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Feature Tue Nov 08 2011

Interview: Amanda Rountree

Amanda Rountree has been performing, teaching, directing and producing comedy in Chicago since 2007. Her one-woman show, The Good, The Bad and The Monkey, is running this week and next, in a very short but very anticipated re-launch. I recently chatted with her about all things comedy, and monkey. Here is what she had to say.
Thumbnail image for amandarountree.jpg

Let's talk about how/why you ended up in Chicago. More importantly, what brought you to comedy?

It's funny. In the late 90's, I was thinking I would move to Chicago to pursue improv, comedy, and maybe even photography, but I took a serendipitous detour to Seattle, and ended up living there for nearly a decade. When I came to Chicago in 2007, I'd already been performing improv and comedy for fifteen years. I wanted (and needed) to be in a bigger city with more opportunities for performing artists. Plus, I wanted to be closer to my hometown (Louisville, KY) where my family is. So, I ended up in Chicago anyway. And I love it. I think I belong here. At least for now.

I've been fortunate in that I've been surrounded by pretty funny people since I was born. My family is hilarious. I was the youngest and learned fairly early on that being funny was one of the easiest (and most enjoyable ways) of getting attention. Also, during my middle school years, I was picked on fairly frequently, not being one of the "cool" kids. Being funny helped then, too. Ha! Am I a "textbook comedian" now? Is this what we all say? When I was fourteen years old, I signed up for an improv class with my cousin. It scared the buh-jee-boos outta me, but I was hooked. Instantly.

Who/What inspires you?

Before I even started performing, folks like Carol Burnett, Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, and Lily Tomlin inspired me. Generally speaking though, anytime I see someone exploring their truth in a genuine way, it inspires me. A friend of mine says, "The universality is in the details." I agree with her. I love when someone shares something specifically personal that we all experience. You have to laugh. People talk about 'the laugh of recognition.' I think a deeper laugh beyond that one is the laugh of validation. It feels good to see an artist up there showing the world something that only you thought you did. You laugh, not just because you recognize it as your own, but because you feel a little validated in your ridiculousness. I love that kinda thing. Of course, when I look back and see the four people that I listed first, it's clear that they all fit the bill of people who can be funny, sincere, and vulnerable. Honestly, I believe that the more sincere and vulnerable you can be, the funnier you can be.

Was there a defining moment when you saw someone be super vulnerable on stage (or you were), and you were like, "that's it!"?

Hmm. Oh, boy, that's a good question. My memory is not always the best, so I'm sure many inspiring moments are embedded in my subconscious. One moment that comes to mind, though, is of a particular improvisational theatre show I did with Unexpected Productions while touring Europe. One of the story-lines involved two lonely people continually missing each other. Randy Dixon and I played the two characters. His portrayal of the character was very genuine and vulnerable and I needed to match that energy for the style of the piece. I'm glad I did. I learned a lot from it. After the show, an audience member approached us and told us it had brought her to tears. Like all comedians, I love when I say or do something on stage that makes the audience laugh. But to move them to other emotions is pretty incredible too. And to be able to create the space where they can go on a journey with you--to have them laugh, cry, cringe, sigh, and more in a single show is amazing. That's what I aspire to do. I don't know if I'll ever hit the target...but at least I think I'm aiming in the right direction.

You're putting your one-woman show, The Good, The Bad and The Monkey up again. This is the shows second run in Chicago? What made you decide on another run?

Technically, it's my third run here. (Although the second "run" was pretty brief). In the fall of 2009, I ran it for eight weeks. This past April, I did two shows at the Second City Training Center. I love performing the show--it's really fun. I am going to keep doing it until I get tired of it. I put a lot of work into it, so figured I'd keep on riding that horse.... Although recently, I've been thinking about another one-woman who knows? After this run, I might set it aside so I can direct my attention toward writing again.

Can you talk about how this run is different from the last one?

This run is definitely different from my very first run. My director (Jen Ellison) and I trimmed up some of the extraneous bits and I have a new ending now. I like both endings, but the current one is better at reflecting where I am now with my story. Also, there are sometimes small changes from performance to performance. I actually don't have a printed out script that I've written. There are certainly parts of the show that don't really change that much. But there are still parts of the show wherein I improvise within the beats. It's nice to still be discovering things. I tell people I just react to what the sock monkeys say to me. (I guess I should mention here that I actually am dialoguing with sock monkeys during the show. When people see "sock monkey" they sometimes think "sock puppet." But it's not a puppet show. The sock monkey's half of the dialogue is simply imagined/inferred by the audience based on my words and reactions).

You don't have a script??

Well, no, not per say. But I sort of write "backwards" anyway...meaning that when I write, I usually am up walking around, acting it out--trying out how the lines sound and feel. When I come across something I like, then I sit and write it down. (Suffice it to say, all of my writing is done in the privacy of my own home and not in a coffee shop at my laptop). Back when I first wrote the show, I was definitely writing down large parts of it, then memorizing/running-through it. In rehearsals, I would sometimes veer away from parts of my writing, find better things, then include those in the updated written version. This happened so much that I finally just gave up on trying to record all of the updates. That is not to say that I'm improvising the whole time. To the contrary, I am a lover of words and there are so many moments in the show where I've discovered the exact word combo I want for the lines. Admittedly, I can be a bit of a nerd about it--annoyingly precise. Improvising the general idea of those particular lines just wouldn't work. It just wouldn't be as good as I want it to be. Aside from those specific lines, I've got the show memorized through the emotional beats. But I play myself and it's my I'm sure it's easier for me to memorize it than it would be for anyone else.

Aside from this show, what do you have coming up in the near future?

I'm thinking I might tour this show some more next year. I also will be writing down the thoughts/ideas that will hopefully turn into my next show. I've been doing some storytelling events around town--those have been fun. I don't have anything hammered out yet, but I've been talking to some talented friends of mine about doing some improvised plays. I also teach. I love teaching and have been blessed with a plethora of it recently. I'm currently teaching seven days a week, so that's obviously taking up quite a bit of my schedule.

The Good, The Bad and The Monkey runs Thursdays, November 10th and 17th Stage 773′s Cabaret Theatre (1225 W. Belmont). Tickets are $12 and may be purchased here. For more about Amanda, visit her website.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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