Break a Leg, Scarlett. . . Not that You Have One Left
She knows regular readers have seen most of this. New content, at the end. Beware if your child likes acting!
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.
Scarlett: "Mom, I want to be in theater. Can you get me a show?"
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.
Next came 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.
This was the first play in which the Matron watched her daughter and thought: Wow. A child of her blood could harmonize in front of hundreds? Thank goodness John witnessed the birth or she might not have believed it.
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 highly choreographed 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. 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. But if she's down, she can just think of her favorite things and feel better. Like realizing a (short and adorable) lifelong dream and being an actual Von Trapp child on an actual stage in an actual play that is NOT in the backyard.
This time for The Sound of Music at the Phipps Center for the Arts! Scarlett was Marta. Here she is charming up the Julie Andrews type.
Sound of Music took this child away (and the Matron to Wisconsin!) nearly every night for six weeks this fall.
In December, Scarlett traded traipsing through the hills for the deaf blind shuffle. Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker! Now, if Sound of Music stole Scarlett and kept her busy, this production did not. Indeed, the first 2/3 of private Helen and Annie rehearsals were cancelled. Here you are, in the midst of the actual shuffle.
"We don't need them."
But wait! The Matronly psyche did! That's an awfully big role to be dropping stage time. Not that she knows one single thing about theatre. Still, Stage Mother fretted as rehearsals fell like the stock market.
But all went well. The show opened to rave reviews.
For the entire run, Scarlett, you came home with spectacular bruises, splinters, two inch gashes on your arms. The role is physical. You were doused with water. You had so much blocking to remember you said it's almost like being in two plays at once. But you still found time to play 'school' with your brother and tried to mention all of your friends, by name, in the program.
Your fellow actors gave you high praise. You're a good team player. Even if Helen appears, well, fiesty.
After being the only child on the set for The Miracle Worker, the Mother Ship opened her arms to you and you happily climbed aboard, mid-March. The Matron doesn't think she's seen you since. Have you grown?
A little. Here you are, on a rehearsal break, with your latest set of best friends, the people who see you more than your family does.
Sometimes when she misses you, your mother tunes in as best she can. She watches this. That's pretty much the most direct contact she's had with you in a good long while, except for the driving.
But . . . being an icon is a once in a lifetime thrill. Right, Ramona?
Oh wait. You were just Helen Keller. Okay, you get to be an icon twice (three times, it turns out, but that's coming up next). You took the definition of trooper to new levels, Scarlett. Seventy-six shows in six weeks! Once you went on stage with a mouth stuffed with cotton and gauze, bleeding from an emergency tooth extraction and sick from the anesthesia. Your mother watched you cover once when your adult counterparts forgot their lines. She knew then you'd crossed one: you are a professional.
Over the summer, you reprised your role as Gladys in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. This is the annual backyard production that resulted in more wet parental eyes and about $600 in groceries. The closer your friends get to teenagers, the more they are eating. Can we stop this upward climb?
There are no pictures of the summer show. That's a whole other story.
Then, this fall you donned yet another adorable wig (actually two but th Matron hasn't yet signed the permissions form for the cute culy redhead wig) and stepped into a third iconic role: Annie!
Even when the skin on her neck hangs so loose and low it can cover small children (and possibly developing nations), your mother will never forget the morning you woke up after being offered that role. The theater had called late the night before, just as you had arrived home from the audition.
The next morning, your mother opened your door to find you stretching into the day, just emerging from the night's cocoon. You opened your eyes and whispered "I'm Annie" with such pure and uncomplicated joy that your mother nearly cried. If only we all could wake like that each day! I'm _____________ .
Just look at that joy. Your mother was once again shocked and slightly disturbed that her lineage could actually sing. Really well. Amazing, actually. The autograph seeking crowd afterward was 40 minutes deep.
Annie was an emotional moment for the Mama, who relived that first backyard production and all that came in between. Her daughter was living the dream -- her own dream! Hey, that's what the Mama wants to be doing too (only this dream involves a computer and one lucky book publisher, no vocals).
Somewhere in the middle of Hooverville, Scarlett decided that she should do . . . drum roll . .. . Dinner Theater.
Which she did, popping in as the scullery maid, Fanny, and Scrooge's sister (in one of those freaky childhood flashbacks) in a little holiday show at the Actor's Theater, Fezziwig's Feast.
You had a small part onstage but a big role in managing the younger children.
The Matron is glad that you are good with a comb. After Annie and Fezziwig's Feast, you had a blazing FOUR DAY vacation that included Christmas itself, and then started rehearsals for Sister Kenny's Children at the History Theater. Yup, that's you in the braids.
Scarlett, for the last month your Mama has watched you work as a professional, once again. You are attentive to detail. For this show, you must endure both elaborate hair and, horror of all horrors, a wee bit of make-up.
High School? Scarlett? Two years? Hey -- fork over that Kleenex!
Darling, to this day, you have been a wildly successful child actor. Your mama figures you have a few more years left but time is taking you elsewhere. Soon. She just hopes the teen years are as good to you as early childhood as been. No matter what -- just like your Mama has been here to squirt out the hairspray and teach you about eyeliner -- she'll be here to hold your hand and see you through.
But tomorrow? When you go onstage for opening night? Break a leg, sweetheart!! Your mama hears--from those in the know --that you rock in it.
And even though you have been living in some theater or another about 80% of your waking hours for the last solid three years?
You still sleep here. And your Mom gets to tuck you in at night, pull up the covers, kiss your forehead and fall asleep herself -- with a little happy loving smile and buoyant heart -- knowing you are here.
Home Place Photo credit to Michal Daniel of Proofsheet Photograhy. Miracle Worker and Minka is here Ann Marsden and Ann Prim photo and movie credit, respectively. Sound of Music photographs are Mandsager Photography. The Ramona photo was lifted from the StarTribune. Fezziwig Photos by Alan Weeks and Annie shots by George M. Calger. Thanks, everyone!