inter alia: Further reflections on being a “Stage Mom”

Sorry for the relative silence around these parts.  Springtime is crazy busy these days.  In addition to the daily chaos of work, kids, house, volunteering, etc., this spring introduced me to the reality of having a teenager who’s found a niche and needs a ride.  People who know me in real life are probably sick to death of this topic, but I can’t help but be thrilled that my quiet loner of a son has found an outlet in theater and music.  In recent weeks, his confidence has soared from reams of positive feedback.  What’s a mother to do in cases such as these?  Well, show him off of course!  🙂

Piragua Guy singin' and servin' In the Heights!

Piragua Guy singin’ and servin’ In the Heights!

My son attends a public school, but one that is known in our area not only for exceptionally high standards in academics and athletics, but also for an excellent drama and music program.  Wisconsin practices public school “open enrollment” which basically means that parents can apply to enroll their students outside of their home district, into any public school district.  Thousands of parents take advantage of this program to place their children in specialized public charter schools, or schools with particularly strong athletic departments or the like.  Since our home school district is currently in state of flux and confusion, we decided to open enroll our son into a neighboring district that has been consistently ranked among the most challenging academic high schools in the nation and has an excellent reputation for commitment to the arts.  A lot of other parents have done the same, so there are a lot of very talented singers and actors in his school.  I had cautioned him that as a freshman, he shouldn’t be too disappointed if he was cast in a minor role, or nothing at all.

Considering the talent pool, I was very surprised in January when he won a feature role in the spring production of the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights.  He had convinced me that his audition was a disaster….mumbled discussion of tripping through dance auditions.  Evidently, despite the extensive and challenging choreography sequences (ah…he’s not much of a dancer you see) he had won the role because he was the only male who could hit and sustain the high C in the song Piragua, sung by the aptly named character, Piragua Guy.  I know only a very little about the technical aspect of music, and almost nothing about the language of vocal music, but apparently my 15-1/2 year old son is somewhat rare in that he can sing the full range of a bass, a baritone and up to five notes above the standard tenor range (I probably messed that up – but I knew I was right about requiring him to start training with a vocal coach!).   His role in the play was sort of a comic one…he didn’t have a whole lot of spoken lines, but he was on stage a lot as a comic foil to some of the other action, as well as singing several vocal solos and he really nailed the part.  (He’s become a bit of a celebrity in the parent set…several times in the past few weeks, I’ve heard one or another parent who saw the show call out, “Hey Piragua Guy!”  and wave across the school parking lot.)

Finding a community of people with common interests has been a great confidence booster for him.  It’s one thing for his mom or his grandma to tell him that he can really sing, but it is entirely another to hear it from objective third parties.  He got plenty of objective third party validation this past Saturday when he sang at the Wisconsin State Solo and Ensemble Festival.  He had qualified in a local district event about a month ago.  In fact, (here’s the bragging bit…) he qualified for the state competition with all five of the pieces he sang (2 solos, 1 duet and 2 large group ensembles)  I was only able to hear him sing one song at the local competition, so I was really looking forward to hearing the rest on Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I talked here about my new role as a “stage mom”.  I have found that I am a minor player at best.  I made sure that his musical theater costume was pressed and hung, and that his white dress shirt and black slacks were ready to go, but I didn’t go ballistic when I found him sleeping in the same.  (He woke up early, showered, put on his performance clothes and climbed back into bed!)  Wrinkled he went off to “state”.   When we arrived at the festival site, I was not entirely surprised to see any number of reluctant kids, instruments and costumes in tow, being hauled around from event to event by their schedule and granola bar toting mothers.  I was a bit mortified for them.

When we ran into the first group of kids from his school, it was clear that my presence had become de trop, so I made sure he had his schedule, gave him $20 to buy something to eat if he was hungry and told him I’d see him for each event .  “I’ll be the one in the back holding up the iPad honey!” I said, to which he replied, “Maaaaaaam!”  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Well, I did bring the iPad to record, but only the vocals…I had promised that I wouldn’t be that parent, but I really wanted an audio record.   I’m so glad I did it.  Despite somewhat muffled quality, a couple of throat clears (my mother!) and a little unedited clapping, I have some recordings to share with my family and friends since my son is very stingy about sharing his talent with the hoi polloi!

A Bit of Earth from the musical The Secret Garden


Amarilli Mia Bella by Giulio Cuccini


In fact, he’s become a bit of a musical snob lately…I was almost hoping that a particularly stringent judge would take him down a notch, but after I heard him sing, I was once again thrilled to see that he had scored firsts again in all of his entries.  It is an interesting set of sensations to watch your child perform.  I was nervous initially…Where is he?  Should I have hauled him here with me like others did?  Is he ready?  What if he doesn’t perform well?  Then he started to sing, and suddenly the little boy with the ice cream all over his face became this incredibly poised performer…for his classical piece, after he had started, his accompanist noticed that the previous accompanist had left the digital piano transposed a full step down, so he had to start over, and he did so with seeming ease – is this the same kid who won’t go into the the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk?  He is still that kid, who is sometimes uneasy in real life situations, but who can now step outside of himself when he performs.

In addition to the massive pride and joy I feel for him (I’m welling up again)  I did wonder, as I sat down to write this post, if Margaret Armitage will feel something similar as her “little boy” takes the stage at the Old Vic this summer and steps outside of himself as John Proctor.

13 comments on “inter alia: Further reflections on being a “Stage Mom”

  1. Servetus says:

    He’s not my kid, but I’m vicariously thrilled that this year has seen such a transformation in the brilliant but loner kid. Is there such a thing as a stage neighbor? I’m so happy for both of you!

    • obscura says:

      He’s still got some ground to cover, but he’s definitely reinvented himself this year and it has made a world of difference! “Stage neighbor” I like it, and since I know you can sew, you’re in! 😀

  2. Perry says:

    As I was telling another friend yesterday whose son made her immensely proud in public, we say in Yiddish that a child give you “nachas,” when he makes you proud. So enjoy now, and he bring you many nachas in years to come. His voice is delightful. Thanks for sharing.

    • obscura says:

      He’s a good kid…he has his PITA teenager moments, but honestly, I’d worry more if he didn’t have them. I will take the “nachas” as I find them 🙂

      I’m learning all about musical theater, but I’m sure you’ve heard your share, so I’m glad you enjoyed his renditions (BTW, he informed me that it was illegal for me to record him without his permission…yeah, whatever. Like I said, there are still PITA moments…I’ll just play Amarilli Mia Bella really loud when they come up!)

  3. guylty says:

    Congratulations to the musical super star. Those recordings are stunning. Well, not the recordings, but the voice and the singing in it. Beautiful. And equally beautiful it is when a teenager finds his talent and discovers himself through it. There is so much more in this than just the music and the awards. There is the self-esteem, the independence, the self-confidence, the creative urge, the ambition, the follow-through. I hope he sticks with it. Whether it will be a career or not, it can only be good.
    And also: congrats to the parent who has fostered all this. It’s a credit to you that you do not need to haul him with you!

    • obscura says:

      Yeah, it’s not easy to get a decent recording with a handheld device, sporting a free app, sitting in a wooden desk in an anthropology classroom that they’ve rolled a piano into for the day – Go figure! 😀 I will have to enlist his voice coach to help me rectify that. (he’s much more compliant when it’s not Maaaaam doing the asking!)

      Yes to all of the above – it means something to him, he wants to do it, and he’s proud of his achievement…no small mountain to climb at 15.

      He’s pretty good about being where he needs to be – now if I could only “foster” his ability to NOT pile his stuff in a heap on the clothes dryer (I just found his costume and other outfit wadded up in a heap when I went down to do some laundry.)

  4. Congratulations! What talent and what a great discretely supportive mom.

  5. What a joy to listen to! Having grown up in a family that has participated in choral groups for as long as I can remember, I can and do appreciate the excellence of the performance, as well as the feelings of welling up when kids make us proud. Bravo – you’ve obviously done a great job with your son 🙂

    • obscura says:

      Welcome, and thanks for commenting!

      I don’t know how much credit I can take…apart from insisting that he not squander, but foster his gift. The talent is all his 🙂

  6. jazzbaby1 says:

    How cool!

    • obscura says:

      It was one of *those* parental moments for sure.

      Now I just have work him a bit more on the shadow box idea for the award medals…he’s not feeling it…something about me not being “suburban” enough to make shadow boxes. (Have I mentioned that he’s a complete wiseass too?)

  7. katie70 says:

    Congrats on your son doing great. We are lucky that we don’t have to open enroll and have my students that open enroll in our school.
    Son2 last week played his violin in a “coffee house” setting and it was great to hear him, he does such a great job at it. His English class has been reading The Hunger Games and next week will spent 2 days making a movie on it. Son2 has a acting part, director part, props and helped his teacher hand out parts. Maybe his teacher will get him in drama next year. He don’t want to because it is a muscial and he don’t sing or so he tells me.

    Oh yes that teen brain just got to love those times, got 2 to deal with. At least son1 is finally over it.

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