The Stage Mom Survival Guide

Maeve Cunningham

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

When you live in the world of theater, you come in contact with all kinds of people. This is how you make friends and create lasting bonds. However, not every person you come across will be, well, in polite terms- friendly. Whether you’re an actor, a director, a stage manager, a techie, or a producer- we have all encountered the dreaded Stage Mom’s. I heard legends about them for years until I began stage managing and actually encountered quite a few of them. Below is a list the top five worst Stage Mom’s and what you can do to handle the situation and keep the drama to a minimum

1.    The Know-it-all

Definition- a mother who has, apparently, worked in every single theater profession and knows how to handle your job better than you do. 

This is probably my least favorite Stage Mom to encounter. These people aren’t cruel- they just want to help. Unlike the normal person who just wants to help. their egos tend to be inflated due to their child’s perfect reputation. However, they can make you feel like you aren’t capable of your job. And let’s face it, it’s annoying for someone who knows nothing about what you do to tell you the “correct” way to do it. They’re not your boss, so why do they feel so entitled to tell you what you should be doing?

To be completely honest, I’m still learning to control my temper with the Know-it-All’s. This is what you can do- remind yourself that they just think that they’re helping. Remind yourself that you’re working hard at what you do and they can’t take that away from you. Smile, nod, and be polite when they come up to you for the fifth time with their oh-so important “suggestions.” Take a deep breath and focus on what you need to do.

2.    The Slacker

Definition- a mother who never seems to receive the emails, never brings her child to rehearsal on time, and never actually seems interested in what their child is performing in.

For some people this is a common Stage Mom to encounter and for some it isn’t. It can be super frustrating, for those of us who have dealt with them, to communicate. Especially in community theater, communication is key and if someone is ignoring the rehearsal schedule, the calendar, and the rehearsal hours it can put a strain on the production. I completely understand that a lot of mothers are working and it can be super difficult to spare any time when it comes to taking care of a family. However, there’s a difference between being busy and flat-out ignoring your responsibilities. 

Here’s some ways to work through these issues- let your director know or your stage manager know (if you aren’t the director or stage manager) so maybe they can try to deal with this. If you happen to be a person in charge try to send them a one-on-one email or possibly try to talk to them face-to-face. Sometimes they don’t know that they’re causing a problem and they usually will work to make it better. Don’t give up on reaching out to them, especially if their child is important to the show.

3.    The Second-Chance Mom

Definition- a mother who gave up or never pursued a career in theater and is now living through her child. 

This is like a train wreck that you can’t stop watching. These are the mothers who are present at every single rehearsal, they breathe down your neck, they sometimes feud with the cast members or their parents, and once in a while they will cause an emotionally-fueled argument with their child during a rehearsal. These people live in their own worlds and sometimes you have to burst their bubble (gently, please burst that bubble gently) to show them what kind of damage they’re doing to the cast and potentially their child.

I’m not insinuating that you should turn into Dr. Phil and manage their family issues. Again, if you aren’t the director or stage manager it isn’t your issue to deal with- they’re the ones who will handle it. If you are the lucky person who is tasked with dealing with the issue- find your composure. You don’t know what their lives are like and you don’t know how emotionally unstable these people are. Talk to them, politely let them know what sort of issues they are possibly causing, and maybe find a way to let them help with the production- they can do anything from creating posters, managing social media, printing tickets, maybe even baking for a concession stand. You want to manage the situation before it gets out of hand. 

4.    The Mama Bear

Definition- a mother who will go above and beyond to protect her children- even when there’s no reason to protect them and even when their child does something wrong. So basically she’s the theater worlds’ equivalent of Cersei Lannister. And her children are the theater worlds’ equivalent of Joffery. 

If you’re an actor, you’ve had to deal with The Mama Bear’s devilish spawn more than you’ve had to deal with her. Unfortunately if you’re on the production team you’ve had to deal with both. The child can usually be a sheltered, conceited and difficult to work with. The mother, however, views them as an angel and will raise hell before teaching her kids some decency and manners. This can lead to a lot of emotional abuse to the production team and sometimes it feels like situations get worse before they get better.

If you’re dealing with a family like this in a school environment you are usually forced to wait it out and handle the situations they cause gently. However, if this occurs in community theater, at your own company, let them go. I don’t care if the child is incredibly gifted, it’s not worth it. You don’t owe these people anything- especially your time and your emotions. Cut them off now. Your production will be all the better for it.

5.    The Complainer

Definition- a mother who uses every extra second of her life to complain about everything.

We all know people like this- they really like to hear their own voices and sometimes complaining is the only way they can hear themselves talk. These mothers can cause more annoyance than actual drama. 

If you’re forced with confronting them keep it short- let her know that everyone has been working really hard to make rehearsal a safe place and constant complaints can make people uncomfortable. If she has real complaints obviously talk to her about it and work to settle whatever issues she’s having. 

Working in theater forces you to learn how to deal with and manage your situations with quite a few not so pleasant people. I hope my take on the notorious Stage Mom’s helped with your own challenges at the moment. Remember- the Stage Mom’s main power source is their ego. Avoid feeding it and bruising it.  And, if you are reading this and suddenly realizing you’re a Stage Mom please take some time to self-reflect. One less Stage Mom in the world of theater is something we would all appreciate.