The Time My Daughter Was a Tree

watching child in school play


Help me. I’m a theater mom. I mean, I’m not A THEATER MOM, but I am the mom of a child who does theater. A lot of theater.


After mothering her through the audition process for twelve shows, I’ve learned some basic survival skills.
To block off the calendar for the weekend. To stock up on Kleenex.
To add Advil, Dove bars, and a bottle of red wine to the shopping list.
To pray I will parent with wisdom and grace.
To brush up on a few failure anecdotes: “
Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team?” and “Hey, don’t forget that Oprah was fired from her first broadcasting job in Baltimore!” and “Can you believe that Meryl Streep was cut from her first big role for not being “beautiful enough?”
To do what I have to do to get prepared to ride the 48-hour roller coaster of teen emotions, starting with auditions on Friday night and culminating with the casting aftermath on Sunday.


My daughter is part of a dynamic theater group of 8-18 year olds that produces three big musicals a year. She’s been cut from two shows (the worst), was in the ensemble five times (Yay!)  and has been cast in small named roles three times (full delirium).

Just shy of her 13th birthday, she had her best-ever audition for this winter’s show, “Into the Woods, Jr.” She was thrilled to be called back for multiple parts and spent most of the callback process being asked to repeatedly read as Cinderella’s stepsister. She came home hesitantly confident that she may have landed her biggest role yet.


And so the waiting began. Her social media was filled with accolades from friends who’d seen and loved her callback and were pulling for her. In excruciating detail, she replayed and analyzed her time with the directors with me, then her dad, her sister, and various friends via Facetime.  She considered the best- and worst-case scenarios. And we continued to wait.


We played cards and watched a movie as the minutes ticked by. Until at last – the list was posted. She excitedly scanned the cast list. And there was her name! And there was her part!


She gasped.


For the love of freaking Sondheim, she had been cast as … A TREE.


But, friends, THAT was not even the bad news. Her best friend in the whole world – who had not even read for the part – was cast as the first stepsister. And, an older girl – who had not even been called-back for the part – was cast as the other stepsister.


Confused hysteria soon consumed her. Anguished cries of “I don’t understand” filled our home. My parenting skills were immediately thrown into overdrive.


The thing is: I’m not thirteen. I know that theater is a cruel mistress. I get the process. Directors are casting their vision of a full show and not individual parts. I objectively can observe that the two girls who were cast actually look like sisters -they are pale blondes, and my daughter is a dark brunette. They are older girls who read for bigger parts, and when they did not get them, they pushed her out in the hierarchy of roles. I see how it happened. I absolutely get it. But, my god, try to explain that logic to a broken-hearted teenager. Try to keep your own Mama-Bear emotions in check as you watch your beautiful, strong girl reduced to a puddle of tears. Try to help her negotiate the dual feelings of utter disappointment while still wanting to share in her BF’s joy. Try to help her see the beauty of being, well, a tree. I said, “How can you go Into the Woods without any trees? You have to have trees!” She rolled her eyes.


Fortunately, my theater girl is fearlessly resilient.


The next day, she bought and delivered a congratulations basket to her BF who had landed the very role she coveted, and she reached out to other actresses who were similarly stinging from casting disappointments. Saving her breakdowns for the privacy of home, she put on a brave face and smiled her way through weeks of rehearsals.


To be fair, being cast as tree wasn’t such a horrible role. They are dancers and have a lot of stage time. It’s just … I don’t know. It’s like a Charlie Brown episode: he got a rock, and she got a tree.  


This audition drama went down two months ago, and now the show is in the midst of its twelve-show run. I was there last Friday for opening night:  I never took my eyes off my favorite tree. She did not get the laughs that the stepsisters garnered. She did not have a solo or a line. She was not in the spotlight. She did some dancing, some posing, some moving of sets. She was a lovely and graceful tree.

In search of encouragement, I found the perfect verse for her in I Chronicles: The trees of the forest shall sing for joy before the Lord. I’m thankful that my little tree has faced disappointment, and she perseveres. I’m thankful to be able to hold her hand and steady her when she stumbles. And I’m so thankful that she always chooses to sing for joy, no matter what part she is asked to play. It’s not a bad lesson for any of us to remember, really.


Her eyes are already fixed on the next show. Don’t worry. I already have it marked on my calendar. And I’m keeping my eyes open for a good bottle of Chianti.


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