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Though I initially pictured him in the spotlight, I'm glad he found his calling backstage
In high school I played an Angel in Anything Goes. I vividly recall wearing my mother's retro, form-fitting, olive green, sleeveless gown with baby-pink detailing. I felt like a showgirl prancing about, strutting my stuff. Although singing was not my strength, I adored the glitz and the glam of the whole experience. And the applause! What an absolute high.
Of course, like many an adolescent thespian, I didn't pursue performing as a career. But my enthusiasm for theatre never waned. Instead of treading the boards, I kept my hand in the biz as a critic, marketer, and producer, with the Tony-nominated Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 marking my first Broadway co-producing gig.
And yet I still had performing aspirations -- not for me, but for my son. Not only did I fantasize about sharing my love of theatre with him, taking him to shows and playing him all of my original cast recordings, but I also imagined watching him on stage (in school at least), and proudly cheering him on.
But it turned out that my son did not fall for the stage -- he fell for stage crew. In sixth grade, he signed on for his first backstage experience for the student production of 42nd Street. He was thrilled to don work gloves and get down and dirty while helping to construct backdrops and shepherd furniture and props around the set. He got an adrenaline rush from the intensity of Hell Week when the cast, crew, and teachers put in long hours to add the finishing touches, rehearse, and gear up for opening night.
After the final performance, both the cast and crew were supposed to bow at curtain call. Finally, a chance to see my son onstage! He took a quick, blink-and-you-missed-it bow -- he could not get off the stage fast enough. And yet he was immensely proud of his work. Afterward, he was almost giddy as he gave me a backstage tour so he could highlight his contributions and detail the demands of tech.
So was I disappointed that he made his theatrical debut behind the scenes instead of in a scene? Not in the least. Though we share a deep appreciation for theatre -- and I happily accept the credit for instilling it in him -- our temperaments could not be more different. Despite his matinee idol looks, my son has always been camera shy. I, on the other hand, enjoy being the center of attention. So while I'll never be one of those moms who gets to cheer on her child on stage (or on the field -- my son bowed out of sports years ago), our love of theatre has bonded us over the years.
My son continued to serve on the stage crew throughout middle school, helping out with productions of Oliver! and Guys and Dolls. He's graduating this year, and he has relished imparting his knowledge to younger students so he can show them the ropes -- literally.
While moms of aspiring performers at school are constantly complaining about the casting challenges and disappointments their kids face, especially if they aspire to turn pro, I know that my son will always make a vital contribution to an art he loves without having to suffer the stress of competition. Let's face it, students don't get turned away from stage crew! I'm glad he's found an extracurricular activity that feeds his soul, self-esteem, and socialization.
When The Great Comet opened on Broadway, I was excited to take him to see the show and arrange for a backstage tour. While most young theatre fans yearn to meet the stars, he thrilled at the uniqueness of the seating, lighting, and staging. He noted that there was no curtain to pull, due to the innovative redesign of the theatre, He learned there are lots of ways to make your mark onstage -- even if you’re not in the spotlight.
Robin Gorman Newman blogs about theatre for her site MotherhoodLater.com, is a Tony-nominated producer of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. an associate producer of Motherhood Out Loud, and a supporter of The Lilly Awards. She authored the book How to Marry a Mensch, which she hopes to spin into an Off-Broadway musical.
Top image: The author's son onstage at Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with ensemble member Ashley Perez Flanagan. Both photos courtesy of the author.