Friday, October 30, 2009

Break a Leg, Scarlett. Again, again, again. . . and so on.

She knows regular readers have seen most of this. New content, at the end. At this pace, the Matron has decided to create Volumes One and Two. New edition, next time but for new readers from the Colony who want to see how a stage mother is born, enjoy.
And beware if your child likes acting!

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. You took the definition of trooper to new levels, Scarlett. Seventy-six shows in six weeks! Once you went on stage with a mouth stuffed with cotton and gauze, bleeding from an emergency tooth extraction and sick from the anesthesia. Your mother watched you cover once when your adult counterparts forgot their lines. She knew then you'd crossed one: you are a professional.

Over the summer, you reprised your role as Gladys in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. There are pictures. Unfortunately, even the Master Technician at your mother's college cannot figure out why she is unfortunately unable to upload them. Rest assured, once again, you were both dictatorial and adorable. The family wiggled under your thumb and enjoyed yet another houseful of children.

Tomorrow, you put on yet another wig and step into a third iconic role: Annie!

Even when the skin on her neck hangs so loose and low it can cover small children (and possibly developing nations), your mother will never forget the morning you woke up after being offered that role. The theater had called late the night before, just as you had arrived home from the audition.

The next morning, your mother opened your door to find you stretching into the day, just emerging from the night's cocoon. You opened your eyes and whispered "I'm Annie" with such pure and uncomplicated joy that your mother nearly cried. If only we all could wake like that each day! I'm _____________ .

Scarlett, you've spent the past five weeks oozing spunk and good spirit! You've tipped buckets with the best of the orphans and flew above the servants' heads. Your family has once again lost you to a script--how many lines this time? After a year working professional theater, you're once again back in community theater, which means just ONE rehearsal with the mic, real live uncooperative dog and equally real live and occasionally uncooperative orchestra before the show opens!

That's ONE rehearsal.

Your mother now has her sea legs regarding this life. She's not one whit worried. No sirreeee. Tomorrow afternoon, she will take her seat (front row!), sit back and enjoy the show! Afterward, there will be the usual mayhem and celebration, followed by a night of tricking and treating.

As usual, when the night closes, your mother will tuck you in and kiss your forehead. Twice.
She won't see the actor, but the brave soul finding her place on the planet. Because even though your days are spent in (and heart belongs to) the theatre, you still sleep here.

Break a leg, darling.

And rest up. Rehearsals for this begin during the last week of Annie's run.


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, October 28, 2009

When Life Hands You a Lemon, Make a Blog Post

Yes, recently the Matron was given a set of circumstances so unfathomable that she is simply going to recount. That's right. An entire blog post, just recounting and recitation. No hyperbole or creativity required. In fact, she is going to post actual PHONE NUMBERS. Actual.

Soooo. . . . this all starts innocently, even positively enough, when the intrepid Matron decides that she will once again join a gym to get her through the cruel dark months of winter. The Matron is utterly bound to her daily 4 miles jaunt but after 20 years of winter running: enough is enough!!

Innocent? Naive? Boarding the Death Train? She calls her insurance company, Blue Cross Minnesota Advantage Health Plan, with a simple query: will she get a discount at any certain gym?

The person at Blue Cross cannot answer that question. It turns there is a web site that lists all facilities and services with said discount, including gyms.

The Matron likes the internet! She is not yet weeping and screaming. No, poor fool. She is HAPPY to go to ChooseHealthy and find a fitness center near her. So she chooses healthy and picks the Any Time Fitness right in her own neighborhood. Why, she will barely have to DRIVE in the winter. Life is getting better and better!

The only trouble with ChooseHealthy is the web site indicated that Anytime Fitness would know the discount. Now, the Matron had a difficult time with Anytime, as there were no small degree of hidden FEE. But upbeat Aaron at Anytime was very pleased to report that the Matron would get a $40 rebate each month thanks to Blue Cross Minnesota Advantage Health Plan! So she signed on for a couple's membership at $30 a month. And was only a little grumpy withe $80 deposit on keys instantly required. And that at the last minute this turned out to be an 18 month contract. . but by this point, she was all smitten by the sweet siren song of Exercise Equipment and Winter Heat.

Still, the Matron decided to verify Upbeat Aaron's assertion that she got $40 back each month. She called Blue Cross Advantage Health Plan.

Blue Cross: "We don't give $40 back. That's old news. Now we contract with Choose Healthy. They decide."

Matron: "But the web site says Anytime.

Blue Cross: "You need to call American Specialty Health Services at 1-877-335-2746 and they will tell you."

Matron: "They will tell me how much my Blue Cross Advantage Health Plan fee is for Anytime Fitness is?"

Blue Cross Advantage Health Plan Employee : "Absolutely."

The Matron was number five on the waiting list to speak with a human at American Specialty Health Services. Better than play by play at a baseball game, the announcer moved her position up, up, up until. . she got Taneesha.

Taneesha: "I'm afraid we don't have that information for you. You will need to go to the web site Choose Healthy."

Matron: "What! But the information isn't on that web site."

Taneesha: "Then you need to call Blue Cross Advantage Health Plan and ask them."

Matron: "I did that! They said to call you."

Taneesha: "Then you need to go to the Blue Cross Advantage Health plan web site."

Matron: "Why?"

Taneesha: "Because maybe the information must be there."

Matron: "This would be different than what they know over the phone?"

Taneesha: "Ma'am. Let me be a little off the record with you. I never liked that Choose Healthy web site. It is a little confusing. Blue Cross too. I am going to transfer you to the parent company of the sub-set of some other section of a little known galaxy. This department will know how to help you."

Click. Click. Click.

"American Specialty Health Services."

Matron: "No, I'm supposed to be going to the mother ship, the secret department with the information I require. I was just transferred by Taneesha. Who is this?"

Tiffany: "My name is Tiffany. Taneesha transferred you? (aside): Taneesha, are you giving me these peeps again? I told you to knock that off! (back). Now, ma'am, please tell me how I can help you?"

Here is where the Matron nearly broke down and wept. Remember that phone number is 877-335-2746 If you are having a bad day and want to MESS with somebody, here are your peeps. Tiffany and Taneesha.

So the Matron told Tiffany what she told Taneesha.

Tiffany: "I run Silver and Fit and Fun. Are you a senior?"

Matron: "Depends on how long I'll be on the phone."

Tiffany: "Tell you what. I will get my supervisor to talk to you. Let me see. Looks like she's busy. Uh, okay. Really busy. So I'll get your exact problem, phone number and name and she will call you back within half an hour."

Matron: "Do you know how much it costs for me to join Anytime Fitness if I was in the Silver and Fit and Fun plan?"

Tiffany: "Actually, I'll have to send you to the Choose Healthy web site for that. Does this mean you're joining Silver and Fit and Fun?"

Matron: "What's your supervisor's name."

Tiffany: "Taneesha."

This transpired over the course of TWO hours on Monday. It is Wednesday night. The Matron's phone is NOT ringing with any supervisor.

But immediately after the Advantage Ash Silver Fit Blue Cross American Health Tragedy Fiasco, she called upbeat Aaron at Anytime Fitness -- and explained the whole dilemma. Just because she hadn't SUFFERED enough.

Matron: "Aaron, do you think it's possible that you might in any way be able to get accurate information about this, to figure this out at your end?"

Aaron: "Gee, they sure make it hard to work out, don't they?"

Matron: "Is that a yes?"

Aaron: "Actually, I have no idea. I just submitted the paperwork to Blue Cross. They didn't stop me. I also forgot to tell you that it takes about four months for Blue Cross to complete the paperwork for the $40 discount. You pay the full amount for four months and then get a lump sum."

Matron: "IF they give me a discount, which highly unlikely at this point."

Aaron: "But they used to."

Matron: "And if I wait four months for paperwork that will never go through, I miss the 45 day window to cancel my membership with no penalty."

Aaron: "I suppose you could look at it that way."

Tomorrow, the Matron is going to Anytime Fitness to cancel her membership. She is also going to tell Aaron that she spoke with the Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau and that both informed her of the statute limiting any fee for breaking a contract within 30 days to 10% of the total deposit.

This 10% is a complete fabrication. So is the statute, of course.

But the Matron has fallen down the rabbit hole. This is a parallel universe where people just make shit up. She figures she can too, and stick with it. After all, she's been initiated at the hands of great masters, Tiffany and Taneesha.

$12.47. She may also be an undercover reporter or President Obama's Health Care Secret Police. Let's see what kind of mood tomorrow's meeting at Anytime brings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daddy Coming Home

This is the kind of entrance the Matron's husband would like to make every night.

Unfortunately, he just walks downstairs from the third floor office, which is decidedly less dramatic than the campaign plane.

If you haven't see this photo essay and you're an Obama fan, enjoy! Too bad we won't be seeing the same victory dance over health care and its public option.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How this Stage Mother Operates

Regular readers know that the Matron is a Stage Mother.

And she is here to tell you that you cannot force a child into the life that Scarlett has, one that largely is structured by, well: WORK.

At the moment, Scarlett is Annie, here, opening Friday.

One week before that show ends, rehearsals for Mr. Fezziwig's Feast, begins. Scarlett plays several roles in that holiday production at Actor's Theater of Minnesota. More money for the college fund, although Scarlett's parents might not see this show based on the $75 ticket price! Lord have mercy!

Fezziwig ends on December 20th.

December 29th, rehearsals for this begin. At this rate, the child will go to Harvard. At least she has nine days off for Christmas.

Matron: "Scarlett, would you like to take a little break?"

Scarlett (screaming): "DON'T MAKE ME STOP ACTING I WILL DIE!!!!!!!"

While Scarlett is falling down as a wan polio victim in Sister Kenny's Children, rehearsals for The Miracle Worker begin -- Scarlett is reprising Helen Keller, at this Theater.

Sister Kenny closes February 14. The Miracle Worker opens February 15.

The Miracle Worker closes at the end of March. Scarlett's plans are to audition for yet another show that will start rehearsing immediately thereafter and includes performances in New York.

Scarlett has an agent. Uh, two. One local and one in L.A.

They called her. Repeat. They called her.

Ring, ring, ring.

Matron: "Hello?"

Agent X: "Is this Scarlett Thompson's mother? The child currently playing Ramona Quimby at The Children's Theatre?"

And so it goes.

Now, Scarlett has been tapped to start recording music by some local heavy hitters, exploring the possibility of the RECORDING label.

No - the Stage Mother did NOT seek this out. Complete 100% serendipity.

Because the Universe keeps opening doors for Scarlett, with no scheme or plan -- and Scarlett is happy, generous, disciplined and loving -- this family keeps walking through those doors.

Indeed--although the Matron has met a few stereotypical stage parents and worse -- some of her ilk are being pulled (more or less dazed and confused) by their driven children. Do you think the parent can force a child to bounce on stage for 74 shows in six weeks and be happy?

Matron: "Scarlett, do you want to maybe make a CD and do music? It might not work out but this strange thing happened ------ "


Imagine it is 8 am in the morning. You are getting your child ready for school: cereal, banana, coat, backpack. Cereal and banana because, actually, you do need to eat.

Matron: "Have a good day at school, sweetie!"

Scarlett: "Mama? Have you heard from my agent? The girl who is going to get me a movie? Can I be in a new commercial? Am I going to make that record tomorrow? Is there another audition? Ca we watch youtube videos of my shows?"

Trust her. This child is a freight train.

The Matron? If she is the engineer, it's all about slowing down and making sure Scarlett is able to see the "Stop Sign" at the crossroads. For the past three years, luck has followed this child. Doors open. Opportunity? Says: yes!

Parenting the star is easy. Parenting the child who wants to be the star -- with all of her being!-- and isn't? Hard. That's the horizon the Matron follows because no is always ahead.

No exists. For all of us, in one form or another. It's the child you never had, the book that didn't get published (ouch), the job you didn't get, the fame that eluded you. No is the life that you envisioned that didn't really come to be. The no in our lives might be larger or small. But it's there for us all.

It's how we answer that no that shapes us.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Actual Conversation

Last night, the Matron was snuggled into her LEAST favorite seat in the van: front passenger. John was driving and the whole family headed toward that Minnesota version of fine dining, the potluck party at a friend's house.

The Matron, who has just a few tiny issues regarding CONTROL, could not help but notice that her husband's foot felt, well, a tad bit heavy on that gas pedal. Indeed, she could not help but notice that the vehicle transporting her very fine self was going well over the speed limit.

Matron: "John! Did you know the speed limit is 30 here! You're going fast and there's a police car up ahead!"

Immediate decrease in speed and increase in anxiety.

John: "Where? Where? I don't see any police car?"

Matron: "Well, there isn't one."

John: "You lied! You just lied to me!"

Matron: "I did not!!"

John: "You lied!"

Matron: "Actually, no."

John: "Then what do you call what you just did?"

Matron: "I simply added a sentence for dramatic emphasis. That's not lying."

Scarlett: "I'm soaking this all in, mother."