Published: 1:19 pm, Sun. Dec. 30th, 2018Updated: 1:13 pm
Sadly, I’ve had occasion to write many things I didn’t want to in this column space since I took over as editor of the Daily Press.
This is another of those times.
I desperately do not want to write about what a wonderful woman Laney Rountree was. It hasn’t even been a year since I sat in her living room with her, fellow Artesia Community Theatre stalwart Alice Lorang, and a few of her friendly felines, forming the beginnings of a two-part series on the history of the ACT. Later, Laney and I relocated to her kitchen table, where we thumbed through numerous filled-to-bursting scrapbooks detailing the early years of the local theatre scene.
There was a reason I generally turned to Laney when writing articles on that subject. She was passionate about it. True passion for a particular life pursuit is becoming rare. We’re pulled in too many directions, focusing on too many different things at once to give our whole heart to one, but Laney loved acting and music, and she loved the ACT. That fact was clear as we waded through the scrapbooks; she could recall in an instant the bloopers, highlights and casts of each and every production, even if some of those actors had long since departed Artesia. For a moment, they had shared her world, and as far as she was concerned, that meant they would always have a place in it.
As for me, when I first met Laney, I was a 7-year-old orphan. She was Miss Agatha Hannigan.
I have many wonderful memories of my participation in ACT’s production of “Annie,” but Laney was one of the fondest. We kids loved her. She was a riot in her role, immersing herself into the terrible, tipsy orphanage caretaker with gusto, then morphing immediately back into kindly, fun-loving Laney when the scene was over.
She was an excellent actress. It’s easy to take community theatre for granted, to scoff at local-level productions, but not everyone can throw caution to the wind and run away to Broadway — though some who’ve passed through the ACT over the years could likely have made it there, Laney included. She firmly believed in the importance of having an outlet for regular residents with regular lives who just happened to love the theatre.
“You just don’t know what hidden talents you’ve got,” she told me last January. “When you get on stage, you become somebody else, and you forget the world. Everything that’s going on in the world at this time is bad, it seems like. And there is good out there. We know there’s good out there. So we’ve always wanted people to be able to come, enjoy an evening, see a good play, and mainly forget what’s going on in their lives for a while and just be entertained.”
Laney and I became reacquainted when I started at the newspaper, and in 2016, I asked if she knew of anyone who might be offering violin lessons. I’d always wanted to learn to play, and with my job sending my stress levels to new heights, I needed an escape. She offered to teach me.
I was delighted to join Laney’s Music Studio; she was equally delighted to have me. She posted my name on her bulletin board right along with the other kids and teens to whom she taught piano. On holidays, she’d remind me to take a few pencils, some candy, and stickers, just like the others. I could not have been more on board with that. Who doesn’t want candy and stickers? My violin case is now covered in kittens, jack-o-lanterns, stars, and leprechauns.
Every Wednesday afternoon during the school year, I’d walk the quiet halls of First Christian Church, and Laney would teach me to play violin. From scratch.
I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. Laney was a gifted musician and had a fantastic, wry sense of humor. We tended to do more laughing than anything else. She understood music students will be more apt to learn music they enjoy, so she supplied a variety of options, from the Irish standards in which I was interested to “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, music from “Sherlock” to themes from the “Harry Potter” films.
At Christmas, we’d switch to jolly carols and beloved hymns, and if I came in late on a particular day, hindered by one crisis or another at the office, we’d spend more time talking than playing. Because Laney cared how I was, what was going on, and whether there was anything she could do to help. During months like that, she’d neglect to send me home with a bill for my lessons. I’d bring the checkbook the next week anyway, and she’d wave a hand at me. “We didn’t get a lot of lesson in,” she’d say. “Laney, people charge for therapy, too, you know. A lot more than they do for violin lessons.” We’d laugh and then solve a few of the world’s problems before breaking into “Danny Boy.”
I’ll miss that so much.
Laney was taking a break from music lessons this school year. She needed some time to focus on herself, and I wholeheartedly agreed. I had no doubt in my mind she’d emerge from it stronger, energized, and ready to re-focus on the things she loved, whether that involved music lessons or not. It was a terrible shock to hear of her sudden passing. It always is when the people in question are so very full of life.
My sincerest condolences today to Laney’s family and to all the people who had a place in her world — her friends, her theatre family, her students. Artesia has lost one of its most vibrant, kindhearted, interesting, and talented citizens in Laney Rountree. The local arts scene has lost a tireless member of its vanguard. I, and many others, have lost a dear friend.
It’s difficult to accept that I won’t see her again, but I will do my very best to live by her example. I’ll take time to be passionate about the things I love. I’ll treasure life’s little pleasures. I’ll project. I’ll think of her every time I take my violin from its colorful-sticker-covered case. And I’ll remember to practice, Laney. A little every day.