Parenting from the Wings: The Holding Room is the Hardest Part
Audition holding rooms are filled with palpable stress and restrained energy waiting to explode. When it comes to children's auditions, it is also where caricatures come alive.
I'm not talking about the kids, although there have been moments-the tween who spoke of herself in the third person and the 9-year-old who stormed out of an audition yelling at her dad that the accompanist ruined her song and her father better go in there and demand she can sing again with a new accompanist now. (She would have nailed that Veruca Salt audition.)
Most of the kids, however, are surprisingly more Tracy Turnblad than Regina George. And it is surprising. Just to be at these auditions typically means there is an adult who can bring the child on a weekday, sometimes sit for hours for 30 seconds of singing or for the kid not to get seen at all. If it's not an open call, it might require representation to get an appointment. Being there means the family can afford costly singing and dancing lessons and tuition for shows that are needed for most kids to get to this level--when they are still realistically a very long shot for any professional role.
Yes, this is already a privileged collection of kids who are no doubt repeatedly told that they are stars as they go from one school, community or youth production to another. Humility and camaraderie from this group in the face of the intense competition would not necessarily be expected.
But I have seen kids help each other with choreography, run lines together, let someone borrow a hair tie, music, even shoes. I have heard the most sincere compliments from one young performer to another and watched them color together and play laughter-filled card games. In that stressful environment, every sincerely friendly gesture is meaningful.
While the kids may show the heart of Charlie Bucket, the spirit of Momma Rose is strong in the "adults" in the room. Sitting there for hours means witnessing scenes that would be mocked out of a movie script for being too over-the-top and unbelievable.
At one open call, mothers literally pressed their ears against the door of the studio where a group of young girls sang individually. They openly criticized the performances of some kids then smiled broadly and nodded when it was their daughters. Without notice, the door opened and the pack stumbled into the studio. They didn't even look sufficiently embarrassed--more irritated that such a thing happened to them.
I have heard a girl say she's not allowed to really smile because her mom says her teeth are too bad, watched a mother open a suitcase full of headshots. There was the one who insisted on showing an equity monitor different versions of her child's picture wanting an opinion of which one was best. He said they all looked the same, which was the best answer ever and left the mother walking away speechless in disbelief.
Once I stood near a girl as she begged her mom not to make her go to an audition that required being en pointe. But the mother said she had borrowed the shoes (it only takes the shoes I guess) and insisted her daughter show up for something she wasn't trained for, where the girl was destined to fail, possibly injure and embarrass herself.
It's not just mothers, of course. There are very serious dads--frequently loudly announcing themselves as the kid's manager--giving advice that sounds more like a demand and is often based on comparison. "Did you hear that girl singing? That's how you have to do it."
As you enter the room, just throw that grain of salt over your shoulder and carry in the whole block, because most of what is said there only tangentially resembles the truth--if it has any truth at all. It is not just the many huge parts their kids lost because of some injustice. There is the startling industry insight: Casting directors only take kids who have done the part before. Casting directors never take kids who have done the part before. They will never cast someone who sings a certain song. They always cast kids who sing a certain song.
These mothers know stuff. And they are always happy to share.
One informed a girl (before she auditioned) that there was a height restriction and she was too tall for the part. I'm sure she was just trying to be helpful-even though there actually was no height restriction. She couldn't have been trying to throw off her daughter's competition, right? I mean, who would do that?
There was a time I didn't think adults would possibly behave that way. Sadly, I have seen and heard too much to remain that naïve. I suppose I should just be happy that there isn't enough time for things to get really twisted.
Parenting in this situation requires coffee, snacks, a phone charger, perspective, and a sense of humor. Oh and noise cancelling headphones-not just to block out the parents. Ever listen to 200 girls sing Tomorrow over and over for hours? You start to wish the sun never comes out again.
Tuning out is necessary not to engage. Like any stressful situation in small quarters filled with big personalities, it can be tough not to get sucked in. You just want your child to do well and be proud of themselves. At some point, you may feel the need to defend them or counter a narrative that is causing them unnecessary extra stress.
The longer you listen the more you have thoughts that you shouldn't. I mean, you don't want to wish for a child's failure, but knowing the obnoxious woman to your left will take her child's success as her personal achievement...is there a way the kid gets the part and the mother never finds out? (Quick grammar tangent: We must teach pronoun usage better in schools. "My" is a possessive pronoun directly related to you not people related to you. Your child's agent is not "my agent," she is "his agent." There seems to be great confusion about this.)
It's not everyone of course. As Mr. Rogers said, look for the helpers. It's a village and if you find the right members, someone will happily keep an eye on your child while you have a conference call, share a phone charger or grab you a cup of coffee when they run out. You will find these parents frantically sending work emails, trying to manage the logistics of siblings from afar or telling the auditioning child to do her homework, all while attempting to blend into background. They have no noticeable expectations of future fame and stage glory and are just hoping to get through the day without tears. Find them. Befriend them.
To those about to enter this alternate universe, please bring kindness, compassion and a little self-awareness. And do your kid a favor and leave the clichéd stage parent at the door.