Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Confessions of a Worried Stage Mother

Is this a medical blog, a music blog, a food blog, a literature blog, or a faith blog?

Today, it'll be none of the above. So let me update all fronts in brief before moving on to what's been eating at me for a couple of days.

Medicine: life is busy. Been too exhausted to blog lately. Had a day off today (luxury) and actually visited a mall. It was like a different planet.

Music: I think I may have made a break-through with my embouchure, which had gotten too bite-like. Having the work-out of a piece like Handel's Agrippina Overture, which we're rehearsing in chamber orchestra, is like boot-camp for those muscles.

Food: I have found two wonderful ways to prepare pollock in the oven, but I am struggling with how to make a simple flourless chocolate cake. If anyone has good advice about that (Shuna? You out there? :) ) please consider it solicited.

Literature: am reading The Last Temptation of Christ.

Faith: am reading The Last Temptation of Christ, trying to do a little Benedictine meditatio every day, and trying to figure out why the heck Jesus was so darn mean to that Syro-Phoenician woman...

But this blog isn't about any of that today. Today it's a MOMMY blog - so if you're turned off already, bail now - I am going to wallow in motherhood for another several, long-winded, rambling paragraphs.

Today this blog is about how a mom who just wants her child to be well-loved, well-fed, well-schooled, and HAPPY navigated that psychological and emotional obstacle course known as the AUDITION.


My daughter loves to sing. She's been singing since she was tiny - a baby, really; even her pre-nap vocalizations as an infant were melodic. She has music vibrating through her very cells. She has a lovely, sweet, clear singing voice, and her acting is very natural, too. She's a good performer, and she loves it.

My daughter loves musicals. She has big dreams. Dreams of performing on the West End in London (though she'd settle for Broadway if that didn't work out).

Over the weekend she wanted to audition for a musical being produced by a nearby community theater company. She was excited for days prior to the audition.

I was excited for her, and I encouraged her because I love her love of music, her passion for theater, her exuberance. I want her to know that her father, her brother, and I support her 100%.

But I've lived a few decades longer than she, and I have some perspective on what auditions can be like. What's more cruel than a ballet audition, where you file into a room lined with anorexic-looking girls all of whom, like you, have a number pinned to their leotards and who want to be noticed, the thinnest, the most beautiful, the perfect? What's more painful than getting cut because even if you danced well, even beautifully, there was something about those other girls that they wanted more, that they found better?

Sure enough, as soon as we arrived at the audition place I knew we were up against a piece of the real world - you know, where not everybody loves you, where you are, frankly, judged according to someone else's standards and too bad for you if you don't fit the bill. A crowd of little girls, some with resumes and professional head shots, filled the foyer. Immediately an angel alighted on one of my shoulders and a devil on the other, and for the rest of the afternoon they shot thoughts into my head like little blow-darts as I removed the protective circle I had drawn around my lovely little girl, to shelter her, and let her step out into this un-loving world. I'll call the angel "Angel" and the devil "Screwtape," in homage to C.S. Lewis.

Screwtape: What kind of mother would let her kid compete with other little kids, knowing her kid will either be found wanting, and be rejected, or be found superior, at the expense of other kids? Is that any way to teach a girl to eschew the way this society judges a person's worth?

Angel: Oh, but this is her love, her dream. If you don't help her at least try to follow her dreams, what message does that send? Think of the joy she could bring to others if she finds joy in her own work...

After filling out registration cards - she was number 59 out of over 100, maybe 120 girls - we were ushered into a large auditiorium to wait while they rehearsed part of a song as a group, then called the girls into a studio in groups of ten. My daughter caught sight of a girl over whom she felt a little competitive, and I urged her to wish the girl well mentally and not allow herself any feelings of cattiness or envy. A hard thing to ask, because I find it hard to live up to myself.

After the third group was called in - a good two hours later - my daughter felt comfortable staying there chatting with a friend and having me pick her up later. I stopped at home for a quick bite to eat and drove right back to wait some more. It would have been excruciating without technological distractions - an iPod with good music on it, and photos, and videos, and sudoku.

Occasionally a girl would come out of the studio area, go to her mother, pick up her coat, and exit. The weeding-out process was churning along, complete with public departure. It was hard not to watch them as they walked up the auditorium aisle to the doors in the back.

Screwtape: That could be you. Any minute now.

Angel: Don't give up hope. This is what she loves. What she has inside will shine through in her face and her voice. They'll see that.

Screwtape: Yeah, if lyrical and angelic is what they're looking for. But I bet they're more into the showy and loud for this one...

At 2 p.m. there was an announcement: any kids who had been asked to stay for a dance call-back and were there waiting would have to return at 5 p.m. because of a shortage of pianists. My daughter was still inside doing her first round of auditioning. "Um, I have a TECH rehearsal at 5," piped up one very experienced-looking child, who was told to make sure the directors had all her contact information. Just then my daughter emerged from the studios with a smile on her face, saying, "I made it. I get to come back!"

Her friend, however, with whom she had spent the morning, got cut.

Screwtape: See. The hurting starts already.

We all went to Panera for a bite to eat, then I took my girl home for a rest before her 5 p.m. call-back. For the 5 o'clock audition I had to bring my son with me because my husband had to attend a board meeting. There is not a more supportive seven-year-old-boy in the world. He asked his sister concerned questions, never once complained about the long wait, read his Harry Potter volume 4, and was just as sweet as a little peach throughout. I noticed there were only about two dozen girls at the call-back out of the original group of 120. They all went into the studio area together.

By 6:05 I had played about 6 games of sudoku on my iPod and listened to a bunch of songs meant to inspire calm. But it had been an hour and I was getting antsy. At 6:07 I looked up and saw some girls filing back into the auditorium from the studio area. I scoured each face looking for my daughter's. Two, then three more, a total of ten, came out. No sign of her. Two of the girls went and sat on their mothers' laps, threw their arms around their mothers' necks, and started crying. Others walked up the aisle, some stoic, some red-faced holding back tears, one girl shrugging and trying to look indifferent, another looking dejected.

Screwtape: See? More misery. Even if she gets close, she could still end up here.

Angel: You've got to see this through. It's important to her, and even if she doesn't get what she wants, the experience will have been a valuable learning experience.

Screwtape: Or a devastating, discouraging one that could wound her for years to come.

Angel: Not if we don't let it.

At 6:25 there was another announcement: we had to vacate the auditorium for a rehearsal and move to the band room. A mother who had been there since that morning brought her needlepoint with her. I notice she had gone from having about a third of the sky on the frame stitched blue to over half during the course of the day. By that point I couldn't play puzzle games or listen to soothing music any more. I was overcome with tension, very suddenly and intensely. Lines from Broadway musicals started floating through my mind: "God I hope I get it..." (A Chorus Line), "It's not your aptitude, it's the way you're viewed..." (Wicked)... A couple of girls were released so they could attend a rehearsal. Then at about 6:40 mine came out, no smile, big, sad eyes.

"How was it?" my little boy asked.

"Bad," came the one-word reply.

She felt she had done poorly, that she could have sung so much better (oh the ache of that kind of regret!). She had been sent home while others remained. She felt miserable with the loss and grief of a dream that didn't unfold as she'd hoped. There was some vague mention of her being considered as an alternate, but none of it was clear and I didn't press her on it.

Screwtape: See. Told you.

Well, I couldn't let him have the last word, insert the last thought.

Go back to hell, Screwtape, where you belong.

Angel: You tell him, T.

At home I lay beside my weeping daughter and murmured what I could from my own experiences - that she shouldn't beat herself up for one or two little mistakes, because the folks evaluating her had the experience to know what she could do based on the things she had done well; that getting a part was often as much a reflection of how well someone fit into someone else's ideas about the look and sound of a show, rather than just a reflection of the individual's abilities; that getting to the final dozen from over a hundred children was no small accomplishment; that if this experience wasn't meant to be hers, there would be others that were. That there was no doubt in anyone's mind about how well she could act and sing. That her gift of music had already made a difference to so many. That I loved her.

Then I spent the rest of the night second-guessing myself. Should I have encouraged her to go through this? Should I be supporting her involvement in something with the potential for so much heart-break? But isn't that a description of life itself?

There's no user's manual for any of this. I guess I'll just have to keep stumbling along and just try make sure at the end of every day that they know they're as loved as can be.


Bardiac said...

Aww, I'm sorry to hear she didn't make the show.

But it's really healthy for us all to realize that there's competition, to lose sometimes, to shake the other person's hand and congratulate or thank them. It's not fun, but it's an important part of life.

It sounds like you did a great job being supportive (your son, too), and now your daughter has a bit more experience auditioning; if she's going to do theater, she's going to be turned down for far more shows than not.

Elaine Fine said...

The fact that you took your daughter's desire to audition seriously and you and your family supported her through the process makes it clear to me that you did the right thing.

rlbates said...

Could I just echo Bardiac's comments? T, it is a hugh thing for your daughter to know she is loved regardless. But as with your residents at work, you have to allow them to try......

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. While neither of my kids are performers I still know that inner tension between wanting to protect my kids and wanting to see my kids take risks in pursuit of whatever inspires them. Bravo to you for being present for the whole gamut of experience.

Erica said...

I hope I do half as well as you in supporting my little one in whatever she wants to do.

Auditions are so difficult (I've been on both sides of the table) and it is so important to remember not to wrap your self esteem up with getting a part. Five different directors watching the same candidates will choose different people for different reasons.

Good for you for being so supportive, and I hope you daughter doesn't let this one audition stop her from trying again.