My daughters embarked on quite a journey this fall as they auditioned and made the cast of our high school’s production of “The Sound of Music”. They each earned a part as a sibling in the famous Von Trapp family. My youngest daughter was little Gretl and my third-grader played Marta. It was an experience for my girls and me that is definitely worth sharing because it opened my family’s eyes to the opportunities and fun that is the musical theater experience.
I have actually been sitting on this topic idea for a while. During the holiday season, a friend and blog reader mentioned to me that I should write a piece about how it all went for us. Prior to hearing my girls sing “These are a Few of My Favorite Things” daily, I knew very little about theater (or should I be saying theatre?). As a high schooler I had a small role, consisting of one sentence, in “The Wizard of Oz” and another time I was a salsa dancer for “West Side Story”.
I am not a great singer or dancer, so in hindsight I am very thankful the vocal and drama teachers at my school gave me this opportunity. I was a senior for the “Wizard of Oz” and mainly went out for a role so that I would have the excuse of late, weeknight practices that involved me hanging out with my friends in the auditorium and driving to local hang-outs for pizza and ice cream. The “West Side Story” production was much more exciting because the costumes were cool and there were a lot of us dancers. We actually built a camaraderie that transcended all grade levels and led to some fun times back-stage.
The experience for my daughters was so much more than anything I had ever done as a youngster, for many reasons. First of all the talent at their school is amazing! I seriously cannot put in to words how gifted the lead girl who played “Maria” was in the show. Furthermore, she was surrounded by fabulous cast mates who would have easily been leads at any other school in the district, if not the state. All of that talent made the musical exciting, but it also made me nervous as a mother. What if my six-year-old got sleepy during opening night and refused to sing? What if my third-grader forgot her lines on-stage and never recovered? Seeing past these nerves allowed me to learn first-hand that theater kids are probably the best all-around kiddos on Earth.
The Audition Process
An email was sent out on our school’s list serv that announced an open call for little ones to come and try-out at the school. Line reading and singing a short song were the requirements. What drove me to ask my oldest daughter to audition was simply a way of getting her out of her comfort zone and trying something new. I did not have any grand aspirations of her becoming the next Beyonce; my urging came more from wanting her to not be afraid to at least try.
As a child, and especially as a teenager, I typically went out of my way to avoid activities that required auditioning. I really only tried stuff that I knew I was already half-way decent at doing. For me this led down a road that had me fearing failure, which is something I want my children to avoid. It never hurts to try, and every experience can be a learning one. My oldest was a bit shy about the idea of auditioning, but ultimately committed because she enjoys singing and imitating voices. A few days later I decided why not open up the option to my kindergartner, who was game as long as her big sister also auditioned.
Try-out day came and we arrived in a rush with my toddler in tow and my husband held up at work. I was frazzled, and in hindsight probably more nervous than my daughters. The drama instructor kept things light and fun. The kids trying out showed off their acting skills by pretending to walk across a slippery stage and through ice-breaker games. It was a blast for my daughters. They were among the first group to audition and of course got an attack of the giggles. They could not even sing their songs because my youngest kept laughing and poking her sister in the ribs.
I cringed, but all of the teachers, students, and parents laughed and I heard a lot of “How cute!” comments being uttered. They exited the stage with a request to come back and sing if they felt like it. Both of my girls were ready to leave and feeling a bit awkward, but they also both suddenly really wanted to be a part of the production. I tried to explain that without singing, it most likely would not be an option. I was unable to convince them, however a sweet 5th grader heard us talking and very maturely explained to them that they had done a good job, but should really go and show everyone what more they had to offer. So they did. My kindergartner provided a wonderful rendition of “Isty Bitsy Spider”, while my oldest sang a holiday song. From there, I did not know what to expect. I was nervous they would not get a part, but also had butterflies about them earning roles. Parents had to fill out forms explaining that they understood the weekly and sometimes daily time commitment of rehearsals. So late that evening when I got the news that my girls had scored big speaking and singing parts, I was equal parts thrilled and worried.
My young daughters had to be on-hand for practice 3-4 times a week, and more the closer we got to showtime. The practices often took place right after dinner and pushed their bedtimes back by about 20-30 minutes. Rehearsals ran for about three months, so our family literally lived and breathed the “Hills are Alive” and “Doe a Deer a Female Deer”. Through all of the rushed meals and busy evenings, my girls never once complained. This let me know that they were loving the experience.
It was a lot of running and carpooling, but the next best thing to theater kids are the parents of little thespians. I met some truly wonderful fellow moms and we all worked together to get our kids to and from practices safely and mostly on time.
The instructors were equally amazing, but I have to give most of my kudos to the high schoolers in the show. They really took my girls and the other younger students under their wings and made sure all were taken care of during practices. My kindergartner pretty much owned the lap and smart phone of the junior girl playing Louisa. While my third-grader admired the cast mates playing big parts like Captain Von Trapp, Liesel, and Max. My youngest would repay an older kid’s kindness by drawing them pictures of little fish, which became badges of honor and all who received one made a very big deal about it for my daughter’s benefit.
Sure my girls heard their share of “shut-ups” and got a bit of an education that is tween and teenager talk. They also heard shouts and lectures from directors when people missed practices, cues, or left sticky wrappers back-stage. But mostly they were well cared for and so enamored with the theater process and all its players that it is hard to come up with any real negatives from their musical theater experience.
The ten days leading up to opening night had me, as a mother, acting crazy. I channeled my germaphobe brother and prayed constantly that neither of my girls would get sick after all of their hard work. We washed our hands raw and tried to get as much sleep as possible. An extra matinee show got added to the weekend of performances because the musical was generating so much buzz. The additional showtime made me thankful because it meant more available tickets for extended family, but it also meant no naps for anyone during what would be a whirlwind weekend.
Opening night involved a line of patrons that went out the door and a sell-out crowd. It was crazy exciting and that enthusiasm stayed strong throughout all of the performances. My girls hit all their marks and sang with smiles. Standing ovations occurred for everyone during all of the final bows.
The next morning my family felt it. The let down of it all being over. The lead (who was magnificent) had a post on Facebook discussing post-production blues and I nodded my head in agreement as I read it on my phone. My daughters had grown to love everyone involved with the show so much. It was hard to acknowledge they would no longer see them on a daily basis.
I don’t know if this experience could ever be surpassed by a future musical theater experience? Maybe each production is a one-of-kind thrill in its own way. All I do know is that it was a great thing for my kids, and also for me. All three of us faced some fears. My girls tried something new and exciting and even managed to excel. As a mom, I had to trust the theater system and people who started out as virtual strangers with taking good care of two of my most favorite people in the entire world.
There is nothing like watching your child on a stage, singing alone, and praying they get through it without troubles or heartbreak. Even more than that there is nothing like hearing your daughter say “I maybe found my thing, you know?” So who knows if my kids will go on to be Broadway stars? My girls may actually never do another theatrical performance (but I bet and hope they do), because they also enjoy softball, basketball, and art.
Either way I will be fine and extremely thankful for our introduction into what is the wonderful world of musical theater.