Sooner or later, your children will be introduced into the world of acting and theater. They may take to it, they may not- but the journey is always the most interesting part. Here, Elana Gartner explains to us what it was like to venture with her son into his first production.
When my seven year-old son came home and told me that his class was going to write and put on a play, I was ecstatic. I’m a playwright, I’ve been a stage manager, I’ve lived for years in the theater world and this would be his first chance to experience that for himself.
He kept me up-to-date: they were adapting a folktale from Myanmar and called it “The Four Puppets”. There would be puppets. And kids. He didn’t know who he would be yet. They were playing drama games to prepare. He didn’t know when they would be performing but they would be performing for the first grade. And, no, I wasn’t allowed to come. I was bummed when he told me that but I figured he had to own this experience so I didn’t push it.
Then he finally came home with the script and his character. Within days of him receiving the script, we learned that he had to know all of his lines by the following week. Little did he know, but I had massive amounts of experience with running lines with people (after all, that’s what stage managers sometimes have to do). So we worked hard over the weekend. He was in four scenes and we took it scene by scene, at first. He would look at the script and try to memorize the lines. Then he chose to say all of them in a row, not a method I would ever recommend but it was what he wanted to do, and then I gave him one line cues. After doing all of the one line cues, I read the whole scene with him, reading all of the other characters so he understood the context of his lines within the scene. By the end of the weekend, he declared that this was an excellent way to learn lines (thanks, kid…).
He had about six weeks of running lines at home multiple times while simultaneously rehearsing at school. When he would get new stage directions that he was supposed to do on certain lines, we would write them down in his script. His five year old sister started memorizing the lines for one of the characters. Some nights, our whole family would run lines together for the four scenes.
To impress upon him the importance of learning not only his lines but those of the people on stage with him, I related a story from my high school stage management days when an student had skipped two pages of script in a tech heavy show. His line was the cue for about ten lighting and sound cues and we had to adjust everything very fast to catch up but we did it and the cast followed. While the audience knew that something had happened, they weren’t sure what. To add to the story, the sound operator in the story was also the father of one of my son’s now classmates so it was twice as relatable.
As they got closer to performance dates (and we learned that we actually were allowed to attend them), we helped him find an appropriate costume, based on the teachers’ requests, from our closets. We got a note one day that he had done a great job being a stage manager that day, keeping track of who was in what scene and writing down props. My heart skipped. Second generation stage manager? Oh, boy!
Last week was his show. Three daytime performances and one evening. The first time I went, the sound operator from the story was also there to see his daughter, which felt like everything was coming full circle. My son had a great time. He was adorable on the stage, remembered his lines, spoke clearly, did all of his stage directions correctly and the only thing that I could see him struggling with was not giggling at his friends. He made a point to tell me afterwards that he didn’t look at me a lot because he knew he wasn’t supposed to. I was excited to see it a second time with my daughter and husband and see their reactions.
We reminded my daughter multiple times that she was not to say the lines that she had learned during the show. My son warned her about a couple of startling parts (in scenes that we hadn’t been reading) so she wouldn’t be scared. My daughter was right in front and, once, in between scenes, my son went to hug her. He was so happy she was there. I was so proud of him but I was also bummed because this had been such an important journey for the two of us and it would be over.
After the show, we took pictures and were getting ready to go when he said that he felt good about the show but that he was sad that it was over and he would never get to do it again. He started to tear up but held back. All the way home, he was wiping away tears that he pretended didn’t exist. But, when I went to put him to bed, he burst into sobs. I understood; I always had a hard time at the end of a production. We talked about how important the show had become to him. I tried to explain that these memories would stay with him. I reminded him that my high school friend, the sound operator, and I still have this bond from our theater days together and it’s 25 years later. While that point confused him, I tried to explain it by pointing out that the play had probably changed some of his relationships with his friends. He was having fun on stage with some people that he didn’t always hang out with. We talked about the difference between live theater and movies. He sobbed that he likes live theater except he doesn’t like when it’s over. Part of me smiled and part of my heart broke at the same time. I knew exactly how he felt.
I printed out all the photos that we took of the show for him so he could take them into to show his friends the next day. He has talked about it proudly but still sadly. It’s clear that he still misses it. He runs lines of the whole play in his head now and doesn’t want to be interrupted until he’s done. So…maybe there will be more theater in his future, too.
Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Mom365.com, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.