Friday, January 22, 2010

Break a Leg, Scarlett. . . Not that You Have One Left

She knows regular readers have seen most of this. New content, at the end. 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.

Scarlett: "Mom, I want to be in theater. Can you get me a show?"

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 (three times, it turns out, but that's coming up next). 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. This is the annual backyard production that resulted in more wet parental eyes and about $600 in groceries. The closer your friends get to teenagers, the more they are eating. Can we stop this upward climb?

There are no pictures of the summer show. That's a whole other story.

Then, this fall you donned yet another adorable wig (actually two but th Matron hasn't yet signed the permissions form for the cute culy redhead wig) and stepped 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 _____________ .

Just look at that joy.

Your mother was once again shocked and slightly disturbed that her lineage could actually sing. Really well. Amazing, actually. The autograph seeking crowd afterward was 40 minutes deep.

Annie was an emotional moment for the Mama, who relived that first backyard production and all that came in between. Her daughter was living the dream -- her own dream! Hey, that's what the Mama wants to be doing too (only this dream involves a computer and one lucky book publisher, no vocals).

Somewhere in the middle of Hooverville, Scarlett decided that she should do . . . drum roll . .. .

Dinner Theater.

Which she did, popping in as the scullery maid, Fanny, and Scrooge's sister (in one of those freaky childhood flashbacks) in a little holiday show at the Actor's Theater, Fezziwig's Feast.

You had a small part onstage but a big role in managing the younger children.

The Matron is glad that you are good with a comb. After Annie and Fezziwig's Feast, you had a blazing FOUR DAY vacation that included Christmas itself, and then started rehearsals for Sister Kenny's Children at the History Theater. Yup, that's you in the braids.

Scarlett, for the last month your Mama has watched you work as a professional, once again. You are attentive to detail. For this show, you must endure both elaborate hair and, horror of all horrors, a wee bit of make-up.

The cast consists of one very well known local adult actor, several teenagers from St. Paul's Performing Arts High School, and -- you. This experience has only cemented your desire to attend this performing arts high school, just two years in the future.

High School? Scarlett? Two years? Hey -- fork over that Kleenex!

Darling, to this day, you have been a wildly successful child actor. Your mama figures you have a few more years left but time is taking you elsewhere. Soon. She just hopes the teen years are as good to you as early childhood as been. No matter what -- just like your Mama has been here to squirt out the hairspray and teach you about eyeliner -- she'll be here to hold your hand and see you through.

But tomorrow? When you go onstage for opening night? Break a leg, sweetheart!! Your mama hears--from those in the know --that you rock in it.

And even though you have been living in some theater or another about 80% of your waking hours for the last solid three years?

You still sleep here. And your Mom gets to tuck you in at night, pull up the covers, kiss your forehead and fall asleep herself -- with a little happy loving smile and buoyant heart -- knowing you are here.


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. Fezziwig Photos by Alan Weeks and Annie shots by George M. Calger. Thanks, everyone!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Buy Stock In Q-Tips

Oh, how the Matron loves her Q-Tips. Is there a better invention? She uses these daily. Indeed, might be a bit obsessive about ear wax -- in anyone (especially children). Let's just keep everybody's dignity intact and note that the Matron is of a people with clean ears.

Q-Tips, in a pinch, are dog toys. Satan's Familiar has been known to hop about the house with one in his oily jaw.

Q-Tips are undeniably a must-have in any household with children. You can use them for glue, paint and glitter. Or building material. It is entirely possible to build a castle out of Elmer's glue and Q-Tips. This feat has been accomplished several times in her household.

Now. . . remember the Matron and her special Y2K hysteria? The era in which she was convinced the Apocalypse was pending -- or at least just for her? Remember how the Matron stocked up? On only Q-Tips?

Here's how many she purchased. After daily swabs, one dog and dozens upon dozens upon dozens of crafty endeavors . . . . the Matron is down to 5 Q-Tips.

She might just keep them as antiques. But that was well over TEN YEARS of Q-Tips she purchased in preparation for Y2K. Thank goodness she didn't decide to stock up on ice cream sandwiches. That would really be a mess.

What DOES a Q-Tip go for these days?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pilot Season: The Decision

Drum roll . . .. .

First, the Matron must thank each dear reader for her (and sometimes his) wisdom. She read every-single-word.

There is a decision.

After reading all the comments here and at The Women's Colony, talking with friends and stumbling across this sobering web site, the Matron and her husband settled on “not yet” instead of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Why? The odds seem so firmly stacked against a child actually landing a role that one must view the pilot season as an eight week holiday in California with the occasional audition tossed in. And then you go home. Indeed, Scarlett’s agent said as much. This agent is reputable (you’d recognize her roster of stars), successful, and honest. She pretty much told the Matron that a parent should view this primarily as a cultural excursion with the very slim chance of employment at the end. Now, the Matron is all about culture and excursion, but it seems that she can get that juju for about ten bucks at the Minnesota Institute of Art instead of for 10 grand and complete family upheaval. Speaking of family, the two children left behind also entered the equation, as did the parental long term goals for the children. Those long term goals? To produce good citizens, adults who will make the world a better place for their presence. Perhaps Scarlett will do that through art and acting – who knows. But being a kid on a pilot show just didn’t seem a direct route to stellar citizen.


Even so.

The parental unit came to , ‘not yet’ with a tiny little caveat. They needed to discuss the matter with Scarlett. Of course, it was tempting to simply not mention the LA invitation at all. But untenable. Three of the diva’s colleagues from previous shows were going to LA and everyone knew who had been invited. It’s a small community that way and the Matron didn’t want Scarlett to hear third-hand that she had been invited to LA and that her parents declined on her behalf without consultation. Plus - -and here’s the caveat – if Scarlett was DYING to go, had her crusty thespian heart staked on trying for television fame, the parents would revisit the issue, considering the daughter’s heartfelt, deepest desire. And if ever fiber in Scarlett’s being screamed that LA was the path for her?

That would suck. Because then they might actually do it because they really do believe in following the dream (within reason and that’s why it’s so darn complicated).

John and the Matron fretted and planned about how to best consult Scarlett. They worried. Wrinkled brow, wringing hands and furtive whispers. They conversed about how and when to broach the topic and how to handle all the various forks in the path. In short, they worried. Until two days ago at breakfast when Scarlett slurped through a second bowl of Fruit Loops and said, “Have you guys thought about the LA thing?”

Matron (instantly aware that Scarlett knew EVERYTHING somehow): “What LA thing?”

Scarlett: “Going to pilot season. Don’t you know that my agent sent me that email message too?”

No, Scarlett, your parents had no idea. Said disorientation is emblematic of why pilot season and an eleven year old might not be a good idea.

But the Matron is quick on her feet.

Matron: “Actually, I didn’t know that. What do you think? Do you want to go?”

Scarlett: “Not really. I want to stay here and audition for the next SteppingStone show because they’re traveling to New York. So I think this isn’t a good year for pilot season. Plus, there’s school and other shows to audition for. I don’t think I’m really that interested in television. If it was a movie, that would be good but TV isn’t really for me right now.”

Decision, done.

Friends? The Matron cannot tell you the extent of her relief—and great gratitude at the wisdom of this child.

And the Matron kept these few facts to herself. The SteppingStone show that Scarlett wants to audition for is set in China. People who live there are Chinese. Scarlett is not. And word is that over 300 children are planning to audition for 7 spots.

New Stage Mother episode ahead, that's for sure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Actual Conversation

Thanks to Scarlett, whose driving demands take the Matron out 24/7 (if you think she's kidding, feel free to head out tonight at 10 pm to retrieve the child), the Matron found herself at Byerly's, ( a local upscale grocery store) this morning, buying brownie mix so that Scarlett could supply an endless stream of sugar to her fellow actors during tech week.

Tech week, for those who don't speak theater, is the endurance test of 'running' a show over and over again, getting the lights, sound, movement, etc., -- in short, everything -- absolutely right. Yesterday, Scarlett was at the theater for 12 hours (with a break) and today it's 8. This is typical.

Not the point of the post but a digression away from . . . .

The Matron is incapable of walking into a grocery store, moving through aisles and emerging with just ONE ITEM. Which is why she went in for brownie mix and came out with enough bags that she received assistance from the lovely young woman who packed her groceries. Because this is an upscale store, the lovely young woman put the groceries in a cart and wheeled them out for the Matron.


An extremely pretty young woman.

She had perky bangs. Adorable, nearly invisible glasses. Hair swept back, just so.

The Matron swears on all things progressive, this young woman looked JUST LIKE a teenage Sarah Palin!!

So much so that the Matron rolled around this resemblance around in her mind for a few minutes before saying anything, wondering if the almost-child (about 17? 18?) ) heard this observation 200 times a day.

Far from it.

Matron: "Uh, I'm sure you get this all the time, but I just have to say it! Do people tell you all the time that you look exactly like a young Sarah Palin? You really do look just like a young Sarah Palin."

Lovely Young Woman pushing groceries: "Uh, who's that?"