Since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t gotten to perform in front of a live audience. That changed last week.
No, it wasn’t in a theater. It was for a small group of preschoolers and their parents in our backyard.
Betsy, who is almost five years old, became obsessed with inviting some of her friends over to put on a play. A real play, with costumes and a script.
She would not settle for anything less. She wanted a real production.
A four-year-old’s excitement can be contiguous, even if her Dad is not really loving the idea.
Shouldn’t have I been more excited since she was expressing an interest in the performing arts, like me? I wasn’t.
And if you read this blog on a regular basis, I don’t have to explain. (For those of you who are new to my blog, I’ll just sum it up by saying that I have a severe problem with joy.)
At first Betsy wanted to do an adaptation (that is my word, not hers) from The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks, which is the Berenstain Bears’ Thanksgiving book. Lauren didn’t think this was a good idea because “the kids won’t know the story and it’s not very PC when it comes to portraying Native Americans.”
In this situation we were not only Betsy’s parents but also producers, so Lauren said “How about Frozen?” And since there isn’t a child under the age of 12 who has not watched the movie, as parents we thought this would be more inclusive and as producers we thought this would be more commercial.
Lauren had agreed to direct, which was a big relief, since my heart was still not into the play.
Then Lauren sent out an email to some other parents of kids in her class, explaining we had a crazy idea about putting on a production of Frozen at our house, and immediately we heard back from the other parents saying the kids were really excited and were going to be bringing multiple Elsa and Anna dresses along.
On the day of the show, Lauren and I sat down and beat out the scenes for the play at the kitchen table. We explained to Betsy we would be “double casting” — people would be sharing the role of Elsa — since she is the character all girls want to play. Though Lauren made the point that “Anna actually has more screen time and a bigger part.” That is how showbiz families think.
I was not going to be involved, except as a prop master, so I went around gathering a stick for Hans’ sword and a red wagon for Kristoff’s sled.
That was my involvement for the show, or so I thought.
My back had gone out earlier in the day, so I went upstairs while the cast and their parents arrived. I felt a little guilty and a lot of shame not being in the backyard when the show started. I mean, what would the other parents think, since I was an improv teacher?
I heard the Frozen music playing from the boom box and went outside and sat on the grass in the audience.
The stage was a 6-foot half circle slab of cement off the back of the house, and up there was Lauren directing and letting her inner camp counselor out.
Betsy was Elsa and Lauren was playing Anna in one of the first scenes: “Do You Want to Build A Snow Man.” When it was over, they had moved on to the next scene, Elsa’s coronation. Betsy and Lauren asked who wanted to play Anna? No one was interested. They all seemed a little self-conscious and scared.
Betsy could not understand why they did not want to come up on the stage with her. Later, I would explain to her, as both her parent and a producer, that the reason they did not come up was that they were afraid.
“Tomorrow I am going to tell them they don’t need to be afraid,” she said. Ah, I only wish it was that easy. We would all being winning Academy Awards.
But since none of the other kids really wanted to be in the show, I ended up joining in. I put on the Olaf costume Lauren had made and I danced around to the song “In Summer” as it played on the CD player. Ok, it was not my best work, but for a couple of minutes, the audience made up of children and their parents were mesmerized. They were eating out of the palm of my hand.
I missed this feeling being in front of live audience and to think all I had to do was go to the backyard to get it.
I was really proud of Betsy for her persistence in making the show actually happen and her courage at getting up on stage in front of her friends. And I was glad that she had pushed me out of my comfort zone, too.