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Confessions of a Stage Mother

By: Sandy MacDonald
Date: Apr 21, 2016


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A theatre lover recalls her years as a real-life Mama Rose


Rationally, I know I shouldn't be embarrassed, but there's a certain aspect of my past I don't often share with casual acquaintances: I was a stage mother -- the all-in, besotted kind.

Stephen Sondheim, via Mama Rose, placed quite a burden on those of us who happen to enjoy providing our offspring with a creative outlet on stage. "Oh, you must have unrealized dreams of your own," goes the common assumption. And while that's often true enough, I did my best to sort out my own shelved yearnings before signing on as coach/chauffeur for my now-grown daughter.

Though I tend to downplay that era, I look back on it fondly -- as, I assume, does my daughter, given that she recently booked her own four-month-old twins for an episode of USA Network's Mr. Robot. (Look for the infant ogling a silver rattle!) Laurel and I had a great time exploring New York City back in the '80s and early '90s, though I wouldn't, in retrospect, recommend attempting to tackle NYC from a home base in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"What are you, stupid?" asked the Manhattan agent I was proud to secure for Laurel when she was just six. No doubt, but I took seriously her wish "to be on TV, not just watch it," and so I was prepared to move mountains -- or schlep hundreds of miles -- toward that end. I subscribed to Backstage (this was pre-Internet) and off we would go at the slightest provocation, hauling rolls of quarters (pre-cellphone, too) with which to check in.

She did have some impressive almosts: callbacks for a couple of Broadway musicals, and a series of auditions with a famous film director soon to be infamous. (Nothing untoward happened, she assures me, although he did give her the unsettling note: "Don't act so innocent.")


How I pulled off this side job while working at a Boston publishing house seems, in retrospect, a miracle of creative time management. I was very lucky that my colleagues allowed me a certain latitude, as long as I kept the slush pile from engulfing the office. During one week alone, we made three day trips to NYC!

Even if those high-profile, high-mileage prospects never panned out, they did teach Laurel how to deal gracefully with life's inevitable disappointments. ("They must have been looking for a green girl with purple hair," I'd console her when she was really little.) The near misses also equipped her to pursue local opportunities once she grew old enough to make her own way around Boston. While still in grade school, she commuted by bike to take part in an early dramatization of Tuck Everlasting at the Wheelock Family Theatre, and by train to Brandeis University to play Betty Parris in The Crucible. My chauffeuring services were no longer required: She was unstoppable -- even if she drove herself so hard that, during one matinee, she fell asleep onstage while enacting Betty's spell.

My job description evolved so quickly: within a short span, I'd become redundant. By the time Laurel finished high school (having played a punk Puck as a freshman) and headed to LA for college, she'd participated in a half-dozen professional productions entirely on her own. If I ever question my early impulse to help her pursue her dream, I can take comfort in the fact that she's still engaged in theatre (though currently taking a breather with her very young twins).

In retrospect (residual embarrassment notwithstanding), I think it's entirely reasonable to pitch in to further your child's "career," provided that the impetus is coming from the child and that your motives aren't muddied by personal ambition. (The twins have yet to weigh in, but their college account isn't complaining.)

These days I'm more of a stage yenta. My stage-mothering duties long since relinquished, I enjoy sharing casting notices with friends and their children. It's all about making a good match, and helping those who enjoy acting to find their way to a stage.


Sandy MacDonald writes about theatre for Time Out New York and, and is a Drama Desk Awards nominator..

Top photo: Laurel and Zinnia, one of her twins, onstage; all images courtesy of Sandy MacDonald.

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Sandy MacDonald is a theatre critic and Drama Desk member currently contributing to New York Stage Review, among other outlets. Follow her at @sandymacdonald