Teary eyes glistened from the theater stage as the last performance ended. The cast, more than 50 teens from at least 19 schools, spent hours learning the book-thick music and lyrics of the school version of Les Miserables. Seeing it with an audience for the second time, I was on my feet with the cheering, clapping crowd. Most certainly, the show was a success. More certainly for me, it had been satisfying to share (usually from the driver’s seat in our van) the invaluable experience this play was for my daughter.
I’d heard that the Salem Community Theater spent more than ever before to obtain rights for the performance. Prospects sounded good, the shows promised to be sell-outs, but since the theater relied in part on sponsors and donations, I hoped they could, at least, break even.
On the first night of rehearsal, as the cast of kids began drilling the wonderful score that will surely stay with them all their lives, parents sat in the nearly empty theater getting acquainted or reacquainted. I figured I’d watch and listen
for things I might do to help. Then, the politics of casting washed over me like a wave. That famous quote “there
are no small parts, only small actors” rings now with personal meaning.
Always the naive one, I lifted the rosy lenses from my eyes that night and never did find the grit to stick my nose in with assistance. I soon realized that if the feathers of some of the parental “birds” sitting there were rumpled, talons of the raptor variety could be sharp.
Amid the friendly small talk about who we were, where we lived, what we did, I sensed an undercurrent of sneerful snips. “He wanted this part, but so-and-so knows who’s-it…,” or “She should have gotten this part, so I’m miffed,” and so on. The comments were there. Just like in kids’ sports, theater, too, can be so spoiled by parents. I allowed myself to retire to cowardly apprehension by the taloned toes. I’ve never approved of even the smallest cock fight.
I was stunned by the attitudes. One mom confided to me, “My daughter isn’t going to take just a part in the ensemble. I’m sorry, but it isn’t worth her time.” I wondered what had happened to being happy to be part of something just for the experience?
The ensemble backed up the principles throughout the play. Kathie was in the ensemble. Wasn’t it a privilege to be working with a talented, experienced director who taught music on a college level? Who wouldn’t gain by stepping on stage for this? Maybe I’m green – a novice theater parent still wet behind the ears.
Pushing parental banter aside, I was captivated by the music coming from the theater’s open side door as I waited at the wheel of my “taxi-van” during the end of rehearsals. I was excited by the exhilaration Kathie showed in her step, her voice, her whole attitude when she left the theater. She glowed as though she’d sipped a tonic.
Kathie had other commitments at school besides the play and, in addition, that little thing called homework. Her full plate was close to spilling over with late nights and too early mornings, but she wasn’t to be intimidated the way I had been.
She thought being part of the ensemble was a great way to be involved and not have the stress of a lead part. In only a short time, she felt at home in the theater, felt she had become part of a new “family”. She said the theater kids seemed to accept her more for who she was and not what she was wearing. It felt good to be away from a day of high school politics.
There’s that word again. Teenage politics, parental politics – I mean politics in the basic sense of the word. Look at what Webster says: pol