Enter Stage Right: Mom's Growing Pains
My little one danced around the living room in her dress-up attire, freely feeling the music, and allowing it to move her into a frenzy of expression. She sang along to the track, hitting the pitch of each note, allowing the world to hear her voice. After months of this, I took action and enrolled her in music lessons. I contemplated dance lessons with careful scrutiny because as a former dancer, I knew the demise of the self-esteem that is brought on by staring in the mirror for 8 hours a day. Yet, I found a top notch dance studio, and enrolled her in a Creative Dance class.
She loved it. But then came November and pending auditions for the Nutcracker. I overheard parents talking about the potential for their four year old daughters being cast as mice or soldiers and their disdain for the chosen Mouse King from last year’s production. At that moment, I decided my girls would not be in the environment of the performing arts. I did not want them to be subjected to the scrutiny, the harsh rejection, and the cruelness of others that accompanies those that take competition for roles too seriously.
In lieu of dance, over the years, there were piano lessons, voice lessons, and guitar lessons. And there were stories I told per her request about my experiences as a dancer in the theater. Then there was the summer she wanted to do the acting camp. She landed the role of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was a strange casting choice. She was short and sweet and I could not envision her becoming a lunatic royal who enjoyed ordering those who crossed her to be beheaded. On the final day of the camp, there was a performance. I saw her on stage, and I knew. She is a natural performer.
Most parents would be thrilled with the discovery of their child’s talent. And I was. But I was also terrified. Flashes of my own childhood and young adult life came pouring through my mind. Crying in bathrooms, hearing others talk terribly about me if I got a role they wanted. The pressure to do it better, be better, look better. The uncertainty of knowing whether or not the director will like you enough to cast you in a role. However, I would not let my fear keep her from exploring her interest and developing her craft.
Her middle school has a great theater program that produces a play in the fall and a musical in the winter of each year. Last year she was excited to audition for what was, in her eyes, her first legitimate production. She didn’t get cast in the play. There were floods of tears. I said what I thought was the right thing: “I am proud of you for having the courage to do the audition. Focus on what you learned.” And I encouraged her to join the crew. She did, and later that year, was awarded the Director’s Choice for Crew Member of the Year.
In the winter, she auditioned for the musical. I was so nervous for her. She had some voice training, but not anything that would prepare her for the stress and expectations of an audition for a musical production. She landed a spot in the chorus, performed well due to her incredible ability to learn and her steadfast work ethic, and had a great time. The most difficult part of the experience for her was dealing with the intense emotions she felt the morning after the final performance. The end of a show’s run feels somewhat like someone has died--grief. Yes, that is an extreme. But I recognized it. I had experienced it several times when I was performing. I honored her feelings, comforted her, and at the same time, I was hiding my terror. I was still very much afraid of the fact that my daughter is a performer.
This year, she auditioned for the fall play and was cast in a supporting role in which she performed well. It was wonderful to see her understand and acknowledge that she was, over time, improving. She was embracing the reality that learning a craft takes time and involves growth. She was embracing her process.
From the crew, to the chorus, to a supporting role. Next?
Once Upon a Mattress, her school's winter musical, opened last night. She has the role of the colorful Princess Winifred the Woebegone. Winifred is the “no ordinary princess” from the swamp who arrives to the castle by “swimming the moat” because she is seeking the prince's hand in marriage. The musical comedy is a retelling of the fairy tale classic, the Princess and the Pea. Winifred the Woebegone is the princess who is put to the sensitivity test—the test to see if she can detect the pea buried beneath the mattresses.
I was familiar with the role due to helping her prepare for the audition. But I was not familiar enough with the role to understand that it is the lead. When the cast list was posted online the night after the final call-back auditions, she screamed from her room, “I GOT THE LEAD!”
I was so confused. I ran in and said, “I thought you auditioned to be Winifred.”
She said, “I did. Winifred is the LEAD!”
I was stunned, proud, excited, relieved, thrilled, and scared.
She has worked very hard. Rehearsals have gone late into the night the last two weeks and she has kept up with her academic responsibilities. She has been humble and has been a cast member, not a diva. She has worked on her vocal techniques and taken acting direction well. She has been deep down to the bone beautiful during the entire rehearsal process.
So, Once Upon a Mattress opened last night. I was blown away by her performance. She was funny. I know this because I heard others laughing. Her vocal performances were well-received. I know this because I could tell from the intensity of the clapping. She not only was believable as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, she was Winifred the Woebegone. I know this from the others around me who stood up onto their feet when she ran out from the wings for her curtain call. And as I write this, I struggle to find the words to appropriately express my wonderment and my fear. What do we do now? I do not even understand the depths of what I am feeling.
What I do know is that there are three more performances. I will do as I always do. Make sure she gets a good meal before the performance, help her with her hair and make-up, and remind her of the importance of warming her voice up properly. I will keep in mind that my struggles and fears are not hers. And I will also make sure I continue to say these two things as she jumps out of the car before running into the school for the cast’s call time: “Have a great time. I love you.”
Kimberly at Sperk*