Friday, February 02, 2007

More from the stage mother

I've written a lot about my stage mother tendencies. I think I'll always struggle with that aspect of my personality. I'm so damn proud of A Girl - not because she's a good actress (and I mean that in the most non-stage mothery way) but because she's a good person. She's focused and hard working but she's also a really nice kid. She has fun with what she's doing even though her schedule would challenge the most driven Type A personality you know.

Despite her success and the fact that people often say super nice things to her, she's still down to earth. This is due primarily to my husband's influence. As I've said before, he has always maintained that acting is merely an extra-curricular activity for her. He's tried to help her see herself not as an actress but as a kid who likes to act. He doesn't want it to define her because if it does, she's more likely to be crushed when (if?) the work dries up or if she doesn't get a role she wants.

I whole-heartedly agree with his approach but I struggle to keep myself from being too invested in her success. Part of it stems from my own childhood desire to be an actress. Part of it stems from plain old mother pride.

She's currently in a show at a theater near our apartment (very convenient). They've been in rehearsals since the day after Christmas and they open on Saturday. The rehearsals in the three or so weeks prior to the open are called tech rehearsals - that's when they rehearse on stage and work out all the technical aspects of the show - lights, sound, costumes, stage set. During the last two weeks of tech rehearsal, they have shows that are called previews. These shows are basically dress rehearsals that people pay a discounted price to see. At this point, they don't have all the kinks worked out so previews can often be a bit rough around the edges.

Last week I went to pick A Girl up after one of the first preview shows. As I was walking into the theater, the last of the patrons were walking out. As I walked past one couple, the woman said "Well, they do one bad show a year and this one is it." I felt like someone kicked me in the gut.

Rationally, I know it's not a big deal. There is no reason for me to take that personally but I did. I know and respect all the actors, the director, the crew. I know how hard they've worked. I like the script (but I haven't seen the show all the way through) - it's a funny and heartwarming story. My husband and I have talked about how we would handle it if A Girl got a bad review. He's always given her great advice about this - "Don't believe all the good things people say about you because then you'll have to believe the bad things, too." We're prepared for that if it happens. It just never occurred to me, until that moment on the theater stairs, that anyone would dislike the show as a whole. I wasn't prepared for that.

The show she did this fall was controversial to begin with. When the show was performed in New York, there were people who left at intermission. The same thing happened in Chicago. And although it was a critical success there were lots of people that didn't like it. But because I was prepared for that it didn't bother me. But A Girl didn't have a large role in that show but in this one she plays a lead. It just feels more important.

I still feel a twinge when I think about it but I've pointed out to myself that there are plenty of shows - at this theater and others - that I haven't liked. This was during previews so her dislike of the show might have been due to the roughness of the production. In the end, it is what it is - one person's opinion. Even if the show's a flop and even if A Girl never works again, it's not the end of the world. I truly believe that this work shouldn't define her. Not just because she's too young for that. Being successful in show business depends so much on external factors - how other people view you, whether you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time - it's not healthy to invest your self esteem in that.

That's all easy to say and easy to believe. It's just hard in practice for me to separate myself emotionally. Thankfully, A Girl seems perfectly able to maintain that healthy separation so far. I just worry that my stage mother tendencies will somehow make her think that I'll only be happy as long as she's successful in "show business." And nothing could be farther from the truth.


landis said...

That is a tough situation. I think that it's natural for parents to see their children (or the results of their parenting) as an extension of themselves, and to feel judged by other adults who are commenting on their behavior. It's hard for me not to take it personally when I get weird looks out in public with my kids--although I'm constantly reminding myself that it may have nothing to do with them (or me).

I think that your advice to A Girl is good--about the good reviews and bad ones. The important thing is for her to do something that she loves, and taking one bad review to heart after a career that's been marked by success would be silly.

Bimbo said...

A little unsolicited advice?

Demonstrate that you're proud of her despite the negative feedback about the show. You are proud of her regardless, as you said, and you want her to know that. Sometimes a little practical application makes the philosophy easier to maintain and remember.