As a second year “Drama Mama,” I have learned so much from Girlwonder taking part in the school play. Through months of practice, long days and late nights, aches, pains, bumps and bruises (sometimes those play shoves are all too real), we have been thrilled to have a behind-the-scenes look at the sheer amount of hard work that goes into making magic onstage.
This year, her high school will put on Les Miserables. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Miserables is an unforgettable story of heartbreak, passion, and the resilience of the human spirit, and has become one of the most celebrated musicals in theatrical history.
I abhor culture and have terrible taste, so I am completely unfamiliar with the plot. I know only that last year in Anything Goes, she played, “Erma” and was almost-but-not-quite a prostitute.
I don’t want to give away any of the plot to the three other people who, like me, have no idea what “Les Mis” is about, but this year she is “Fantine.” She sings some lovely songs, including I Dreamed a Dream, and in one scene is again, almost-not-quite-but-possibly a prostitute? Do I need to be concerned about typecasting?
As a Drama Mama, I know that costuming is often up to volunteers. Since I am woefully behind on my 19th century French fashions, I went online to figure out what “Fantine” would wear. This is how Girlwonder and I found ourselves in a crowded restaurant lobby costume shopping online while waiting for a table.
I didn’t realize I had gotten so deeply into the process until she said, laughing, “Mom, could you possibly say ‘this will work when you’re a prostitute’ any louder?”
We need the arts
All kidding aside about my inability to figure out what the well-dressed 19th Century French prostitutes wear, I am a huge fan of the high school arts.
Did you know that students involved in the arts are four times more likely to hold school offices, win awards for writing, enter science fairs, and consistently outscore their non-arts peers on college entrance exams.
Yet, all too often, the arts are given short shrift in our communities.
I say this as the parent of two standout high school athletes — they have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of playing professional sports. I pray, of course, that neither happens. I’ve seen how pro athletes seem to invariably act out and embarrass themselves. Lightning also hurts.
I am fairly new to the Drama Mama clan, but in this vein I want to add my voice to those pleading with public schools to not cut the arts in education.
There are endless benefits to taking part in a high school production that pay dividends well into adulthood.
- Theatre teaches students how to appreciate, understand and effectively communicate with a wide variety of personalities and talents. This comes in handy in college, friendships, and office politics.
- A stage production is basically a construction project — with vocals!
- Seeking donations and sponsors is also good experience in sales.
- Everybody who has worked onstage knows that most plays are produced on a shoestring budget. This forces all involved to be imaginative and seek out creative ways to make big magic with small funds. This is a valuable skill later in life, whether you are balancing a business project, or household budget.
Bonus points for hammered thumbs, splinters, paint splatters for weeks, and scrabbling together impressive costumes out of old prom gowns and Goodwill finds, only to perform three shows and throw it out to make room for the next production.
Is there a badge? I have survived our son’s Eagle Scout Project. I think a similar badge is warranted for the successful completion of a theatrical production.
This is where academics, athletics, and theatre most closely align. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? (Or the playoff game?)” Practice, practice, practice. Then, just when you think you have it down so well you could perform it in your SLEEP — practice some more.
Go to school by day, practice nights and weekends. Eat, breathe, sleep your craft. Sing, dance, hammer, paint, and repeat.
Girlwonder is blessed with a lovely alto range. She can belt out a song like nobody’s business. That is heady stuff. They also know that none of their talent will matter if there are no costumes, makeup, ticket sales, lighting, or sets. Each person is important and their contribution matters.
Yet she and her equally talented lead actresses also know that in a tight production, they may be pulled into makeup, cleanup, or crowd scenes. Every actor does the same. It certainly keeps an actor humble, going from the highs of a featured solo to playing background shrub number two.
As a drama mama, I am proud to see the fruits of these young actors labor shine in the footlights. I am also going to be mildly concerned if “background shrub number two” is also kind-of-sort-of-maybe-a-prostitute.