The following was contributed by Acting Studio parent Sarah Close.
A while back, my oldest daughter Emma shared an essay she wrote offering her perspective on being a part of this wacky, wonderful Acting Studio family, and how theatre has changed her life.
The first time I read it, I’ll be honest: I cried. It’s one thing to be a mom and instinctively know your child is LITERALLY SO AMAZING (in a tie with your other kids, of course), but it’s a totally different thing when you realize it’s actually true. That this beautiful being you’ve been raising is a person, with feelings and vulnerabilities and talents and moments. And that she can experience all those things, express those things, and recognize those things, on her own.
I’ll admit it caught me off guard. I wasn’t prepared for the simultaneous senses of accomplishment, pride, and sadness that rushed into me, and I was forced to step back and consider what I myself, as a theatre parent, had also learned along the way. Because here’s the thing, Moms & Dads: When you have a child who passionately loves something so much that it becomes an integral part of her very soul, you aren’t just a chauffeur to evening classes and rehearsals, or a line-running partner, or a volunteer during tech week. You’re engulfed in the passion, too. And that passion changes us all.
So I present, in no particular order, the top 3 things I’ve discovered on this journey over the past 8 years:
1) Trust your children, from the very beginning.
My daughter’s essay mentioned we found the Acting Studio because of a Groupon. It’s true. She had been bugging me for months on end to take acting classes, and I kept putting it off. I had just lost my mother to leukemia earlier that year, and I’m not sure I was fully present for my children during the time of my most intense grief. So the requests to take more classes and spend more money just seemed to me like a flight of fancy. Another thing my 9-year-old kid wanted to try that she’d most likely quit within weeks. And I wasn’t in the mood for dabbling and trying. At that time, I was on the hunt for stable things, unlike cancer, that I could control.
But my little girl knew. She knew even then. I should have trusted her instinct, but instead, I trusted a discount coupon and reluctantly enrolled her in her first Studio class in the fall of 2011.
Within a month, I knew this time was different. I could sense her changing and growing. And when the child who never spoke in class and who refused to try out for the school choir came to me and said she wanted to audition for a show, I knew she meant business.
From that point on, I developed a new sense of trust—not only in Emma, but in my other children as well. I learned to look for the signals that meant they were serious, and I learned to take more risks when they wanted to leap before looking. When our middle daughter wanted to try her hand at Odyssey of the Mind, we said GO FOR IT! When she became enamored with a certain band, we said ABSOLUTELY we will take you to concerts in three different states and stand in the pit with you! When my son wanted to play baseball and try wrestling and maybe enter Xbox tournaments, we said YEP, you get in there and give it a shot! It wasn’t about whether they were the best, or if they stuck with it forever—it was about trusting them enough to simply have the experience and see where it led.
In fact, the beauty of self-confidence can only come from allowing yourself to do the hard work and to feel vulnerable—and, yes, even to fail sometimes. Because without the darkness, there is no light. Without the fear, there is no joy. We parents have to embrace this reality and live truthfully, too.
2) Embrace the worry, doubt, and fear.
If there’s one thing every theatre parent knows, it’s that waiting for a cast list is dreadful—but sometimes, getting the cast list and not seeing your child’s name next to the part they wanted is even worse. That’s when you smile and tell them it’s okay, it’s part of the process, they’ll be wonderful in the role they have, and this is a learning experience.
But on the inside, you’re thinking, Is it really okay? Will she get hurt? Can I protect her?
Spoiler alert: That feeling never goes away. But I have learned to talk back to that voice of doubt and say, Maybe. Maybe it’s not okay. Maybe she’ll be devastated. Maybe you can’t keep her from these things. Maybe that’s life.
Seasoned stage pros will tell you they still question their talent and skills and career choices when they don’t get cast. That’s why the Studio teaches our kids every single day that this is normal. There is no perfect. In fact, the beauty of self-confidence can only come from allowing yourself to do the hard work and to feel vulnerable—and, yes, even to fail sometimes. Because without the darkness, there is no light. Without the fear, there is no joy. We parents have to embrace this reality and live truthfully, too.
3) Letting go is a gift.
This is a hard one for me. Emma is a senior now, and I’ve already started realizing all the “last times” we are having. I’m going to be a full-on blubbering mess for the next year, so I hope people bear with me. It’s going to take a village, y’all.
But the more I mull it over, the more I realize I have already let my theatre child go many times over the last 17 years. Every time I said yes to a request to try a new class, I let go. Every time I saw her on stage transformed into a new being, I let go. Every time I watched her dance and resisted the urge to say I told you that you’d love it, I let go. Every time she balked at a difficult song and needed to buckle down, I let go. Every time she defied my expectations and conquered a challenge, I let go.
I am still in the process of accepting this lesson, but I know it’s true. The fact of “letting” someone go implies permission. They can’t go unless you let them go. And letting go hurts. A lot.
But here’s the most wonderful thing: If you choose to let your child go, in ways big and small, that’s a gift you give to them—and to yourself. I have been so incredibly surprised by how good it feels to step back and let my daughter come into her own. For lack of a better word, I feel awed. Letting go is powerful stuff.
There are numerous other lessons we have learned on this wild ride, of course. A sheet of plywood fits perfectly in the back of a Honda Odyssey. You can never have too many bobby pins. No carpool ride is complete without a singalong. One cannot survive tech week on Twisted Root alone.
So many wonderful, memorable lessons. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to learn them. More importantly, I’m thankful that I can continue to learn, and that this journey of parenthood isn’t just about passing wisdom down—it’s also about pulling wisdom up and inside yourself, like an actor absorbing a character, before you take your bow.
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