When your child decides to audition for a musical, brace yourself and gird your strength. Because it will not be easy on your heart.
I think offering my own audition may have been less stressful than sending my son into the audition room with his monologue and his 16-bars of prepared Broadway show tunes. It’s a whole different kind of sending.
He is just inside the minimum age to audition, so it’s his first chance at any of this. For his monologue, he chose I Made A Sound This Morning, a poem by Jack Prelutsky; for his solo, he chose Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. (Funny to me that spell check didn’t flag that word just now. There are some spelling configurations we can all recognize now as part of the English language, apparently.)
He asked for help with the learning and the memorizing, and I was so ready to wow him with what I do in fact know about third grade learning and how to impart facts and phrases into the memory system. I attended many a teaching workshop on accessing parts of a child’s brain, and all of those tricks are stored in my mind, just waiting for someone to ask me to use them.
I told him we needed to experience his poem with as many of his senses as we possibly could. Aside from reading and listening to the poem (read by yours truly, so I do know it quite well by now, I assure you), the next task was to write it down. And I even offered him my very-special-and-only-with-my-permission markers to use, so he could write lines and stanzas in rainbow order. That way if his mind tripped during the recitation, he could picture the stanza, recall what color he was on, and move forward with another little cue for his mind.
He was enamored by the markers (proof that he is my child) but he had no interest in the hard work. It all felt too much like school at home, and he wasn’t interested. He was the opposite of interested. He didn’t want to prepare; he just wanted to audition.
Do you ever have moments when you have to step back and evaluate why you’re really doing this? And by “this” I don’t mean parenting in general, but the actual torches we light and carry. What is the motivation here? Is musical theater for him or for me? Do I want him to love the theater, or do I want to be a Stage Mom? Is this his dream or mine? It started as his, but has it become mine? Am I pushing too hard? Or is this just laziness on his part that needs some backbone? Should I let him learn the monologue his way, which may be in no way at all? Because that will likely mean he won’t make the cast and then we have a whole different kind of learning curve in front of us, that of the disappointed broken heart.
I had to take a step outside the actual argument and identify what I was fighting for:
a. for him to make the cast;
b. for him to learn the life skills of practicing and memorizing and preparing;
c. for him to submit to my authority as his parent;
d. for him to be impressed with what I know;
e. for him to recognize that sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do so later you can enjoy the things you do what to do;
f. for him to succeed;
g. for me to not have to pick up the pieces of his broken heart when the cast list comes out;
h. a healthy measure of all of the above.
I offered him my hands-off approach, letting him do all of this his way. But I promised him that the audition matters as much as the show, that other people will prepare and the directors will compare. We tossed around words like perseverance and integrity. And I promised to cancel his audition slot and involvement in the whole thing if he didn’t get his attitude together and respect the people in his family. That was also a very real and possible solution.
And then, having given him all the tools he needed, I took a big step back. It was his to win or lose.
Our local theater company is CYT and they are the real deal with a standard of excellence. I have been impressed since day one. They offer kids these unrivaled opportunities into the arts, great exposure to the theater, feedback for auditions, and professional choreography and musical directing. In exchange, they also expect these young cast members to pull their weight and know their stuff, both on and off the stage.
The auditions are no small potatoes. There is singing, dancing, and acting for a panel of 5 people, a live accompanist, and a video camera for the archives. You get your two minutes to win them over.
My son forgot his monologue. He got two stanzas in, delivered loud and proud, and then he forgot the rest. That’s it, I thought. He won’t make the cast. You have to know your monologue. It’s Auditioning 101.
As is the way of unconditional love, my heart shifted immediately into the mode of taking care of his. It was no longer about me being right all along about what he needed to do to prepare. Now I needed to focus on how I would help him pick up these pieces, learn from the experience, and bravely try again someday.
Uncle Rob, who sits on the other side of that very auditioning table for casting and productions, had advised Tyler. “Whatever you do, own your audition. Be confident. And don’t apologize. If it doesn’t go the way you meant for it to go, just keep moving forward and own it.”
Following the sage advice of the mentor he adores, Tyler didn’t miss a beat. He said, “I forgot the rest of my monologue, so now I’ll sing the song I’ve prepared.” He gave a nod to the accompanying musical director, and he sang his little heart out.
I was proud of him for finishing, and I chalked it up to an experience worth learning from.
The director dismissed us with a promise to email the cast by 10:30 that evening if they had made call backs. She said, “Now remember, if you get a callback, it doesn’t mean you’ve made the show, and if you don’t get a callback, it doesn’t mean you didn’t make the show. We will let you know by the end of the weekend.”
“I think I made it,” he said as we walked to the car.
“Well, I know you did your very best and I’m super proud of you for trying,” I said. “And remember what Uncle Rob says—auditions are great practice. So even if you don’t make the cast, we learned a lot today and we’ll be ready to audition for the next show. Right?”
“Right. But I think I made it,” he said, skipping through the parking lot.
I recalled all the best parenting advice from Brene Brown, about daring greatly, avoiding shame and teaching vulnerability, and the story she tells about when her daughter Ellen competed in a swim meet knowing she wouldn’t win. But jumping in the water was the brave part, and winning hardly mattered. I got it all prepared in my mind, making my 4-point outline for the pending rejection.
The evening came and went without an email for callbacks. All weekend, my inbox was empty. The weekend was nearly over and I tucked the boys in bed, whispering to Tyler once again, “I’m so proud of you for trying.”
My sweet boy said, “Thanks, Mom. It’s okay. I’ll audition again.”
The boys were in bed when I checked my email one more time to find this subject line in my inbox: Congratulations to the Cast of Seussical!
The directors took a risk on a wholehearted boy who is brand new to theater, a teachable kid with more to show than what he left in the audition room. They believe in him. And he made the cast.
I giggled in the bathroom.
“Mommy, why are you laughing in there?”
“You won’t believe it, buddy. You won’t believe it.”But of course he would believe it. He made the cast. Still giggling, I climbed into bed with him to tell him the great news. “You’re in Seussical, kiddo. You did it.”
We rolled around and laughed and giggled. We made phone calls. Because, as has always been true, what’s important to one of us is important to all of us.
Hello, my name is Tricia. And I’m a Stage Mom.
* * *
Seussical the Musical
October 15-18, 2015
When you buy tickets online, they will ask if you’re coming to see a specific student. Please say you’re coming to see Tyler Williford.
It helps everyone involved.
(And by everyone, I mostly and especially mean me, the Stage Mom with a whole list of responsibilities to fulfill now, not the least of which are ticket sales.)