Our 11-year old child loves musical theater and has developed a plan for getting on Broadway by the age of 25. She is very passionate about preparing for auditions, being part of the cast, and being a consummate performer at shows. This means that I have become a “Theater Parent” and have joined the ranks of other sacrificial parenting roles such as “Team Coach” or “PTA Rep”. With a good 4-5 years of community theater productions under her belt, that has meant lots of volunteering time for me. So, here are some tips for other prospective “Theater Parents” to help make the most of your experience. Remember that even at a young age, kids are learning the culture and lore of the theater and these things are all part of joining the tribe of Thespis!
In the theater world, if you arrive 10-minutes early you are on time. If you arrive on time, you are late. And if you arrive late, you are in trouble. Everyone has excuses that are often quite reasonable. But when it holds up the start of rehearsal for many other people who were able to successfully navigate the same traffic accident on the way to theater because they left with enough time to ensure they arrived early as planned, your sincere apologies about that unforeseen incident will not hold weight.
When the Stage Manager asks, “Who’s new?” during load-in do NOT raise your hand. It usually means they need someone to do something that more experienced volunteers do not want to do such as climb up into the grid to stack weights on the arbor for a few crucial minutes during the many hours you will be isolated up there without a bathroom. On the other hand, a broom is your friend and the first piece of professional equipment your budding theatrician will learn to use. There is no shame in being asked to use one in service to the show.
When they say, “the show must go on”, they mean it. Really. We have had to put out small fires on stage, help kids that have fallen off set pieces get safely backstage, suddenly have fly rigs break with performers up in the air, not to mention multiple sprains/strains/scrapes/bruises/etc. all while the curtain is up and have not missed a beat, skipped a line, or stopped the show. So, remember to keep calm and not panic. When things go sideways (believe me, they will), you need to stay cool, communicate clearly, and handle it. In fact, you need to develop an inverse relationship to calamity. The worse it gets, the calmer you get.
If you are working backstage, always have a small LED flashlight along with a multi tool on your belt and good pair of work gloves with padded palms. Bring your own sport water bottle (full) and never make other plans for either the hour prior to crew call or the immediate hour after the show ends. That way you are never running late before the show starts and you don’t get pinched after the curtain goes down when something needs to be addressed after the show.
The theater schedule is driven by a sea of approximations. Always make sure your child has their theater bag packed with what they need that day for rehearsal or shows before they leave the house in the morning for school. That way when things go sideways and you are dashing home to grab it on the way to the theater, it is ready and waiting for you. I actually drove the wrong way down one of our busiest streets one time paying more attention to whether my child could find a snack in her theater bag that keeping my eyes on the road trying to make it to a dress rehearsal once.
Carve out times for naps and quiet rest for both you and your child whenever you can. Tech and dress rehearsals can go long and often have you getting back home late at night. Stack a couple of those days back to back prior to opening night while you are working during the day and your child is at school and things can get tough. Exhaustion is the first step to catching a cold or making a mistake backstage that could be dangerous. More than once we have actually planned ahead to eat dinner in the car on the way to rehearsal in order to get an extra 15-minutes of rest rather than waste those precious minutes eating at the table.
You are at best “Crew” and maybe just an “Interested Person”. Never, never, never suggest a change or improvement to the show – no matter how good or helpful an idea it is. That is the realm of the director, stage manager, assistant managers, and department heads. Most of the time, they are very friendly and pleasant people with huge hearts and really talented in what they do. But put them under the gun trying to get a production together with only a few rehearsals left before opening night and manners may be misplaced at the most inopportune moments, like when a parent without a glue gun handily suggests, “just use a glue gun”.
Most of all, take time during the well-intentioned chaos and multiple bouts of boredom waiting for something to get fixed, spiked, stabbed, set, or found to soak in the magic of a group of strangers coming together to do things they normally do not do in order for children to discover, nurture and share a love of performing and theater that will be appreciated by each audience every show. That is the best part of being a “Theater Parent”.