Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There is no "I" in Theater

I would like to be able to open this post by saying something like, “It’s play season again!”, but alas - it’s almost always play season in our house. For the most part, being involved in theater is a well-rounded activity for most kids. I still expect good grades - better than good actually if they want a shot in hell of getting into a decent college with some good scholarship chances. Actually, the status of their grades is a factor in whether or not they will be allowed to audition for a play. That’s how serious we are about it. Being able to participate in a play is a privilege. It’s also a commitment that comes with sacrifices at times. It’s work. There are good lessons for kids to learn.

Though my kids choose to be involved most of the year, early spring is an especially active time for local theater – both within the schools and with the community groups. Audition dates are penciled in and choices are ranked based on musical vs. non-musical, what group is producing, scheduling conflicts and the all-important – which friends are doing which shows – duh.

But wait…my youngest son is about to start a s-s-s-sport? This is new - a true first for us. (Pretty sure that ski club doesn’t count.) This will be good. Right? My hope is that he will benefit from things like routine physical activity, sportsmanship, dealing with competition and possible failure and hopefully - since he has been raised primarily by women - a hint of guy bonding that doesn’t revolve around an Xbox. We realized that he probably shouldn’t audition for a local production of Oliver. He is already part of his middle schools play so adding yet another rehearsal schedule to a volleyball schedule wouldn’t be prudent. Really? What 12 year old boy doesn’t want to be in Oliver? Well - mine apparently.

I have been pondering this change to our family dynamic for a few weeks now and I have come to some conclusions. Theater and sports are not all that different. Both require hard work, a certain level of commitment, the ability to understand your strengths and weaknesses and accept your best place on the “team”. The last part became abundantly clear after a recent round of auditions. My younger daughter auditioned for said Oliver. For the first time ever, she became very attached to one particular role. She focused her all of energies and all of her hopes on landing this one role. As she conversed continuously in a Cockney accent, I watched with some trepidation as her hopes rose higher and higher. I felt that she had a shot at it but so did many others.

I tried to caution her about her expectations. It was one of those classic parental dilemmas. How do you inject some a possible reality without shaking your child’s confidence? Why do we, as parents, do this? Because we know we absolutely do NOT want to handle a possibly heartbreaking negative outcome. (Just to tie in the sports theme here, let me admit to Monday morning quarterbacking this insight.) According to her, auditions went well and we settled into the waiting mode. Teenage texts flew back and forth and practicing for the next auditions intensified. Then… the cast list came out… early. We were not prepared. (That’s me pretending preparedness.) Damn instant, social media! We had just settled into a Redbox when I noticed the posting.

“It’s up.” I said.

“No. Wait. Don’t tell me.”
“I’m not gonna look yet.”
“If you look, don’t tell me.”
“No. Wait. You don’t look either. “
“I’m gonna look.”
“Someone will say something or text me so I better look.” she said.

We looked at the same time. I try not to look at her because she hates that. I hear quiet sniffling. She didn’t get it. I continue to read. Her name is listed further down for a bit – but named – speaking part.

My greatest hope is that we are thinking the same thing – if she hadn’t so set her sights on that one role – she would be thrilled with the part she did get. I hope that she is thinking that the girl that did get the role is an excellent choice. The recipient is talented, one year older, has worked hard at theater and has always been a “team” player. If I was allowed to speak – which I somehow know I am not – I would ask her if she wants a hug. Sometimes words don’t work with a smart kid. Stating the obvious or other platitudes won’t make her feel any better. So we sit and pretend to watch Men in Black III knowing that we are going to need to re-rent it.

I am guessing that this is how parents of sport kids feel when your kid’s team loses - not because your kid played poorly but because the other team played better that day. Sometimes we just have to watch as our kids suffer losses knowing that, while it is killing us and making us feel inept as parents – we are making them stronger people.

Another theater mom recently asked me if I had any insight in to the most recent auditions since I was there. Her daughter was hurt by the abrupt dismissal of the kids that the director & music director did not wish to hear sing again. She said that her daughter was considering not doing the drama club anymore because she felt overlooked. First thing I disclaimed was any involvement in the casting on my part. I show up to hand out forms and attempt to quiet excited high schoolers – then I come in to paint sets. Casting is not my thing. The second thing I tried to explain was that two nights of auditions were being packed into one night due to an early snow dismissal and the availability of our hired music director. Things had to move right along. I did feel a little complicit as my daughter was one that was “called back” to re-sing so I went on to try and express how many of the kids that tended to get roles were the kids who have put the time into theater. My daughter did six shows last year, with four different groups. Sometimes she had an actual part – many times she was part of an ensemble. Each show was an opportunity to get better at what she loves to do. My friend’s daughter is a sweet voiced, cheerful kid – one of my favorites - but generally only does the school shows. I haven’t heard back from her yet.

 Maybe I should have put it into a sports analogy. (Spoiler alert: I never bought into the whole trophy-for-every-kid-just-for-participating/there-are-no-winners-or-losers theory.) Is a “coach” expected to address each player personally, taking into account every player’s individual circumstances or does he make line-ups and calls based on the players’ performance histories and capability levels? Does a coach reward players based on improvement and choose the best player for the position all in an effort to create a winning team? Can a player skip practices and work-outs most of the season then show up and expect to play in the big games? Even if your kid is a good player, there will always be those that will get more playing time for many of different reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as lots of players are trying out for few openings, (or lots of girls trying out for two girl roles). Sometimes your kid doesn’t get the spot on the team – no matter how good her Cockney accent is.

Hey - I might be okay with this whole s-s-s-sports twist. There is quite a bit of crossover. I have even seen heat exhaustion, pulled muscles and broken noses happen in theater. Though I am sure that it will raise many other interesting quandaries like - what does one wear to a middle school volleyball game?