Friday, April 24, 2009

Break a Leg, Scarlett. Again, again . . . .

She knows you've read most of this. New content, at the end.

Scarlett was seven when Theater stole her from the Matron. This happened while she watched a performance of Esperanza Rising at the Children's Theater. She wept--mourned, wailed and railed-- about illegal immigration until well-past midnight. The play's topic became urgent and real. Art had hold.

A couple of months later, she and a 15-year old friend wrote, produced and directed a backyard production of Annie that involved 27 children, 100 audience members, a sound system, choreography, enormous painted backdrops and red hair dye (lasted six weeks).

You know who's Annie.

During the course of the week-long rehearsals, Scarlett requested email addresses for the children's families so she could better communicate with her cast. She is not yet eight.

When tucked her into bed after the first rehearsal, she offered this: "Mom, why don't those orphans listen better? They're supposed to do what I say." A director is born. You can rework those letters just a bit to get dictator, you know.

John and the Matron were in charge of food. Lots of it. Those orphans had no issues there.

Next, Scarlett auditioned for Little Bird at SteppingStone Theatre, St. Paul's children's theater. She stood on that big stage and belted out a song. She shivered and cowered on cue.

She didn't get in. But she went back for the very next audition with undiminished joy. And landed the role of Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. You know the book. This Official Theater Debut came four months after Annie.

Scarlett recognized that SteppingStone Theater was actually her new home and a much better place to be. Below, here she is, once again embodying poverty, in The Prince and the Pauper.

The cast of The Prince and the Pauper then became the cast of The Sound of Music for Scarlett's Second Annual Backyard Production. She was Gretel. And all those teenagers from SteppingStone traipsed to our house for more singing and dancing, under Scarlett's Command. She's eight now.

Our neighborhood is high on a bluff above the river. When the Matron mentioned to a neighbor that Scarlett was rehearsing a backyard play, the neighbor said: "We all know. These hills are alive with the sound of music, my dear." And it made life a little sweeter, she said.

Now, the Matron didn't feel like a real stage mother -you know, all claws and competition--till auditions at the Guthrie. This is the real deal, folks. Cash money and world stage, all that. Here is The Matron's Very Fine Rule for auditioning at the Guthrie Theater: Do Not Talk To The Other Mothers. Then, you're fine. Here's Scarlett as Maisie McLaughlin, impoverished and dirty Irish waif in The Home Place.

Check out that playbill. Yes, that's her in the second picture, the only person in pony-tails. Scarlett rubbed shoulders with Fame. And what did the famous do in return? Showered her with candy. gifts and generosity of spirit. The child landed a Webkin, drawings, flowers, jewelry, ornaments, (did she mention candy?) books, boundless good will and adoration. She was also exposed to a staggering scale of swearing, drink and Late Night (uh, some of this from her very own Mama). The child supervisor said he tried to cover her ears at just the right moments.

Every night she stood on that stage and hundreds applauded. That was her favorite part, she reports.

Next came Almost to Freedom at SteppingStone Theater. Scarlett played Mary-Kate, the plantation overseer's daughter. It's a stark, beautiful play about slavery. Kim Hines did the adaptation from the book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. If you don't know this book, it's worth trying.

This was the first play in which the Matron watched her daughter and thought: Wow. A child of her blood could harmonize in front of hundreds? Thank goodness John witnessed the birth or she might not have believed it.

That 9-year old pro's next show was also with SteppingStone Theatre. Scarlett was a weasel in Anansi the Trickster Spider. By this point, the Matron was getting so, oh, nonchalant about the whole endeavor, that she forgot about pictures (and she had a whole month to get some).

Here's how Scarlett has spent her free time for the past two years: online looking for auditions.

After Anansi came the Third Annual Backyard Production. This time it was Peter Pan. Scarlett was a definite Tink, not a Tinkerbell. The cast included a sea of pirates, Indian maidens and mermaids. The grand finale was a highly highly choreographed blast of Elton John's Crocodile Rock. More than one parent wiped an eye in the Matronly backyard--once again stuffed full of people!

Wait! The Matron forgot the movie! During the month of July, leading up to the play was the small independent art film: Minka is Here. Here is the daughter in a movie.

If you go to film festivals, you might even see it someday. It's lovely.

Reader, are you tired yet? Because the Matron is. Between the actual Theatrical Event comes the down home theatrics AND the search for the next gig. Because when Scarlett doesn't have a show?

She's worried. But if she's down, she can just think of her favorite things and feel better. Like realizing a (short and adorable) lifelong dream and being an actual Von Trapp child on an actual stage in an actual play that is NOT in the backyard.

This time for The Sound of Music at the Phipps Center for the Arts! Scarlett was Marta. Here she is charming up the Julie Andrews type.

Sound of Music took this child away (and the Matron to Wisconsin!) nearly every night for six weeks this fall.

In December, Scarlett traded traipsing through the hills for the deaf blind shuffle. Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker! Now, if Sound of Music stole Scarlett and kept her busy, this production did not. Indeed, the first 2/3 of private Helen and Annie rehearsals were cancelled. Here you are, in the midst of the actual shuffle.

"We don't need them."

But wait! The Matronly psyche did! That's an awfully big role to be dropping stage time. Not that she knows one single thing about theatre. Still, Stage Mother fretted as rehearsals fell like the stock market.

But all went well. The show opened to rave reviews.

For the entire run, Scarlett, you came home with spectacular bruises, splinters, two inch gashes on your arms. The role is physical. You were doused with water. You had so much blocking to remember you said it's almost like being in two plays at once. But you still found time to play 'school' with your brother and tried to mention all of your friends, by name, in the program.

Your fellow actors gave you high praise. You're a good team player. Even if Helen appears, well, fiesty.

After being the only child on the set for The Miracle Worker, the Mother Ship opened her arms to you and you happily climbed aboard, mid-March. The Matron doesn't think she's seen you since. Have you grown?

A little. Here you are, on a rehearsal break, with your latest set of best friends, the people who see you more than your family does.

Sometimes when she misses you, your mother tunes in as best she can. She watches this. That's pretty much the most direct contact she's had with you in a good long while, except for the driving.

But . . . being an icon is a once in a lifetime thrill. Right, Ramona?

Oh wait. You were just Helen Keller. Okay, you get to be an icon twice.

For the past six weeks, you've been gone six days a week, 10-12 hours a day. Merrick hasn't actually laid eyes on you in four days. You have blisters from the cowboy boots and welts from the wig tape. Your mama is pretty sure that you are skinnier. She hears you are the master of the art of Costume Change--the quickest one allowing you just 22 seconds (with assistance).

Scarlett, you've kept up with your school work. For this role, you requested and mastered contact lenses. The Matron hears you're a model of decorum and professionalism off stage. And even though it is safe to say that you're exhausted (and sleeping at 10 am, as she types), you might just be the happiest child on the planet these days.

After a week of previews, tonight is finally Opening Night. Your mother, friends and family are taking you out to dinner at your new favorite spot. (the Matron will admit to smiling when she saw there is wine on the menu) Later, they will settle into their very good seats to watch you romp about in Ramona Quimby.

And when the party is over, your family will take you home. And it's your mother who will get you warm lemon water and vanilla wafers to eat while you read before falling asleep. She's the one who will tend to the state of the sore throat and tired feet. Those stuffed animals you require--Missy Mousey, Georgie and Wolfie? Secured. She will rub your back and check on you ten times until the adrenaline finally ebbs and the body fades into night.

Because even though your days are spent in (and heart belongs to) the theatre, you still sleep here.

Break a leg, darling.


Home Place Photo credit to Michal Daniel of Proofsheet Photograhy. Miracle Worker and Minka is here Ann Marsden and Ann Prim photo and movie credit, respectively. Sound of Music photographs are Mandsager Photography. The Ramona photo was lifted from the StarTribune.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Which the Matronly Ecosystem has Been Officially, Restructured

Yesterday, the Matron heard this dire ditty on the radio --

Imagine attractive male voice

"Construction workers in the X neighborhood have broken a gas line.  Residents are being evacuated, including those in a nearby nursing home.    Officials fear an explosion."

Then she heard actual sirens, because guess what?  She lives in Neighborhood X.  Thankfully, hers was not one of the houses that had to be evacuated nor did anyone or anything explode, but the Matron was all like:  OF COURSE there would be a potential explosion down her block.   She's the center of attention, focusing on her own self and all,  but she sometimes wonders why her life seems to attract so much drama!  

Trust her.  She hasn't even told the back story.  She's sort of afraid to.  (should she spill some more beans?)  So she was pondering said back story and the drama swirling in her wake yesterday.


John took the wan and feverish (since Sunday) Merrick to the doctor and mentioned that Merrick's heart seemed to have developed a little tic, like a gallop to the beat.  The doctor heard it too.  And since nobody's noticed it during five years of Well Child check ups (the Matron forgot this year!), he's assuming it's a new development.

John and Merrick left the doctor's office with a 'negative' on the strep test and orders for a swift visit to a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Minnesota.   The Big Guns.

And even though she knows it's probably all going to be okay, the Matron is crying as she types this.  Just a little.


Appointment is Monday morning!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday, Meditation

This morning, the Matron woke to the realization that tomorrow ushers in this type of work week:  52 research paper rough drafts, 11 creative writing portfolios, and 100 short answer questions.   

It's also Tech Week, with previews starting Tuesday and opening night, Friday.  The Matron's house was in need of a brisk cleaning (the Matron suffers from Incurable Clutter Brain Suck so this is serious).  Conveniently, Merrick woke up with a 102 degree fever.  

Then, there was that darn implant, requiring Constant Surveillance--the Uterus/Gravity/Bladder complaint--and the apparantly endless saga about the burned throat, which is STILL a bother.

Can you say grumpy?  Stress Queen?  Chugga, chugga.   She felt like bursting an artery or throwing a trantrum.  Maybe both.

So that daily morning run felt, well, vital.   Off she went, into the morning with headphones ready, set, . . . rats, phooey.     While  sane people listen to music, the Matron listens to NPR, the talk version, ALL THE TIME.   Even while jogging.  But today's timing meant she had to listen to Krista Tippett and Speaking of Faith.

Now, this annoyed the Matron.   The demands of her day and travails of her body had put her in an escapist sort of spirit; she was all about entertainment, not engagement.     So she puckered all sour and was about to flip the switch when she suddenly heard Jon Kabbat-Zinn mention mindfulness.

She listened the whole run.

Here is the BIG take away.   

One day, you will greet your real self.  This self?  Textured, rich.  Experiencing life on a moment-by-moment basis.   Your real self is engaged with all of her senses, full-throttle.   She vibrates and hums, joyful to be here--life!  Sweet, sweet life.  Your real self has time.  She is intimately aware of, and living in,  the infinite spaciousness of the mind.  She understands that life is such a precious, swift-moving gift that you'd be a fool not to savor every minute.

The kicker?  You can meet this self as soon as possible, start opening the door to introduce her -- or you can meet her the day that you/she dies.  

You choose.

And those physical problems that we all moan about (especially her, these days?).  Zabbat-Zin wondered:  are you dead yet? No?   Then there's at least some working body to build on.  What's working well?  Where are your body's strengths?  Place your energy there, instead.  

Now, when she heard this, you could've knocked over the Matron with a toothpick--she was that weak in the knees.  Because just on Friday, she taught a one-time yoga class to a group of her fellow community college instructors.  And she was all groovy and zen and said this:  "The key to any posture is maximizing your base of support.  Don't focus on where you're wobbling or what hurts.  Bring your attention to your strengths, to the parts of the body that are holding you up.  Focus on growing that strength and the weakness fall away."

Thank you, Jon Zabbat-Zinn for reminding her!  

He also said this about suffering--we suffer so much because we think life should go on as usual, however usual or normal or painfree or typical is for us.   Then something happens --that phone call or the diagnosis or the injury  -- and we're thrown, kicking and screaming -- into something worse.

Well guess what, folks.  That is ALWAYS going to happen.  Suffering is an unavoidable part of life.  Change is inevitable and some change will be good, others, bad.   The trick is how you'll respond.  With grace, dignity and an open heart or kicking and screaming?  Zabbatt-Zinn pointed out that the calamaties that pain us can be as big as a cancer diagnosis or as small as a pokey four-year old, unable to decide upon just the right dress.   You can rage that the problem exists ("HURRY UP" or "I cannot have cancer!") or you can experience your interaction with the unpleasantness and just allow that to exist--while you find your footing on those great big wonderful strengths.

Zabatt-Zinn is a doctor who treats people dying or in chronic pain:  "The only people I can't help are dead.  For everybody still breathing.  Wow.  There are so many goodies."

The rest of the run, the Matron reveled in the power of lung and leg.  At home, she paused to consider how she could secure her base--strength--for the demanding week ahead.  She stood alone in the middle of her kitchen, genuinely considering her strengths and how to put them in place.

And she rolled up her sleeves and got busy, breathing.  She's still alive!  Someday she won't be.  She doesn't want to wait until that last minute to greet her real self.  

 The house is in order, email caught up, classes all prepped.  This afternoon she caught up on laundry and cancelled unnecessary tasks in the week ahead.   She made sure that Merrick was always comfy and that 80% of the time, he had a Mama or Daddy to snuggle against.  The other 20% is why there are big brothers.   The house is clean enough.  She's organized.  

Yes, the week will be nonstop and contain much work, driving and drama.  Those 50 plus rough drafts won't go away.  There's nothing she can do to change the external forces.

But she can continue to open the door toward her real self, sooner.   Beats the other option, hands down.