The Thespian As Parent

Lara Williams

  • OnStage Columnist

Last night I was frantically giving blocking to the cast of the musical I am currently directing. I say frantically because I was running the rehearsal tracks on my iPhone and kept seeing text messages from my husband. He was giving me the play-by-play of his progress (or lack there of) on getting our daughters, ages 3 years and 2 months, into bed. After bathing the baby, the three year-old refused to go to bed and started arguing with him. He had to leave the now screaming baby laying in her crib while he wrestled pajamas onto the three year-old and forced her into bed. Once she was tucked in, he was able to turn his attention to the baby. Unfortunately, she was refusing to take a bottle. She was screaming and crying and he was bouncing and swaying with her in an effort to lull her to sleep. 

They were at a stalemate. 

As soon as we finished rehearsal and I had answered questions from the cast, I rushed out of the theater and drove as fast as I could to get home. Once I got there and was able to help get the baby settled down I couldn't help but wonder, is it time to stop? Is it time to hang up this hobby, this dream, this passion project for my family? Was I being selfish by trying to do both?

I've been on stage since I was a little girl. My parents knew I liked to sing since I had been singing every verse in "American Pie" in the backseat since before I could read. All my life my mom has been singing in the church choir, so it only seemed natural that I participate in children's choir. 

I don't think anyone in my family suspected that they were creating a monster. You see, we would do a little one-hour musical each Christmas and Easter. As I got older, I started trying out for solos. Once I finally hit third grade, I was able to try out for actual speaking parts! 

That's when it hit me. I LOVE doing this. I auditioned for my first community theatre production, "The Best Christmas Pagent Ever" when I was 11 years old. After that, I started doing musicals during the summers. By my sophomore year of high school there was no question that I wanted to major in theatre, and that's what I went on to do. In college, I was onstage in at least one production each semester and I did outdoor professional musicals in the summers. By the time I graduated, I had landed a job with a touring children's theatre company.  

When my tour ended and I moved back in with my parents, I immediately found a local community theatre doing "Little Women the Musical" and was cast. The following fall I got a job with a new theatre outside of Houston and went to manage the box office. By the time spring rolled around, we weren't producing shows anymore so I got a job with the community theatre back home and moved back in with my parents. A few short months later I got married (that is, the weekend after the musical I was directing opened). My husband and I were in shows there, together. All this to say, I have consistently been involved with performing since I was a little girl. 

When I got pregnant with our first daughter, I figured I would be taking a long break from the theatre. But God had other plans. That fall, a friend of mine who was directing "West Side Story" unexpectedly had to step down and asked me to take over. Our daughter was five months old by then so she was easy for us to manage. Each day was consistent and she had already been sleeping through the night for several months.. We figured we could handle it. She was little enough that she could be held by cast members or sleep in her carrier when I had to take her with me to rehearsal and then my husband would come pick her up when he got off work. My parents and our babysitter also helped out whenever we needed it. Since then I have been involved with one or two shows each year.

A second baby brought new ground rules: since we now have two daughters to worry about, we will never be able to be involved with each other's shows until the youngest one is at least two or three years old. My husband had filled in roles for me from time-to-time if we didn't have enough men audition. 

I was given the opportunity to direct a show that would be auditioning a little over a month after our due date. Since I was leaving my job to stay home with the girls, we figured we could handle it. Our first daughter had been a terrific baby: sleeping through the night in her own crib by the time she was four weeks old, nursing and taking bottles consistently, napping regularly - what could go wrong? 

How about us not counting on this little girl being a different baby! She is nothing like her big sister. She takes short, infrequent naps, it takes us 2+ hours to get her to sleep at night, she refuses the use of a pacifier, some feedings she eats a lot and some she eats a little, and the list goes on. She is just a different baby. What if what happened last night happens every night? What if my husband isn't able to get her to sleep until I come home from rehearsal? I try to end rehearsal by 9:00, but we all know that as we get closer to opening night rehearsals will run longer. Will my baby be screaming until I come home at 11:00 or midnight? Will she wake up my older daughter? Will my husband become resentful to me because I wasn't there to help? Will he become resentful to the baby because she won't take a bottle or stay asleep when he tries to lay her down? I know I've come close to feeling that way sometimes.

There are parenting methods that say I should stop. They say this could make my children feel abandoned by their mother or they will grow to resent me and feel like they aren't important. Maybe they will hate theater because they see it as something that took my attention from them or they will grow distant from me because I was at rehearsals and not home with them every night. 

But I choose to see it this way. I want to inspire them to never give up on their passions. I want them to see my husband and I as role models who always strived to keep our marriage strong by making sacrifices for each other. I want them to be around theatre, whether they participate or not, to see that all walks of life can work and create together. I want them to understand that I do this because I have fun doing it, I think I'm pretty good at it and they need to find something like that in their lives. 

In all honesty, this is like one big improv show. We are making it up as we go along and we can't count on any certain thing. But if we put our all into it, work together, and trust in God, our audience (our daughters) will walk away having learned something.

As it stands, I can honestly say my most challenging, edifying, and gratifying role is, and always will be, Mom.

Photo: Lenaea High School