Scarlett was seven when Theater stole her from the Matron. This happened while she watched a performance of Esperanza Rising at the Children's Theater. She wept--mourned, wailed and railed-- about illegal immigration until well-past midnight. The play's topic became urgent and real. Art had hold.
A couple of months later, she and a 15-year old friend wrote, produced and directed a backyard production of Annie that involved 27 children, 100 audience members, a sound system, choreography, enormous painted backdrops and red hair dye (lasted six weeks).
You know who's Annie.
During the course of the week-long rehearsals, Scarlett requested email addresses for the children's families so she could better communicate with her cast. She is not yet eight.
When tucked her into bed after the first rehearsal, she offered this: "Mom, why don't those orphans listen better? They're supposed to do what I say." A director is born. You can rework those letters just a bit to get dictator, you know.
John and the Matron were in charge of food. Lots of it. Those orphans had no issues there.
Next, Scarlett auditioned for Little Bird at SteppingStone Theatre, St. Paul's children's theater. She stood on that big stage and belted out a song. She shivered and cowered on cue.
She didn't get in. But she went back for the very next audition with undiminished joy. And landed the role of Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. You know the book. This Official Theater Debut came four months after Annie.
Scarlett recognized that SteppingStone Theater was actually her new home and a much better place to be. Below, here she is, once again embodying poverty, in The Prince and the Pauper.
The cast of The Prince and the Pauper then became the cast of The Sound of Music for Scarlett's Second Annual Backyard Production. She was Gretel. And all those teenagers from SteppingStone traipsed to our house for more singing and dancing, under Scarlett's Command. She's eight now.
Our neighborhood is high on a bluff above the river. When the Matron mentioned to a neighbor that Scarlett was rehearsing a backyard play, the neighbor said: "We all know. These hills are alive with the sound of music, my dear." And it made life a little sweeter, she said.
Now, the Matron didn't feel like a real stage mother -you know, all claws and competition--till auditions at the Guthrie. This is the real deal, folks. Cash money and world stage, all that. Here is The Matron's Very Fine Rule for auditioning at the Guthrie Theater: Do Not Talk To The Other Mothers. Then, you're fine. Here's Scarlett as Maisie McLaughlin, impoverished and dirty Irish waif in The Home Place.
Check out that playbill. Yes, that's her in the second picture, the only person in pony-tails. Scarlett rubbed shoulders with Fame. And what did the famous do in return? Showered her with candy. gifts and generosity of spirit. The child landed a Webkin, drawings, flowers, jewelry, ornaments, (did she mention candy?) books, boundless good will and adoration. She was also exposed to a staggering scale of swearing, drink and Late Night (uh, some of this from her very own Mama). The child supervisor said he tried to cover her ears at just the right moments.
Every night she stood on that stage and hundreds applauded. That was her favorite part, she reports.
Last winter, was Almost to Freedom at SteppingStone Theater. Scarlett played Mary-Kate, the plantation overseer's daughter. It's a stark, beautiful play about slavery. Kim Hines did the adaptation from the book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. If you don't know this book, it's worth trying.
During this show the Matron marveled that her DNA could stand onstage and harmonize in front of others. Good thing John witnessed the birth or she would have no thought this possible!
That 9-year old pro's next show was also with SteppingStone Theatre. Scarlett was a weasel in Anansi the Trickster Spider. By this point, the Matron was getting so, oh, nonchalant about the whole endeavor, that she forgot about pictures (and she had a whole month to get some).
Here's how Scarlett has spent her free time for the past two years: online looking for auditions.
After Anansi came the Third Annual Backyard Production. This time it was Peter Pan. Scarlett was a definite Tink, not a Tinkerbell. The cast included a sea of pirates, Indian maidens and mermaids. The grand finale was a highly choregraphed blast of Elton John's Crocodile Rock. More than one parent wiped an eye in the Matronly backyard--once again stuffed full of people!
Wait! The Matron forgot the movie! During the month of July, leading up to the play was the small independent art film: Minka is Here. Here is the daughter in a movie.
If you go to film festivals, you might even see it someday. It's lovely.
Reader, are you tired yet? Because the Matron is exhausted. In between the actual Theatrical Event comes the down home theatrics AND the search for the next gig. Because when Scarlett doesn't have a show?
She's worried. And that can be hard on a child. But at the moment, all those stars are aligned because tonight? Another Opening Night!
This time for The Sound of Music at the Phipps Center for the Arts! Scarlett is in HOG HEAVEN to be in a real production of her very favorite show of all time. She is Marta.
Scarlett, my dear, during the past week, you've done your homework the instant you've gotten home. Nobody has to tell you to braid your hair or curl the ends, just so. You've packed your bag with shoes, socks and the right underwear. You're the one reminding your parents what time you need to be ready and why. You have patiently waited while your Mama has applied the required make-up. When you get home at 11 pm? You're starving. Honey, your mama (and Daddy) have been happy to wait up and make your favorite snacks, all with hot cocoa. What has really impressed her is how you set your alarm for 7:30 am each morning, not wanting to miss a minute of school. And you haven't. Well, mostly.
You've been gone nearly every night for six weeks. When your Mama gets to be in the same room with you for over two hours tonight--you on the stage and she in her anxious little seat--that will be the longest evening she's spent with you in quite awhile.
But you still sleep here, darling. You turned 10 years old in August. Night times, when you're finally sleeping---with the soft mouth open and warm breath, the cheek pale and vunlerable against the night, your arms limp over a stuffed animal and even though you are right in front of her, you are so so somewhere else, sort of like life, for all of us--in those still moments, your mama comes in and kisses you good-night, one more time.
Break a leg, Scarlett!
Home Place Photo credit to Michal Daniel of Proofsheet Photograhy. Minka is here Ann Marsden and Ann Prim photo and movie credit, respectively. Sound of Music photographs are Mandsager Photography.