Parenting From The Wings: Navigating Unprecedented Times

As the pandemic continues, we tackle Zoom workshops, a social justice reckoning and the impact of this alternate reality.

By: Sep. 08, 2020
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Parenting From The Wings: Navigating Unprecedented Times

Hello theater parents. It's been a while.

It is somehow September, the start of a fall that follows a spring and summer like none that has come before. Time turned meaningless, days seemed to last forever; weeks passed in the blink of the eye.

Many times during these months, I have sat down and written only to have the column rendered moot before I typed the last word.

There was one in late spring about filling up the calendar again with workshops and classes for my daughter. I debated which were worth the time and money and what exactly the purpose was. Were they just something to do? A way to socialize and have fun, forget the real world for a little while? Was it simple support for the arts organizations that have kept us in classes, auditions, rehearsals and shows in the past? Or was she supposed to find some kind of focus and better herself during this time? Was that fair to ask when I barely stumble from deadline to deadline? Did it even matter why she did them?

At that point, Broadway still had a September reopening date. We believed we would pull out of this in a not-so-distant future, neutralize the virus and return to our past lives. Zoom would be the arts' short-term crisis management not a desperate lifeline.

I was just about ready to file those thoughts way back in May. Then George Floyd was murdered, protesters flooded the streets, and Broadway's BIPOC actors began telling their stories.

But what could I say here of any value? I am a privileged white woman raising the same in a country that was built to give a better life to people like us. I have offered this space to parents raising young black actors in theater and hope to receive a response to share at some point. But just looking through my list of fellow parents from pasts classes and casts showed the inequity of it all.

Having this time at home has allowed us to focus on learning about the experiences of others, acknowledging our bias, and figuring out our role in a better world. We watched videos and read posts from Billy Porter, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Women of Color on Broadway, and more. We read the Dear White American Theater letter and the stories of racism in theater shared by so many including actress Brittany Johnson and stage manager Cody Renard Richard.

When a teen's idols speak, she listens. These stories have made an impact on my daughter in a way that I couldn't no matter what I said. The moment and the movement have led to important conversations with other young, white kids in the arts. They are difficult conversations, ones I didn't have in my youth.

We follow posts from Rob McClure, who has been a role model of allyship, and Kerry Butler, who has shared her honest and often heart-wrenching thoughts as a white mom of Black daughters. And we will continue to read and learn and try to advocate and act as true allies.

I wrote that column, and as I did, Broadway pushed to 2021. In light of everything else, and without food and rent dependent on it, we should have taken it in stride. But even as it was not surprising, it somehow felt crushing. A column began about disappointment and delay and uncertainty about the future.

Then Nick Cordero died.

When I saw the news I moved quickly to get to my daughter before she saw it on social media. Just as I had when an administrator from her former school died from COVID-19. And when the grandparents of two kids she has known for years died from it, too.

We didn't know Nick Cordero, but of course we followed his story. My daughter was excited by every bit of hopeful news. We had desperately clung to hope for that happy ending for him, his wife and son and all of his friends who posted daily in support of him. His death brought another layer of sadness.

Another loss, and this alternate reality continued.

We learned new words like Zoomical and watched livestream concerts and recorded cabarets as arts organizations struggled to find a way to hang on. Just when I thought I couldn't watch another poorly lit self-taped production (by professionals or aspiring young actors) something would pop up to inspire and pull me back in. A Chorus Line in Quarantine. The Kinky Boots reunion of Raise You Up in honor of PRIDE. All of the Elphabas Defying Gravity. Find the videos, watch and rewatch. They feed the soul.

Now, here in the fall, we follow along with great interest as some youth organizations try to move forward with in-person classes or a socially distanced, outdoors show. It offers hope, but secretly I worry I will be faced with the decision of letting my daughter be part of the experiment or holding her home for safety.

I've had mothers tell me they are worried their daughters are falling behind. Maybe they don't feel like singing. Or they don't like Zoom instruction. They just don't want to do anything. Other kids are getting better, making virtual connections, continuing to train for their desired careers, they say. What will their daughters do when it's time to take the stage again?

I tried to empathize. I don't judge. But I don't really understand. I don't worry that my daughter is falling behind in theater or school, honestly. Who isn't? And falling behind whose standards? I do worry about the mental health toll of the pandemic, the lingering effect of this lengthy pause of day-to-day life, the constant, nagging fear of getting sick or losing someone. I don't know the long-term impact of this or how to combat it. We are just doing our best. But I know if she sinks, it will be theater that helps to pull my daughter back.

The last six months have taught us all a stark lesson in priorities. As audience members, Broadway is not life-or-death. Broadway shows, in fact, are the entertainment of a privileged few. But theater, as a whole, is so much more. I remember a talkback when an actor told a group of kids, "If you're only thinking about Broadway, you're not thinking big enough." It is true on many levels. Theater anywhere, of any size and stature, gives life to ideas and dreams. It offers hope to those who need it most. Theater has the power to change lives.

When the ghostlights finally yield to the stage lights once again, theater will be more powerful than before. From the smallest black box to the Winter Garden and beyond, let's use it for good and never forget how it felt when it was gone.

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