The Moral Dilemma of an Unintentional Stage Mom with Power

“Hi, Lisa. This is . . . I’m sure you know why I am calling.”

Well, actually, I have no clue. You called my husband’s office and left a message for me, without leaving a hint as to who you were or what you wanted. The only reason I called back was because it was a local number and this is a very small town.

“We were wondering if you would stage manage for one of the Children’s Theater shows this summer? You would be paid a little, of course.”

“Oh . . . um . . . can you give me some details. I mean, I know what stage managing is but, I need more specifics about schedules and things like that.”

“Oh,” she replies, concern creeping into her voice that I did not immediately agree to her offer. She gives me some details and ends with “I know it’s not a lot of money, but it is so worthwhile.”

The money isn’t really the issue. Well, it is, but it isn’t the only issue.

“Let me think about it,” I say. “When do you need an answer by?”

“Oh . . . um . . . Wednesday?” I think I’ve still thrown her by my hesitancy.

Why am I hesitant? I have the skills, as I started stage managing more than (gasp!) twenty years ago in college. I probably have more training than most of the people who will be working on the show, and I had hoped to work with these kids anyways in some sort of mini-summer camp.

But I still hesitated. It’s not really the money. Nor is it the fact that I  actually should be directing or producing. Nor is it the fact that lately I volunteer an awful lot.

The problem is my daughter.

Nathan will be heading to Okoboji Summer Theater at some point in May. Sarah wanted to audition for this musical, so we all decided that she and I would stay here for part of the summer (assuming she got cast) so that she could do the musical. That’s the only reason we would stay, really, because it makes  more financial sense to go to the summer theater. Nathan gets paid, and I help them out for room and board which means we don’t have to pay for food and the exorbitant costs of keeping cool during a hot Kansas summer. I hear that last year it was over 100 degrees for a large portion of the summer.

But, Sarah wants to be in the musical, so the plan was made.

But here’s the catch . . . Sarah has to audition like any other child. While she has stage presence and theater smarts (how can she not when she is being raised in the theater) there is not guarantee that she will be cast. She definitely has talent, but I don’t know what the director looks for and I have no intention of persuasion and will only help Sarah prepare if she asks.

As  a director, I refuse to trade in favors. I cast the best person for a role, taking into account whether or not I want to work with him/her. I very rarely pay attention to the “you have to cast her or she won’t graduate” or “my son is the best person for this, if you cast him I will donate . . .”. When working with young people, I respectfully ignore any form of stage parenting, and will even go so far as laying down rules and expectations for parental behavior. I find it as important to educate the parents as the children, and I refuse to promote false hopes and expectations that the child is destined to become a star. I do theater with young people for other reasons–if they go on to become stars that is great (and I will expect a thank you at the awards ceremony) but what I offer is the skills to think, create, explore and enjoys.

So now I found myself cast in the unintentional role of Stage Mom with Power. If Sarah is not cast, then we have no reason to stay this summer (and I already explained that financially it makes more sense to go with Nathan). If Sarah is cast, then it makes sense for me to Stage Manage, as I will be taking her to rehearsals all the time anyway. If she’s not cast and I stage manage, then what do I do with her, since I will basically be a single parent for about 6 weeks?

See my dilemma? Do I pull the stage mom thing (shudder) and say I will only stage manage if Sarah is cast? Do I say “yes” no matter what? Do I give a hesitant “yes” explaining that might change to a “no” if Sarah isn’t cast (which feels like manipulation to me)?

I am caught in the throes of an ethical dilemma. Any ideas?

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. b boucher
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 08:23:13

    I guess the old “if you can’t beat em join em” addage comes to mind in this instance. You need to do what’s best for you and your family. In this instance, it’s not as if your child isn’t talented enough to participate. Be honest with them and tell them that as long as your child is involved you will be happy to manage. But reiterate that if she cannot be involved with the project it will be a hardship on your family to stay which means you cannot help out. If you won’t be paid much money to do the job then it won’t be worth the hardship. Just my opinion!


    • CMSmith
      Mar 23, 2011 @ 08:40:30

      I agree. You’re not withholding your participation as a bribe or threat, you will not be staying in town if she is not in the show. It’s pretty simple. Be honest.


  2. The guy
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 08:44:48

    Tell them that you are not yet sure that you are staying in town, due to your husband’s work, but that you can give them a tentative yes. Then when you find out if she’s cast, which she’ll likely be, you let them know. No lies, but nit the full story and you don’t prejudice the process.


  3. Kathryn McCullough
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 08:45:46

    What a dilemma! I think you need to be completely up front and share this information. Would it be weird to share this link with the theater? It might be meaningful to the theater folks to hear about your struggle.

    But honestly, Lisa, I’m not a mom and don’t know that theater world. Wish I could help more!


  4. Lisa
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 10:57:24

    Thanks for all your comments. Ultimately honesty rules the day, or I can’t live with myself. It is interesting what you learn about people you work with when you ask questions like this.


  5. vixter2010
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 12:57:31

    Good answers here, be honest and I’m sure they can work with you. I hope you sort it out and she gets a fab role!


  6. Lisa
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 13:45:15

    Honesty update for all. I talked to the person who contacted me. I explained the situation. I said, “please know that I am not saying you must cast Sarah, I’m just saying that if she’s not cast it is what it is.” She said, “I totally understand and we wouldn’t expect you to do it if she’s not cast. I can pretty much guarantee she will be.” I said, “But I want her to got through the full process.” She said, “Of course.” Now at least we are on the same page and she knows that I don’t expect special treatment. Update after auditions, and we’ll see what “role” she gets.


  7. Hilary Clark
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 13:57:12

    I know it’s a cliche, but honesty really is the best policy. Lies, fibs, and half-truths cause too many problems. Your summer situation is what it is…I’m happy that they understood that when you explained it.


  8. amblerangel
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 14:29:55

    Whew….. Well done. Honesty is always the best policy… unless explaining the birds and the bees to the under 5 crowd.


  9. Sandi Ormsby
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 16:25:41

    That was good that it all worked out! I hope it’s the best decision. We still haven’t decided what we’re doing for summer.


  10. Aligaeta
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 18:17:16

    Happy to hear the update. Break a leg, Sarah!


  11. Matt
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 19:22:51

    Lisa, having experienced several of these productions over the past three years, I am sure that even if Sarah is cast as part of the chorus, she will reap untold rewards. Dorienne loves being a part of the productions. The vibe is positive, fun, and inclusive. She has done chorus roles and, I think, two named roles. Dorienne always has a great time. Regardless of what part Sarah gets, she is bound to enjoy her time with the other kids. The children’s theater is one of the most amazing parts of living in this small town– people come together for little to no pay, devote days and days of time and effort, and put together fantastic spectacles. I don’t think you’ll find a purer example of theatrical collaboration than the children’s theater. It’s well worth the effort and time spent.


    • Lisa
      Mar 23, 2011 @ 19:42:06

      Thanks Matt. I know it will be a great experience no matter what she gets, and I don’t really care what role she gets. I was more concerned with having to say “Well, I’ll only do it if she is in it” because that goes against the grain. But all is well, and the adventure will begin.


  12. Trackback: Into the Jungle « Woman Wielding Words

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