Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I’ve grown up around show business my whole life. With my mom being a renowned model and actress, I was pretty much exposed to both industries from birth. I later married an actor and had kids with him, then remarried another actor again years later. I have seen enough of the business from the inside out to feel somewhat sophisticated about it, and dare I say, jaded by the flash and illusions that that world propagates. I can give or a take a red carpet these days and with all the celebrity sightings and run-ins in my Hollywood community, I am rarely phased by any of it. So I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t subscribe to the shenanigans Tinseltown cultivates. But isn’t it true that once you espouse a belief about yourself and really take it on as your truth, the Universe challenges it…and in my case, often in the form of my children.
My rude awakening was at Halloween when Eliana was loaned a Marie Antoinette costume that had come all the way from Versailles itself. Thankfully, for the integrity of my daughter’s and my relationship, she was game to wear it. Otherwise I had already built a case in my mind that if she refused and instead lobbied to be pedestrian Gabrielle from High School Musical, we were definitely going to have a throw-down. I immediately went to work and located the 'de rigeur' special white face powder from a professional makeup artist’s store; borrowed a fabulous fake emerald tiara from a friend; ordered a white, piled high wig online and dug through decorations to find a little stuffed bird (Marie Antoinette often put unusual objects in her ornate hairstyles). And finally, together we watched Sofia Coppola’s sumptuous biographical movie in preparation for the big night of trick-or-treating.
And she did look perfect. My husband shook his head watching me in a flurry of activity primping Eliana to within an inch of her life. To say I was ‘into it,’ was a gross understatement. Later that night, when she won First Prize for Best Costume at a creatively competitive costume party, beating out a hundred other kids, I whooped and high-fived everyone around me. I startled my husband and son, with my unusual display of public enthusiasm, instead of my usually socially reserved self. I kept repeating loudly, “She won! She won!” to anyone and everyone around me. Peripherally, I could see my husband and son inching away from me, and even my daughter, from the makeshift stage, I could tell was mortally embarrassed. I surprised myself, and acknowledged inwardly right then and there, “I’m a Stage Mom…who knew?’
I began embracing it. When casting announcements were made for her first school play last year, I was hugely disappointed when she was given a made-up part in High School Musical: “a friend of Sharpay’s.” But I hid it well with “That’s great honey! You bring all your personality to it and you’ll shine out there no matter how small your part.” Props to me! I sat through that painfully low budget performance with its requisite wooden acting, and I silently cursed the director for not highlighting my super-talented daughter’s abilities by not giving her a meatier role. In the car ride on the way home, I ‘constructively’ pointed out to Eliana that she was downstage and profile the entire show. “But that’s how Miss Amanda told me stand, Mommy.” And here it comes, the ultimate Stage Mom-standing-in-the-wings stage direction, “Ellie, you always face the audience, Honey. Doesn’t matter what the director tells you. You can always just turn your head to face the audience and your body stays on your mark to keep the director happy, OK? Otherwise no one gets to see you and your beautiful face up there.” Yikes! The car was silent for a moment, as I took stock of my own advice. My husband looked over at me - a man who does this for a living, mind you - and rolled his eyes, “OK simmer down Mrs. Ramsey… We don’t want to create a monster, here. Ellie, you did great. Don’t listen to your mom right now, she’s under the influence of her own insane, twisted ambition!” We laughed heartily at my newly developing persona… It seems I was the one becoming a monster!
This year, when casting for the production of Hairspray went into effect, I just knew in my heart Eliana was going to get chosen for the plum role of Tracy - the lead in the musical. She knew every song (and sang it beautifully, I might add). Physically she was perfect; she looked exactly like a miniature version of John Waters’ original movie character, Tracy. I told Ellie to raise her hand when Miss Amanda asked everyone if they wanted central parts in the show, and to make sure during the weeks leading up to Miss Amanda’s decision, that she sang directly into the mike and stayed focused during rehearsals. I must tell you that Ellie is naturally an outgoing, unbelievably charismatic little person who dances and sings wherever she goes. It’s in her nature to perform, always has been from birth. Not to mention she is a bonafide Leo through and through -- the most attention seeking sign in the Zodiac. So this was not a tall request of her I reasoned.
But in the end, after much anticipation for the starring role, she did not get that part. Kudos to me for keeping a stoic face as she cried in the backseat of the car at pickup time… And the bitter pill, yet again, was her assignment of a small part: the diminutive little sister that doesn’t even exist in the real production. We both took it hard. I did a flash forward in my mind to opening night, watching myself arm her with the seemingly supportive, but ultimately freakishly subversive pre-show pep talk backstage: “Now honey, don’t be afraid to take up space; try to sing louder than everyone else; face the audience no matter what you’ve been told; enunciate and sing from your belly; follow through on all your dancing moves with pointed toes and outstretched fingers…”
But I think, for my own progress as a balanced, well-adjusted human being, I will sit this one out and just passively watch the homegrown production that’s sometimes tough to enjoy when your own kid’s not on the stage. Because ultimately, I will encourage her to just relish being a part of a production and developing a love of the craft, not just the showmanship of it. All the more important for me to pass on to her now, as my intuition tells me she will one day follow in both her dads’ footsteps in some capacity in their industry. I coach myself into understanding these are significant lessons for her to know: the value of being a worker amongst workers; that all parts big or small create an inspired collective and a successful production both on the stage and in life. It’s a vital piece of her foundation as an artist, and as a young woman for her to grow towards.
That’ll work for this round of Hairspray, but make no mistake: this summer she’ll be enrolled in a professional theater company… Come the Fall, she’ll be fully equipped to try out again for Miss Amanda and at long last, maybe land the coveted lead in her school play.