The Collective: Annie Katsura Rollins

‘The Collective: Interviews’ continues this week with the illustrious Annie Katsura Rollins.

Annie Katsura Rollins

Annie and I met nearly two decades ago on a flight to Beijing, China. We were students in the same high school study abroad program. We became instant friends, drawn by our shared love of jumping on beds, dumpling making, Beijing’s then-retro ‘breadbox’ (面包) taxis, Joni Mitchell, and general silliness.

Not a teenager in China anymore, Annie has found a unique way to combine her passions of theatre and all things Chinese: Chinese shadow puppetry.

Currently, Annie works as a puppet/scenic/costume designer/theatre maker around the Twin Cities with Penumbra Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Theatre Novimost, Black Label Movement, Ananya Dance Theatre, Threads Dance Project, and the Children’s Theatre Company.  She recently created a new shadow puppetry work called There’s Nothing To Tell (没有什么可), which premiered in June.  She is a graduate of the MFA theatre design program at the University of Minnesota and a recipient of the Fulbright fellowship.  This year, she received grants from the Puffin Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board and Metropolitan Regional Arts Council for her work in puppetry.  Her online portfolio is here.  She blogs at:

Here are a few insights into how she incorporates conscious living into a life of creative pursuits:

Describe yourself in one word:  Curious.

What makes you happy? Courage, creativity, the Olympics, against all odds, originality, story. And the loved ones.

Work Annie created by hand for her most recent show

What frustrates you? Ignorance, status quo, mosquitos.

What is your greatest professional achievement? Not giving up.  I’m still in it.  If I continue to survive as a full-time artist, I will always consider this my greatest professional achievement.

Who is your role model? I’ve got a million.  I work much better when there is someone who has already shown me it can be done – in small and large ways.  Just about every woman in my life has given me the example and then the courage to do something I thought I couldn’t.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself as a child, what would it be? I never had trouble following the rules – actually, it made me feel safe to do so.  But, looking back on it, following those rules kept my own desires too quiet to hear for quite some time.  If I had the chance, I’d tell my younger self to take some time each day to shut out everyone else and turn up the volume of my inner voice.

Describe your typical day: I haven’t had a typical day in 5 years and that’s the way I like it.  My days are usually a mishmash of personal creative work, design and story meetings, design building, teaching, grant writing, blogging, puppet making, and watching Twin Peaks repeats while I eat lunch.

Define beauty:  Victoria Beckham. Learning to love. Um… I hope you knew I was joking about Victoria.

A toilet in China

What’s your favorite piece of travel advice? Always bring toilet paper with you. And, when in Rome…

Where’s your favorite place in the world? Minneapolis, MN, because it’s home to my family, friends, progressive politics, a fearless theatre community and abundant green space.  It’s my own personal and professional Mecca.

When was the last time you…

Laughed: Watching footage of the parents of Aly Raisman when she did her uneven bar routine.

Cried:  I’m currently watching the Olympics, so anytime they profile someone.  Or show a commercial about Moms.  And, at the closing of my latest shadow puppet show There’s Nothing To Tell when I realized that the audience got it, loved it, and wanted us to keep going.

Created something:  It never stops.  There is always something going on in my head at any given time – even if it’s just sitting there waiting for me to finish whatever I’m doing so it can get back to work.

Annie hard at work/play during her Beijing bike tour, now hitting the Montreal streets

Currently, I’m creating a small shadow puppet bike tour to try out on the streets of Montreal.  I bike around at night, with a screen attached to my bike rack, and stop whenever I darn well please to perform a mini 5-minute shadow play to whomever feels like stopping to watch.

Got lost:  During my Fulbright year in China.  I got lost so often, it began to feel routine.  That’s when I realized there’s a lot of other world to learn when you let go.

Got found:  When I got home.

Made a fool of yourself:  I’m doing it right now.


About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
This entry was posted in Asia, North America, Smile, The Collective: Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Collective: Annie Katsura Rollins

  1. Cecilia Tsai says:

    love this piece!!

    Annie, you really are so special and one of the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Your whole journey in China and pursuit of your passion full time is truly inspirational to me!

  2. Pingback: A quick interview with Cold Mountain Collective | In the Dark Again

  3. Pingback: Ananya Dance Theatre opens Twin Cities dance season with new “Moreechika,” will also perform in Philadelphia « Minnesota Mist

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