Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I am not allowed to tell you this

First, some background: In Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of the many plots involves two fairies having a fight. Titania, the Fairy Queen, has custody of a human changeling child, and Oberon, the Fairy King, wants the kid for himself, to be one of his servants/attendants. (NB: a changeling child is a human child who is taken to live with the fairies, generally in exchange for a fairy child left with humans. In most stories this exchange is a trick on the part of the fairies and is involuntary on the part of the human child and his/her parents, but in this play the child's mother was a pal of Titania, and when the mom died in childbirth, Titania took the child to live with her out of the goodness of her heart and prizes him as a companion.)

Right. So, the "Changeling Child" is an optional part when producing"Midsummer." The child doesn't have any lines, and since kids are notoriously hard to work with onstage, many directors choose to let the characters just refer to him (he's a boy) and avoid casting the part at all. Sometimes, though, a director who's very brave and/or has a particular kid on hand to show off will include the part and have the Changeling Child show up with Titania in one or two scenes.

So. Let's just say someone has a friend whose job is teaching teenagers to perform Shakespeare over the summer. And that friend has a kid, so he casts her as the Changeling Child in his group's performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But his kid is only not-quite-five, and gets tired of doing all the performances, so he calls his friends--let's call them the Beeland family--and asks if their daughter would like to fill in as the Changeling Child for a few performances. The parents, like most, are stage parents at heart and are thrilled! The child, who has a dramatic bent anyway--let's call her, oh, Water Sprite Child--is also quite excited. Her parents find a terrific picture-book verson of "Midsummer" and read it to her several times, at her request, until she understands the plot. Her mom takes her to see the first performance so they can watch her friend and see what the part entails, and she says she thinks she can do it.

Then, a few weeks later, on the morning when she's supposed to perform, this anonymous child--oh, the hell with it: Mermaid Girl flipped out and was struck with terror. We pleaded, we reasoned, we guilt-tripped, all to no avail. She cried and cried and insisted that she hadn't seen it enough times, she would do something wrong onstage and that she couldn't, just couldn't, do it. The director would have to find someone out or leave the part out altogether. We were insistent that she had to do it; for our own selfish reasons (not wanting to let down a friend we'd made a commitment to; wanting to see our child onstage) as well as For Her Own Good (because if she backs down every time she gets scared, her fears will just get stronger).

Finally, RW said: look, you don't have to take our word that you can do it well enough; just go to the rehearsal before the show, and let the director decide. He's been doing this for a long time, and if he doesn't think you can do it well enough, he won't put you on. It's not your decision or even ours; it's his. Also, we pointed out that since the director's daughter wasn't available that morning, MG was the person who knew the part best--certainly much better than some random kid pulled out of the audience--even if she didn't feel she knew it perfectly.

So, we went to the park where the performance was, and the second she met the actress playing Titania, she was fine. More than fine: totally entranced. They ran through the part a couple of times, and then she went off with Titania and the fairies until her scene, which came early in the play. And she did great job, romping with Titania for a minute and then cowering under her skirts when Oberon comes on the scene.

Afterwards, I went back to look for her. The performance was outdoors, and "backstage" was just an open area behind the audience, in full view of them. When we went to see the first performance, our friend's daughter had simply gone back to where her grandmother was sitting, stripped off her costume without any fanfare, and curled up to take a nap. We'd assumed that MG would come find us in our seats after her scene, but there was no sign of her.

I found her hanging with Titania and the fairies in the back, still costumed in her purple and gold finery. She shooed me away, hissing "I'm fine, Mommy! Go back to your seat!"

"Well, I have to stay here where I can see you. It's not fair to ask the actors to look after you; they have to go back onstage soon; they have to focus on being actors."

MG drew herself up to her full 46 inches. "I'm an actor'" she said.

She finally agreed to let me stay in back, several feet away, after I explained that even professional child actors have to have someone on-set whose job it is to keep an eye on them.

So. Success! Kvelling. Victory over fear. She's got a couple more performances to go, and she's looking forward to them.

Only, she won't let us tell anyone she's doing them. When my mom called the other day and innocently asked about the acting gig, MG clammed up and handed the phone to me, shooting me dagger looks.

I mentioned it to several people, including the whole internet, before I knew there was an embargo on the information. So, I figure I can give you this follow-up explanation. But if you should happen to run into us in the next week or two: this conversation never happened. Ix-nay on the angeling-chay ild-chay.

But, privately, and just to you: I'm so full of pride, I could plotz.


Blogger GuusjeM said...

And would the proud stage mama happened to have a picture or two she'd like to share with the general world?

7:48 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Oh, I wish! But the only camera we have use of right now seems to be missing its cable. So we can TAKE pictures, we just can't do anything with 'em.

8:22 AM  
Blogger That Girl said...

That's so cute! I knew what an actual changeling was, that's why the reference confused me, i thought it was like some hip mommy thing that I wasnt up on.
Stage fright! All the best actors get it. I hope you save the pictures so when she is famous you can REALLY embarass her by showing them around "see, even this young, still with the talent!"
It's comforting to realize that embarassing your child never really goes out of style.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous jess said...

Go MG! And go Elsewhere and RW for being brave enough to push your daughter to do something even though she was scared. I think that can be one of the hardest things parents have to do is push their kids do to things when then the kid is scared/unwilling to do it but you know in the end they will be so greatful for doing it in the end.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous badgermama said...

That's SUCH a great story! I love it! And also ... what Jess said - it's hard but really good to put your kid in a challenging position like that!

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Renaissance Woman said...

Sometimes it is great to push your kid to do something. There are things I wish my parents had pushed me to do, like taking piano. On the other hand, if we'd enforced the "you'll be glad you did" rationale with MG that morning, I think it would have backfired; she would have turned into a screaming electrified cat when we tried to stuff her into car, and been a blithering wreck by the time we reached the park.
MG likes to be a good citizen obeying rules (real world rules like those in kindergarten, not necessarily our rules at home). So I finally twigged that we had to frame it in the rules of professional theater: the director makes the decision, not the actor. And since she knows I have professional theater experience (designing sound and music for Shakespeare plays, in fact), she believed me.
And I must confess I sweetened the deal by remarking that professional actors often celebrate after their successful opening show by going out for a treat, and by the way that park happens to have a cotton candy stand. (Perfectly true -- except I neglected to mention that professional actors usually prefer their sugar in fermented liquid form.)
Anyway, I too am tremendously pleased that she did it -- and that she enjoyed it. "Midsummer" is the play that first turned me onto Shakespeare when I was 12; it's still my favourite -- and now MG loves it too.

10:21 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Yes-- what RW said!

The comment I left in this thread yesterday along these lines seems to have been eaten by Blogger; I basically said, yes, I'm glad we pushed her to perform even though she's scared, but I wanted to make it clear that we wouldn't have done it in the first place if she hadn't been enthusiastic to start with. In fact, we would've let her bail on it if she'd expressed her wish to do so any earlier than the *morning of the performance*. And that deciding when to push and when to lay off is a tough parenting tightrope act in general and for me in particular.

I'm glad RW commented above and made it clear that *the way* we--specifically she--pushed MG made a crucial difference.

1:25 PM  

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