“I thought I’d be really nervous, but once the curtain went up, I couldn’t stop smiling,” my 12-year-old said breathlessly as she hopped into the car after yesterday’s dress rehearsal for her class musical.
Her seventh grade class is putting on a little-known production written specifically for middle schoolers this weekend, and Holly has a minor ensemble role. She didn’t want a big role, because big roles require singing alone, and Holly doesn’t like to sing alone. Instead, she’s a pirate, one of several. She stands near the edges of most of the pirate scenes; some pirates have names and lots of lines, but Holly has no name and just an occasional “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”
No matter. Holly is having a blast.
And so as I once again take stock of a complicated, volunteer-intensive effort that left some parents exhausted and others a little bewildered, I look at Holly and remember once again what the merits of this experience can be. She witnessed terrific talent in some of her classmates who do like to sing and dance and who feel comfortable in the spotlight. She saw other classmates assist in designing, building, and painting sets. She helped her fellow pirates learn their choreography. She did homework with a group of kids from the play every afternoon before rehearsal.
Witnessing all of this over the past three months has reminded me of why this is a valuable experience. For a kid like mine who is not particularly interested in theater, it’s really not about having a chance to learn stagecraft. It’s about learning more about life, as seen through the eyes of a seventh grader. It’s a chance to interact with new adults who are sometimes pushed to the edge by the cheerful unruliness of the cast and put their best foot forward anyway. It’s a chance to be reminded that sometimes the kids who never stand out as the smartest or the best athletes have unexpected talents when it comes to projecting lines or blocking a scene.
Unlike most of the towns around us, our middle school does not have a theater program. So putting on a musical – which each class does only once, in the spring of seventh grade – relies almost exclusively on parental volunteer effort, with a couple of professionals – a director, a choreographer, a pianist – whose stipends are paid for out of fundraisers which were also led by parent volunteers. Sometimes it seems like a never-ending process for parents, pulling off all these events.
But seeing Holly’s triumphant glow after yesterday’s dress rehearsal reminds me of why it’s all worth it. Kids learn and grow from these opportunities: not necessarily from standing alone in the spotlight, but sometimes from supporting the other kids who do.
Holly might well never choose to be in another musical; she has plenty of interests, but theater still isn’t really one of them. Nonetheless, she’ll retain wonderful memories and subtler life lessons from the past three months of preparing for this one. And we parents can take a deep breath as we settle into our seats in the auditorium this weekend and be glad we put forth the effort to make it happen.
“I just couldn’t stop smiling!” Holly repeated as we drove home from yesterday’s dress rehearsal.
For the moment, I feel just the same.