Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winners never quit. Or do they?

My local radio station has been running another one of their gimmicky contests, and this one was actually quite cool, I thought. 

The ChallengeIdentify the six celebrities whose garbled voices are embedded in an audio recording.
The Reward: An all-expenses-paid trip for 2 to the American Music Awards this weekend.
The Winner: A very excited woman who plans to take her 11 year old daughter with her for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The Problem (at least for me):  The mother admitted, on the local radio station, that her daughter (and co-traveller) has the lead in the local school play this weekend.  Mom's close-to-exact words were: "She's playing the role of Pinnochio in Pinnochio. Oh well, I guess they'll have to find an understudy."

I'm just going to let you sit with that for a minute.  Because maybe I rushed to judgment on this one.  So take a sec.  Grab some coffee.  Check an email.  Make a phone call.  I'll wait ...

Ok, so now that you've sat with it for a little longer than I did at the traffic light, is it more palatable with a little time lag? Or does this still reek of irresponsible mother? Ungrateful child?  Total lack of accountability and committment? 

Yes, I'm labelling.  Harshly. 

Because I have been doing theater most of my life, and I know a few things about how this child was probably cast in the coveted lead role.  Especially at such a young age:
  • No doubt there were tears - because nobody loves drama more than artists. 
  • There were ass-kissings -- because nobody can kiss ass better than a person with a wish. 
  • There was merciless gossip (among parents and children) about the other kids who tried out - because the saying "the best way to make yourself feel better is to make someone else feel bad" came from somewhere.  And I'm wagering a bet it actually came from a theater audition.
  • And, as I know from every play I have ever done, there was certainly a "Date Conflicts" sheet provided to all auditioners.  Let's be clear: most directors base a significant amount of their casting decision on the information provided under the "Please list all date conflicts here" section.  Generally, an unavoidable conflict during any major rehearsal, tech and orchestra run-through, and/or Hell Week means one of three things: 
    1. No hard feelings but you're out of the running,
    2. You still stand a chance if you are related to the director, or
    3. You are so unbelievably gifted, so incredibly made for the part, that it wouldn't be possible, in fact it would be insane, to even consider casting another person in the role. So no worries. The part is yours. 
No, I can't say for sure that this particular local theater passed around a "Date Conflicts" sheet.  But it would be unusual if they didn't.  And it would be highly unusal for a director to be ok with the student he/she cast in the lead role missing not a rehearsal, not a run-through, but the Saturday night performance, with no advance warning, because "something better came up."  Community theater is gruelling.  It requires a lot of work and full committment, and the added pressure of knowing, especially as a lead in the show, that a lot of people and money and community resources are depending on your 110%.

There's no arguing that this is a total bummer of a situation. An all-expenses-paid trip to the American Music Awards is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  But guess what?  So is the lead role in a local play when you're eleven years old and performing in front of hundreds of people.  My guess is, months ago, during the Pinnochio audition process, this child would have given anything, absolutely anything (because you know how eleven year olds love their hyperbole) to be cast in the lead.  And as most dedicated and supportive parents do, my guess is that her parents drove her to the auditions and coached her at home and got swept up in the possibility of their child becoming a local star, too.  In fact, I truly hope that happened ... because every child should feel like a star at some point in her life.

But now, what could have been a harsh life lesson, an invalable teachable moment about honoring committment and consideration of others has become this ... this "something better came up" situation with mom literally announcing to the whole Capital Region that the theater would need to find an understudy.  It almost sounded too close to a "not my problem" kind of dismissal.  And yes, her daughter was sitting right there, absorbing everything with her impressionable, eleven year old ears.

I make it my policy to never give parenting advice.  I also try to make it my policy not to criticize parents, but sometimes I choose to override that one in favor of sharing an opinion that is stronger than my belief that I should probably butt out.  But even as I write this, I don't quite know how I feel.  I don't know that I want to "criticize" this woman, per se.  But I do want her to explain to her daughter why it is not possible to bail on a committment (any committment, but certainly not a committment in which a lot of people have invested a lot of time and money).

So is this one of those "You have to be a parent to understand" moments?  I must confess, I am a little sick of humoring parents through those moments, as if somehow fertilization has baptized them with super human knowledge or special powers that I couldn't possibly possess.  Or understand.

This seems to me to be about integrity, and nothing more.  And integrity begins with modelling. I believe it.  I have experienced it.  And for you cerebral types out there, I can produce a few compelling domestic/family violence studies that corroborate it.

Maybe I'm wrong.  But it makes me kind of sad to know that this little girl who should be walking out onto a stage of her own Saturday night, standing in her own light, taking her own curtain call, will be settling for an anonymous seat in an ocean of people who won't even glance twice at her.  She will watch the stage instead of taking the stage.  She won't have the commaraderie of the post-show get together or the pictures of her shining moment to last her a lifetime.  She may create a memory at the Awards show, but it will certainly fade much quicker than her spotlight would have. And I guarantee that her castmates and her community will remember her decision long after the red carpet has rolled itself up and the bright lights of Hollywood have gone dark.


  1. Hasky is 100% correct! Parent or not... Commitment and accountability was seriously lacking in this mother's decision. I remember my kids wanting to miss a sports team event to do something else, like a party. We would not let them bail out as the team was counting on them and they made a commitment. What kind of future adults are we raising if we allow/encourage and even suggest this type of behavior. Nice blog Heather.

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  3. Once again you make excellent points and I was on the fence until your final paragraph. You are right she should follow through on this commitment to not just the show but herself as well.


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