Friday, October 8, 2010

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

She knows regular readers have seen most of this. New content, at the end. Beware if your child likes acting!

And THANK YOU, everyone, for the homeschooling comments! The Matron has a phone conference scheduled with Scarlett's school counselor later today. But she might be leaning in the homeschool direction. . . .

But back to the more fun part of being a Stage Mother.

Scarlett was seven when Theater stole her from the Matron. This happened while she watched a performance ofEsperanza 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 forSister Kenny's Children at the History Theater. Yup, that's you in the braids.

The cast consisted of one very well known local adult actor, several teenagers from St. Paul'sPerforming Arts High School, and -- you. This experience 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!

Fezzwig's was followed by a bit of a heartbreak: the second round The Miracle Worker was cancelled. There went your spring --but a big lesson in the up and downs of theater. Thank goodness there was a nice break for the first time in four years!

This summer, you were Amaryllis in The Music Man at Como Park Community Theatre. Your mother was once again amazed by your ability to harmonize (and had to remind herself that she was there at the birth and therefore, there is a bloodline). That show seemed almost like a continuation of the four month break, as rehearsals were entirely manageable.

Well, that all ended, didn't it, my dear?

More heartbreak: your fall show was also cancelled. This meant you had to scramble for auditions. Certain that you'd the usual round of rejection and perhaps one show, your parents allowed you to audition for THREE shows. You landed roles in all.

Today, you're the unhappy and beleaguered Sarah-Kate in Afternoon of the Elves at Youth Performance Company. This theater has strict rules about age limitations -- 12 is the earliest one can possibly audition. My dear, you were counting the days. You probably don't remember, but you started begging to audition there when you were eight. Two days into your 12th year, you auditioned for the first time--and got a lead role. Your mother witnessed this and understood the meaning of joy, watching you.

Scarlett, for the past few weeks, your family has assisted as you rehearsed both at Youth Performance Company and Mixed Blood Theatre , where you'll be the young Clara in Isabelle Allende's The House of Spirits. Please cover your ears during much of this show. Today, after your performances at Youth Performance Company, your father will immediately drive you to Mixed Blood for a night of rehearsal.

But today, Scarlett, please enjoy the thrill of yet another opening! Even though your current daytime life includes only actors, light technicians, directors, stage managers, ushers, audiences, costume designers, make-up artists, and set-designers, your mother still tucks you in every night.

She gets to hear the hopes, dreams and fears flow from the pillow, smell the soft breath of sleep after you finally fade and stand in the doorway--heart full--grateful that 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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stage Mother, Psychological Collapse and Home Schooling

Previous conversation -- about a decade ago when He Who Cannot Be Named (HWCBN for new readers) was entering preschool.

Matron: "I think maybe I'll homeschool the children."

John: "I'll divorce you."

Matron: "Pardon?" (actually it might have been stronger)

John: "If you want to homeschool, we'll need a divorce."

Matron: "Why in the world would you say that?"

John: "You DO NOT want to be around children all the time, period. You go nuts."

Matron: "Nuts! I do not!"

John: "Remember when Stryker was a baby and what you did every day when I came home from work."

Matron puts hands over ears and starts humming but the words still got through.

John: "You handed him to me before my coat was off and said 'take this $&$%*% baby' and ran out the door. Every. Single. Night. We never spent so much money on unnecessary groceries--and shoes."

Matron: "Are you done now?"

John: "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."

But the Matron could recognize truth in her own need for solitude and an adult life, of sorts, even if that adult life was squeezed in between 9 am and 3:30 pm.

The children were all sent off to school at the earliest possible age.

The new dilemma . . . .

Scarlett has only been to school six days since school began on September 7ish. Her performance and rehearsal schedules for her current and two upcoming shows mean that this trend will continue through the end of January. The school district, based on the diva's past academic records, has given conditional approval for the haphazard attendance: continue operating as an A student.

This is a new school -- junior high. And guess who has been able to juggle homework -- even algebra and get As -- but who hasn't made any friends yet. Not one. Guess who BEGS on the days she's supposed to go to school to stay home?

Guess who's begging to be homeschooled?

And now the divorce card is off the table, as the parents consider the balance between a child's genuine passion and love of art and the much-valued (in these parts) value of school, with its social systems and professional educators.

Sigh. . . .

Scarlett: "Mom, I have TONS of theater friends. I see them everyday, all the time. I make more every show. I have way too many friends! I don't need more friends! I know you can't add even whole numbers so I can learn algebra online; I found a web site."

For now, school continues.

But after a few easy years, the family is coming to a fraught thin line: less theater? Throwing your hat in that theatrical ring even more? What about pilot season in L.A. in January, to which Scarlett will be invited once again? Disrupt the family in pursuit of one member's dream? Continue the current juggle, which sometimes means 14 hour days for Scarlett?

Oh! Forgot! Then there are those other two children. Darn! Forgot about them in the Scarlett shuffle (not really, but you get the drift and so do they).

Matron: "Scarlett, we need to put all of our options out. One of those options is just doing two shows a year or otherwise cutting back."

Guess who sobbed for two hours and threatened to call the police claiming child abuse?

And just to nail the lid on what a great parent she is, the Matron is asking the internet for advice. What would you do? Say what you think but be nice. She's a little raw and unsteady on her feet in regard to this child.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In Honor of her 1,018th Post

Every hundred posts or so, the Matron rolls out an early blog entry -- written before her third person persona was fully realized. This is an actual God-Buddha-Oprah-Allah-Universe conversation that took place between the deeply self-involved Matron and one of her best friends. She knows most of you have seen this, but every 100 posts or so she needs to put her feet up and gasp.

Over a Thousand Posts!

Really, this blog might be her third novel!


I had lunch with a friend yesterday.

As in a member of the Top Five Friends, the first you call on the days corporeal punishment sounds, well, reasonable or when you buy that $188 purse at ValuThrift for $7.49.

Me: "Tomorrow will be my 200th post."

Friend: "What?"

Me: "Blog post. I started with four weenie ones in September and I'm up to 200."

Friend: "I always forget about that blog."

Me (!): "You're kidding. I thought you read every day."

Friend: "Actually, I talk to you every day. Why would I read the blog?"

Me: "Because I'm writing it? It's good?"

Friend: "Actually, I like you better in real life."

Me (umbrage, taken!): "How could you! No you don't."

Friend: "Yes, I really do."

Me: "You can't possibly."

Friend: "You're wrong. I like you better, here."

Me: "But I'm funny on the blog."

Friend: "You're funny in real life, too."

Me: "I am not!."

Friend (sigh): "Yes, you are."

Me: "But I'm funny in a more thoughtful, well-done way on the blog."

Friend: "Actually, you're quick as a whip in real life. "

Me: "Now you're hurting my feelings."

Friend: "Sorry, but I prefer the real deal to the blog."

Me: "But I offer interesting political commentary on the blog. Gender stuff, too."

Friend: "Mary, you are Commentary, incarnate. In real life. You're just like that."

Me: "Oh my God. I can't believe you're saying this about my blog."

Friend: "I'm saying this about you."

Me: "But my blog is climbing in numbers! In just four months of steady postings I havehundreds of readers!

Friend: "Do they pay you?"

Me: "Of course not!"

Friend: "Are these relationships? If their kids showed up at your doorstep, do you know what to feed them? Tampax or Kotex? Which bathroom in their house is for public use and whichstrictlyoff limits?"

Me: "I know them through comments. There are kids' names involved, like Nature Girl and Boy G. Mr. T and Mr. G. Wild Child. See?"

Friend: "Hmmmm."

Me: "They put my name on their blogrolls: Minnesota Matron."

Friend: "That's not your name."

Me: "Yes, it is. And it looks good sitting up there for everyone to see, all shiny and taut: Minnesota Matron."

Friend: "You like being the center of attention."

Me: "I do not!"

Friend: "Who are we talking about?"

Me: "But I wish you preferred the blog."

Friend: "Center. Of. Attention."

Me: "Oh my God. I'm so sorry! Let's talk about you."

Friend: "Sweetie, you're always the center of attention. That's okay."

Me: "Thank God. I was getting worried, you hating my blog and all."

Friend: "Mary, the internet was created specifically for your blog. Online creativity can now take a rest. Can we order now?"

Me: "You like the blog--better? Prefer it to me in real life?"

Friend: "At this moment, yes. Very much so."

Me: "Thank you. Lemon grass soup?"

Monday, October 4, 2010

Actual Conversation

The Matron and Merrick are at the locally owned, natural foods co-op, as in organic food, hippy-dippy sort of place. This place is populated by all kinds of cool, free-spirited people (and the Matron would like to count herself as one of them). Merrick spies something of interest.

Merrick: "Mom, can we buy some fag newtons?"

Matron: "Pardon?"

Merrick: "In awt class, we learned all about how the old people -- like a million yeaws ago in Gweece --ate the fags. I'd like some."

Matron: "You mean fig newtons. Those are figs."

Merrick: "Yup. Fag newtons. I'm a big fan of fags."

And an older man, listening, leaned into the conversation, held out a dollar, and said: "Me too. Those fag newtons are on me, buddy."

The Matron let him keep the dollar. And smiled for about two hours afterward.