I was initially a reluctant convert to theatre and acting. I spent my childhood singing in my church’s children’s choir, and I was content to participate within the safe, anonymous confines of the group. I never wanted solos or speaking parts in the musicals we performed.
When I attended a small private school in sixth grade, I was assigned a large speaking role in a skit that was part of the school’s Christmas program. My character made a long speech at the end, reflecting on how Christmas is about more than spending money.
I took one look at that chunky paragraph I was supposed to recite and said, “I don’t want this.”
“You’re doing it anyway,” my teacher said.
Forced into my acting debut, I actually ended up enjoying the experience. I liked the buzz I got from standing in front of an audience and nailing my part. I liked pretending to be someone different from myself. I enjoyed watching many people come together to pool their talents and produce a show that was much bigger than any one of us individually.
Theatre had addictive qualities for me.
I soon landed a role as a child extra in a local high school production of The Wizard of Oz. I spent years in a community theatre youth program, performing in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever as the narrator Beth, and in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as Rebecca, the male lead’s kid sister. Typecasting is real; I was frequently cast in child roles.
In college, I loved all the opportunities to participate in performing arts. I was in the chorus in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, participated in an improv team, played a role in a haunting student-directed play about the Holocaust, and operated the spotlight for Godspell. If I wasn’t onstage, I helped with other productions as a stagehand or with costumes or ushering.
|My college’s production of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” (I’m on the far right.)|
Passing Along the Performing Arts Bug
When my daughters came along years later, I wanted to instill in them an appreciation for performing arts. I started showing them movies of musicals that are popular to perform onstage. They love Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Rodgers and Hammersteins’ Cinderella, and the parts of The Sound of Music that feature the kids.
Last December when NBC broadcast Peter Pan Live, the girls were obsessed. My 3-year-old calls it Peter Pan Alive. We bought the DVD and soundtrack for Christmas.
My 7-year-old, Megan, is particularly interested in watching the special feature on the Peter Pan Live DVD that documents how they made the show – featuring footage from auditions, showing cast members learning dance numbers, showing how actors know where to stand because of tape placed on the floor, and showing Peter learning to fly with wires.
Megan told me she wanted to do theatre. I searched online for children’s theatre workshops or programs near our St. Louis suburb. They exist, but like the community theatre youth program I participated in as a teen, many come with enrollment fees of several hundred dollars.
So it was providential when my husband, a high school social studies teacher, came home in January announcing his school’s spring production was going to be Beauty and the Beast. He chatted briefly one day with the theatre teacher who is directing the show, mentioning he planned to bring his oldest daughter to see it.
“How old is she?” the teacher asked.
“Seven,” my husband said.
“Does she want to be in it?” the teacher asked.
Josh said he had to check with me first.
“It’ll involve a few Saturday practices,” he told me.
“Yes!” I said.
“And there will be rehearsals almost every evening during tech week.”
“YES! Tell the director YES!” I repeated.
Megan and a couple of other children were offered roles as extras in a few songs in the show. Her introduction to live theatre was free, minus a few simple costume pieces I had to purchase like black shoes and a black shirt. It is low-pressure because she will be singing and dancing with a group and not alone. It is an ideal beginner’s experience.
I felt slightly giddy when I brought her to the first rehearsal. When the cast walked onstage to rehearse the opening song, “Belle,” I snapped a photo of Megan standing there, with stage lights creating a shining kaleidoscopic effect in the background. It’s one of my favorite photos.
|My college improv group (I’m front row, third from left). Whose line is it, anyway?|
From Thespian to Theatre Mom
Life moves along. We grow older and our roles shift. I haven’t participated in a real stage production in more than a decade. Now my daughter is onstage. And for the time being, I’m a Theatre Mom.
The kids are in the midst of tech rehearsals, getting ready to perform before an audience soon. As a mom, I’ve spent time watching them rehearse onstage as I sit in the dark theatre. I’ve helped the younger kids with costume changes. I sit with my daughter during down times backstage to help her complete her homework.
One of my favorite things to do during tech week is sit and listen to the student orchestra perform the prelude, just before the cast does a full run of the show. I can sense the anticipation, knowing the entire cast is bustling like a beehive backstage behind that big curtain. I also notice how all theatres have the same familiar smell – a combination of sweet-scented sawdust and slightly dusty velvet curtains.
The other night, I stood in the theatre teacher’s classroom where Megan and the other younger cast members wait during the show until it’s their time to go onstage. They watch movies, color, chat, or work on homework until a teen arrives to tell them it’s time to go perform, and then they slip quietly into the wings backstage to await their cue.
As they walked out the classroom door, I called out, “Break a leg!”
One of the little girls dramatically dropped to the floor and pretended her leg was hurt.
“She said ‘Break a leg,’” the girl giggled as she addressed a peer, unaware of the meaning of the classic expression.
I don’t know whether Megan will take to live theatre like I did. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who pushes my children into activities to relive my youth, but so far she is having a blast. I’m happy to have someone to share the experience with, and when the curtain parts on opening night, I do hope she (figuratively!) breaks a leg.
Do any of your children have an interest in something you enjoyed in your younger days?
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