My former boss used to say he thought I’d end up in management someday because “you like to develop people.”
I’d always look at him quizzically because I didn’t really know what he saw or what he meant by that. Other than the obvious fact that I have 3 degrees from Northwestern University in Human Development and Social Policy, I didn’t get what he meant.
But I think I do now. Because watching my son’s theater career has been the joy of watching a young human develop.
Now I don’t want to give any wrong impressions about my son’s future as the next Daniel Radcliffe. Both Scott and I were shy as children, shyness is apparently a genetic trait, and so all 3 of our kids have suffered from a double dose of genetically induced timidity. Although all 3 are noisy and raucous at home, they’re all described by teachers as “the quiet kid” at school.
Last winter, Ren-Ren tried out for the spring play and didn’t get in. I was surprised, because I had coached him at home (I have the frustrated inner thespian within), and he’d done a pretty good job. Plus there’s little competition for boys. But he told me he had been overcome by stage fright, so I think my little boy just did not let his light shine.
All this was made worse because I didn’t sign him up for skiing, thinking he’d get into the play, and the program was full by the time we got his rejection letter. So he didn’t get the play AND he didn’t get to ski.
Last summer, he wanted to do 4 weeks of summer theater camp culminating in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He played a reporter who got eaten by Audrey II, the man-eating plant.
When we saw the show, I was glad to see that he said his lines loudly and clearly—all 4 of them–but somewhat aghast to observe all the other times he was on stage. The entire cast sang and danced for many numbers throughout the show, so he was on stage a lot, giving me ample opportunity to observe his theatrical talents—which frankly, were lacking.
Ren looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Frozen.
He hardly sang, he hardly moved. When everyone else was smiling and waving their hands around their heads, he looked stricken and waved his hands around his waist. Afterwards, Scott shook his head and whispered to me, “I just think he takes more after me, introverted and kind of shut down.”
I thought, “Oh crap, now that the director’s seen him perform all summer, she’s never going to let him into the spring show.”
But of course, we didn’t say anything to Ren, just “Good job! Did you have fun?”
So I was nervous about Ren’s determination to audition for the spring play. Despite how much I encourage my kids to take risks and face their fears, I didn’t want him crushed again. I went ahead and signed him up for skiing to prevent the double whammy of disappointment.
The weekend before his audition, I was in San Francisco for my uncle’s 80th birthday celebration. Ren wanted more coaching, so when I discovered my aunt had wireless internet, we Skyped across the nation and spent 40 minutes working on his monologue (Use your arms! Gestures! Move your body!).
He got in.
Not only did he get in, he got the part of Robert, chief steward to the king. He said it was the 2nd worst boy part, but with 24 lines, it sure beats almost all “good” girl parts out there.
And he did great! He enunciated. He spoke loudly and dramatically. He even remembered every now and then to gesture throughout his 24 lines. Even better, when on stage for a big whole cast musical number, his hands actually waved at the level of his head, and he kicked his heels higher on a Charleston move than the kids around him.
I’m so proud of him. He may never be a great actor (and despite my inner thespian, the realist in me hopes he won’t pursue that career), but he faced some fears, worked on some skills and grew.