as a server, which is one of the only non-theatre jobs I have had… or so I thought.

Here are the ways I’m using my BFA as a server:

Listening

In the first semester of acting, our professor blew our little freshman minds when he said that one of the most important tools of an actor is listening, rather than our own delivery of lines. It is, of course, important to listen to the customer’s orders and make sure that it is right. I also “listen” to body language to know whether the table wants me to interact with them or give them their freaking food and go away.

Makeup

In serving, like acting, it does matter what you look like. I have never worn makeup more consistently than I have for this job. So far, so good.

Illusion of the First Time

We talk about making scenes fresh so that it doesn’t sound rehearsed, but that we are truly saying these lines for the first time. I haven’t been serving that long, but I’ve noticed it is already a challenge to bring this freshness when I introduce myself to a new table and go through all of the usual questions. I try to tailor my “lines” based on the responses of the different guests. Also known as being a real person having a conversation, rather than a robot.

More importantly, I’m getting really good at running into people I haven’t seen in a long time and updating them on my life. Some people are very concerned that I have decided to drop out of school because they don’t know I graduated in May. They are then concerned (or pretending not to be) that I am at home serving. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. I just don’t want to move to Los Angeles with no money.

Improv

Going along with the old saying, “the customer is always right,” I’ve learned to go with the flow and be a problem solver. For any special requests, I respond with, “yes, and….”

Acting

Here are some of my best acting moments:

  • Hiding the judgment when people order incredibly fattening meals and then need about 7 more sides of ranch. *TANGENT* I never knew how obsessed people are with sauces. Why do you need to dip ranch in everything? I do not understand! One server had a man ask for an entire bowl of ranch for his cheeseburger. Oh, absolutely, have some liquid fat for your fat. Whatever. I love ice cream, so I shouldn’t judge.
  • Acting happy to serve the man who came in with a free appetizer card and ordered an appetizer and water
  • When guests ask for recommendations from the menu on things I have never eaten
  • When I first started and actually had no idea what I was doing
  • When people hear I’m an actor and then try to give me advice on jobs I should look for or say things like, “Have you ever thought about New York?” New York? What’s that? Never heard of it.

Objective

Tips.

I am so #blessed to add this credit to my résumé. Please come out and see the show!*

 

*In all seriousness, despite my sarcastic remarks, I am thankful for this job and am actually having a lot of fun 🙂

 

Living That Tour Life Part 3: Lodging

As I write this, I’m sitting on a lovely wooden lawn chair outside of my motel watching the sunset over Lake Superior, realizing I forgot to put on bug spray.

Pause to go get bug spray.

Ahh, bug spray, my favorite perfume.

Anyway, this perfect writing spot is on the front lawn of my motel for the week. Confession: I have a fear of motels. I prefer entering through a lobby, walking down a hallway, and arriving at my door INSIDE. As a kid, anytime my family stopped somewhere to sleep during a road trip, I would beg my parents to stay at a hotel. I was convinced that all motels were broken into. You literally park your car right outside your door! I mean, come on! THEY KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE (whoever they is). Pretty princess, Samantha, didn’t always get her way at 2AM, and we would have to stay in a motel. Though I was paranoid and terrified, I was comforted knowing that my parents were there to protect me. Or at least to block the invader as I make my epic escape! I kid… sort of.

I’ve joked with Kevin all summer that if we ever stay at a sketchy motel, he will have to stay with me. So far, so good. This is only our second motel. The first was a lodge in a wooded area, so I felt secluded enough; though maybe seclusion should’ve made me more cautious. This week, I have an extra layer of protection with a screen door that locks, which is probably more for bugs than intruders, but it does help me a little. Kevin is also next door so can listen for any signs of scary. If I don’t post anything later on this week, though, please send a search team.

Nevertheless, it is nice that I simply walked out the door and was able to take in this amazing view. Maybe my motel fear can subside for the week.

This blog post isn’t just to talk about this week’s motel, but to share some of the benefits and struggles of living in a new place each week.

Temperatures

I have yet to be in a place with no type of air conditioner (so #blessed for that), but I cannot, for the life of me, ever get the temperature in the room right. Usually when you walk into a fresh hotel room, the A/C is either off completely or blasting cold air. I immediately adjust accordingly to try to make it comfortable, but somehow I always manage to get it to another extreme. How do I get it to a comfortable room temperature? Last week, I was so hot, so I turned on the A/C. The next day my room was completely damp. That was Tuesday, and the rest of the week everything in my room was slightly wet. WHAT DID I DO?!

Another temperature that is tricky is the temperature of the shower. A fellow tour director, Larren, posted a Facebook status that perfectly captures this dilemma:

“Every hotel shower seems to have such a fine line between ‘Hmm this could be a little warmer.’ and ‘Boiling lava, I’m melting, it’s getting hot in here so melt off all my skin, now I’m a lobster.'”

Finally, there’s the temperature of the mini fridge, assuming there is one. I’ve found that the mini fridge is either so cold that my lettuce becomes little frozen treats and my milk is a slushie, or not quite cold enough for the freezer section to keep ice cream solid. Cereal slushies, it is!

The Beds

Mostly, I’ve been lucky to have beds that are fairly comfortable. Sometimes I immediately strip down the comforter that looks like it’s as old as the hotel itself and replace it with my trusty freshman dorm comforter.

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Note the dated comforter that has since been removed

When you live life in a hotel room, you quickly learn that the bed is not just for sleeping. Yes, there is often a little desk with an office chair, but who really wants to sit there? Therefore, the bed is where I sleep, eat, read, and watch endless hours of Netflix.

As nice as a king bed seems, I have determined I much prefer two double beds to one giant bed. First of all, who needs all of that space to sleep? I’m not that big – I’d much rather have room for activities than have that giant bed! Second, two beds are really nice because I can reserve one bed specifically for sleeping and the other bed for everything else. That way, I can eat and not sleep in the crumbs from my breakfast that morning.

Housekeeping

Do Not Disturb. Nothing against housekeepers, but it’s just me, so I don’t need my room cleaned that often. Plus, I don’t want them to judge me for my dirty dishes that are sitting around. I do wish I could be a fly on the wall when they finally do clean my room at the end of the week. They probably can’t figure out why there’s so much orange makeup on my towels.

Though I don’t need their service during my week, I am lucky to have someone else clean for me. Sometimes the kids bring us candy as a treat, so I often leave extra behind in my room as a thank you.

Living Out of a Suitcase

Or two suitcases. Or two suitcases and a cooler and a toiletry bag and bags of food.

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My possessions for the summer vs. Kevin’s possessions for the summer. Sorry, not sorry. 

Whoops. I have a clothes suitcase and a stuff suitcase. I unpack my stuff suitcase every week, which consists of a:

  • tea kettle
  • box of tea
  • George Foreman
  • mugs, silverware, food containers, lunch box, and plates
  • books waiting to be read (they remain packed until it’s their turn)
  • iHome

My clothes, however, stay in my giant suitcase. It used to be that anytime I vacationed anywhere, no matter the length of time, I would unpack to feel at home. When it’s no longer a special occasion and you travel every week, that just seems silly. I don’t mind living out of a suitcase that much, except for a few things.

  1. The clothes that I packed that I have yet to wear. I look at them and think, “Why the crap did I think I would want that this summer?” I resent these items every time I have to carry my insanely heavy suitcase up or down a flight of stairs, which I’m a pro at, by the way.
  2. The clothes that I left behind in Indiana that I miss and am longing for. Fun floral dresses, I’m talking about you.
  3. Everything is always wrinkled. Always. I’ve become very good friends with Downy wrinkle releaser spray. Sometimes the hotel has an iron that I can use (I’ve busted it out a couple times), but not always. Plus, even if there is an iron available, who irons a t-shirt? That’s just silly.
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    If this blog were super popular they’d probably send me some for free, which would be nice because I’m out….

     

Keys

I’m shocked at how many actual keys I’ve been given, rather than the piece of plastic that you scan. I have a bad history with keys. The key to my house I somehow never can manage to open the door with. There may or may not have been a time when I have stood outside my house WITH A KEY, crying because I couldn’t open the door. Luckily, I’ve had better luck with these.

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The sun has now officially set and the light from my laptop is a meeting place for the mosquitoes that do not care that I loaded up with bug spray. I’m headed in to my home for the week. Hopefully no one follows me in….

Living That Tour Life Part 2: Church

Growing up, I never had to move. The room that was my nursery as an infant is the same room that is now storing all of the years of belongings that didn’t join me for my summer contract. With that, there was a lot of consistency in my childhood, including my home church. I love my home church so much. I love the familiarity of it. I love how beautiful the sanctuary is, and I love the ugly brown stage in the fellowship hall where I got a taste of performing at Christmas programs. I love the tiny storage closet that connects the women’s bathroom to a fancy room with a piano, that I’m told a bride could use for a dressing room if she got married at the church. Though I’ve never used the passageway for that purpose, my friend and I spent many hours sitting in that closet, hiding from our moms after church, talking about boys. The congregation at my church has witnessed me grow as a singer, having had to listen to solos before I deserved a solo. More importantly, they’ve watched me from my infant baptism, to my confirmation at 13, and every step in between and beyond. It is such a joy every time I visit home to experience Centenary United Methodist and once again be with my church family.

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Selfie with my friend Gwen in the church bathroom, circa 2008. We apparently graduated from the closet to the bathroom at this point. I’m not proud.

While I did go to college and experience different churches then, this summer I have been exposed to even more different forms of worship. Each week, I keep my eyes peeled for churches around the area. Then, Saturday night I Google churches around me and pick one to go to according to very important factors, such as how early I will have to get up and whether or not I can walk there. Side note: lots of churches need to work on their online presence. It’s like they don’t want visitors – you would be shocked at how hard it is to find what time worship starts. Rude! I digress… Here’s some highlights of my experiences:

Abbotsford, WI

After our very first residency week, Kevin and I were invited to church by the parents of some of our cast members. It had been kind of a long week, simply because it was our first and we were still trying to translate what we had learned in our training into real life. We worshipped along with what we have deemed the whitest praise band we’ve ever seen. I’m chuckling to myself thinking about it, but there are no words. My home church is traditional and sings songs from a hymnal, accompanied by an organ. A few songs into worship, the whitest praise band ever decided to play an old hymn. We were sitting with the family that invited us and the son asked his mom what song it was and she didn’t know, but told him to just follow along on the screen. It was funny to me because it was the only song I actually really knew. After the service, the pastor said that the band was going to continue worshipping and we could either leave, stay and pray, or sing for a little longer. The family that invited us asked if they could pray for us. The whitest praise band ever was the background for such a beautiful moment as we held hands with this family and they prayed for safe travels, energy, and for the kids we would meet this summer. I can’t think of a better way to start a contract.

Milwaukee, WI

The next week our originally scheduled town re-scheduled for the fall, leaving us with a week to stay with my older brother in Milwaukee. Because trying to park a minivan downtown is the worst, we researched a church within walking distance from his apartment. This church didn’t come up on the original Google search, but after a few searches, we came across a church called Bent Tree. It meets in the Third Ward (Jacob’s neighborhood) in the conference area at a coffee/wine bar. When we walked in, we were instantly recognized as newbies because apparently this church just started up in February and must be pretty low key since they don’t meet in a church. It turns out it is part of a larger church based in Texas. We participated in worship with the jazziest praise band (keyboard, guitar, and SAXOPHONE player!) then were given time to go refill our coffee before the sermon. After intermission(?), a pastor from Texas was live-streamed onto the screen! It was a really interesting experience, but what sticks out the most is how welcoming everyone was. They were so excited to see new people at their church and for us to be a part of something so dear to them. Nevertheless, we dodged out as quickly as possible after it was over because we were a little bit tired of trying to explain who we are, why we were in Milwaukee for the week, and what we do for a living. Also I’m pretty sure they all thought we were a couple and one woman assumed that Kevin was there visiting the drummer (aka the one other black person there).

Wadena, MN

I got a little taste of home when I went to a United Methodist Church (after a few weeks of missing due to a visit from my mother, traveling wedding weekend, and oversleeping)…. Aside from one mom with a newborn, a dad and two pre-teens, and me, the average age of the congregation was about 70. I loved it. It was such a small group and you could just tell how tight-knit they were. After the pastor gave the morning announcements, he let the congregation pass the microphone around and give any announcements or prayer requests they had. It was like they were an actual family. Later on, it was time to pass the peace and the elderly couple in front of me said “Peace be with you,” and then KISSED! Ahhhh my heart melted — they are so in love!!!!!!! I was also feeling a little bit bad, though, because it was the two of them and one other woman. She’s third wheeling so hard. Anyway, after her morning kiss from her hubby, the one woman turned around, looked at me, and said, “I don’t know you.” Welcome to small town, USA.

Baudette, MN

This past week I went to a Lutheran church for the first time since I went with my grandma as a young girl. Now, we Methodists use grape juice for communion, so my little self was not prepared when I took a big gulp of communion wine. I spent the rest of that service consumed with the burning feeling down my throat and the awful taste in my mouth. I also got tired of singing, which says a lot, coming from me. This week, as I sat in this new-to-me church, I  was filled with a bit of nostalgia as I experienced a Lutheran service all these years later, this time more accustomed to drinking wine, less consumed with the taste, and more in touch with the meaning of it all.

There are two main takeaways from my tour of churches. One, as Christians, it seems we often get caught up in trivial aspects of church. Should we sing looking at words on a screen or words from a hymnal? Should we be accompanied by an organ or a praise band? Should the pastor be in traditional robes or look like a hipster at a coffee shop? Of course, the denomination of the church isn’t trivial. However, while I certainly have preferences of where I feel most at home and how I personally connect, despite the many differences, they all preach the same thing. God is present at every gathering. We all worship Christ, and I think in the end of time, God is going to laugh at all of us for all of the wasted breaths worrying about the slight variances in what is really a group effort.

Secondly, it is wonderfully freeing going to a church by myself, knowing no one. Rather than needing to catch up with my church congregation, I am able to really focus on what I came to church for. At first, I felt lonely, but then I remembered, all Christians are my church family. It’s like that old kid’s song goes, “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All of who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”

Living That Tour Life Part 1: Eating

If you know me at all, you know that food is a very important part of my life. Admittedly, it’s an important part of everyone’s life because if you did not eat, you would die. I am not arguing that my need to survive is greater than others, but my appreciation and interest in food exceeds normal. My older brother gets lovingly frustrated with this obsession. For example, when I heard about his romantic proposal to his fiancée, one of my first questions was inquiring about all of the details of the celebratory meal they shared after. Not of the juicy details of their conversation, but of the juicy food on their plates.

I not only love talking about and eating food, I love cooking it as well. My mom is wonderful and always welcomed me into her kitchen, even at a young age when I thought recipes were for chums (many apologies to my family for being forced to try everything). This past school year was my first time living without my mom’s cooking or a meal plan, and I loved cooking for myself! It is so fun and relaxing having a kitchen and unlimited possibilities.

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So glad this treasure was preserved

Tour life is different. I have yet to master how to buy an appropriate number of groceries for one person one week at a time. Going from hotel to hotel, I never know what kind of situation I will have. One week we were really lucky because stayed at our sponsor’s house and had access to a fully stocked kitchen! Another week we were housed at an extended stay and had a stove, full refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and access to appliances and pans. The very next week we were back to a mini fridge and microwave. No coffee pot. That week I discovered coffee concentrate mixed with hot water. Not bad….

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Week 1 on the road, I didn’t have coffee filters, so I improvised with napkins from the continental breakfast. It was worth it to get freshly brewed Mudhouse coffee! I have since bought coffee filters.

In addition to whatever the hotel may have, I brought along my hot water kettle and a small George Foreman, so that helps. Once again, food is important to me. I don’t like to eat simply because I’m hungry or it’s time to eat. My mood is significantly affected by what I eat, the presentation, the quality of the food, etc. First world problems. Whatever.

Anyway, I refuse to eat PB&Js and ramen all the time, so I get creative. Last week I had the typical mini fridge/microwave combination and made a meal I was pretty proud of: turkey burgers grilled in my George Foreman, topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, red bell pepper, and spinach, served with steamed green beans and butternut squash. Those steamable bags are so handy!

 

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Cooking with a George Foreman and microwave is easy enough, but hotel room cooking is awkward because of the lack of prep space. I cooked my turkey burgers and the excess juices simply leaked all over the hotel desk (yuck). I cleaned it up, but the maids probably didn’t know what to make of my towel covered in turkey grease. I bought a dish wand so I can clean things properly, but somehow things never seem that clean when you’re washing dishes at the same sink where your hairbrush is sitting. That night, after cleaning dishes that held raw turkey, I was a little bit nervous that I would be brushing my teeth with an accidentally contaminated toothbrush, simply from being around that area.

So far, so good on the contamination issues.

This week our motel only has a mini fridge. There are no microwaves and signs prohibiting all cooking appliances. We’re in a big fishing town, so apparently they had issues with people frying fish in their rooms and stinking up the whole motel. Even though it would probably be fine to make a panini, rule-abiding Samantha can’t bring herself to rebel. Grocery shopping knowing you only have a mini fridge is depressing. Luckily, our sponsor for the week gave us each a $50 gift card to the gas station. Their iced coffee is surprisingly good.

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That brings me to eating out on the road. Yes, I do eat out. I prefer to save my money and cook for myself, but especially weeks where cooking can’t really happen, we turn to the town. I have been enjoying exploring local restaurants and witnessing the connectedness of these small towns. Tonight Kevin and I were clearly outsiders as other patrons didn’t even need a menu to order.

 

Sunday is our travel day, so when Kevin and I make it to our new destination for the week, we like to eat out, get settled into our hotel, then do our week’s worth of grocery shopping. Unfortunately, local restaurants are often closed on Sundays. Sigh, but expected. What is not expected, however, is that we have found that apparently Monday is the second holy day of rest because SO many restaurants are closed on both days. What’s up with that?

In summary, trying to eat healthy, save money, and cook as much as possible is challenging. I’m not a starving artist, but an artist who is hungry for good food.

And one final tidbit: a silly Samantha fantasy is to have a singing cooking show where I cook and then instead of cutting to a commercial while the food is in the oven or cooking on the stove, I serenade the viewers. If you know of anyone who’d like to produce, I’m open to it 😉

Show Reflections – Part 3

This is my final installment of show reflections after having seen 14 shows during my 6 weeks in Europe. It’s crazy to think this journey has come to an end, but I am so happy with the experience I’ve had. Seeing shows was one of the most important aspects of this trip for me, and I am thankful for being introduced to such a wide range of theatre. Here are my thoughts on the final two shows I saw (with the company of my mother)!

Miss Saigon

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For my mother’s sake, I felt that her West End experience should include a grandiose musical. There were so many fantastic shows I had already seen that would have been fun to introduce her to, but I figured we might as well see a show that neither of us had seen. I had heard great things about this production of Miss Saigon, so I figured we should give it a go, though it was a little ironic to see a show dealing with Americans in Vietnam War while in the UK.

For a bit of a summary, the story focuses on the relationship between Kim, a young Vietnamese girl who has been forced to prostitution after the death of her family, and an American officer, Chris. They marry, but he is unable to take Kim to America with him once the war is over, though he promises to return. Years later, the owner of the house Kim used to work for, Engineer, is bribed to hunt her down at the request of her formerly arranged fiancé. When he does find her, he discovers she had a son with Chris, and says that is their ticket to America (claiming he will be her “brother”).

I won’t give away the whole story, but that’s enough for you to know that Kim is the protagonist. The whole show really follows her story, and her needs are foremost presented, yet, at the curtain call Engineer was the last to bow. I have thought and thought about this, but I still can’t figure it out. He did have a song in Act II that was a showstopper, and while it was performed well, I honestly felt it should be cut because it broke up the momentum of the plot. It was simply about how great his life in America was going to be and eventually led to his daydream with scantily dressed women in a convertible. It had the wow-factor, but I was more interested in the story than that.

Speaking of wow-factor, the other note-worthy technical element of the show is that a helicopter flies above the stage as Chris leaves for America without Kim. Though this is a big element, it is way more deserved because it actually enhances the emotional impact of the story.

And yes, it is quite an emotional journey. I highly recommend this show, unless you’re like my roommate who doesn’t like sad things. In that case, stay away.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre

I’ve seen West End, a show at Regent’s Park, a show at the National Theatre, and at Shakespeare’s Globe, but I had yet to see an off-West End work. Luckily, my friends at The Phoenix Artist Club were promoting this original fairytale folk-musical, so I decided that would be the perfect ending to my theatre experience in London.

We arrived at The Landor Theatre hoping to find some yummy snacks before the show, as we had missed dinner after a lovely day at Kew Gardens. Walking past a bar area, we found our tickets at the box office in the back then continued down the hall to find an outdoor beer garden complete with a BBQ! This was much better than over-priced box office confections. My mom and I each had a roasted red pepper quesadilla topped with salad and washed down with a beer for her and a cider for me – yum!

Hut in the beer garden

Hut in the beer garden

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Back by the box office we found a staircase that led to the actual theatre entrance. Our ticket was collected (and not returned) at the door, and we learned that it was general admission seating in a folding chair black-box style set-up.

What a beautiful set!

What a beautiful set!

For such a small space, I was expecting an equally small cast, but the first number surprised me with a company of about 20 people in modern clothing, singing a hopeful song about the annual tradition of waiting to see if the statue in their square would wake. A cloaked figure took over the narration and we were taken back to a world of years past.

This original story has hints of Pinocchio and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The town clockmaker, in grieving his wife, has built a life-size doll that, to his surprise, can talk, move, and even think for herself. After losing his wife, he can’t bear the thought of losing her as well, so he is, of course, quite protective and makes her stay inside, claiming that the people out there won’t accept her.

Of course, she defies his request in search of life beyond walls. She falls in love. She is a successful seamstress. The other seamstress is jealous. Everyone learns the truth of who she is. Climatic song of exclaiming who she is and no one’s gonna bring her down (ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh). Dramatic turn of events. Dun dun dunn…..

There, that’s me being concise (trying). I do hope you have the chance to see it, as they’re hoping to make it as a West End show. The music is exciting and brought to life by a cast that exudes the joy of performing. Though I narrowed the plot down to mere sentence fragments, it isn’t what you’d expect from a fairytale musical – it’s quite dark and thought provoking, not simple at all.

I had the privilege of meeting the lead’s mom while queuing for the toilet (I’m so British now), and I learned that her daughter is a Canadian who now lives in London with her husband, whom she met while working on a cruise line. I met her after the show and mentioned I’m studying theatre at MSU, and she said she’s done some shows in Branson. We’re always told this theatre world is small, but it’s so hard to believe sometimes because the world seems so vast. It’s not.

So, as I’m fighting the sadness of leaving London, I’ll keep that in mind because you never know where life may take you.