Friday, August 26, 2005

Theater teaching parenting

Without wishing to bore you with too much detail, my wife and I have seven children. Given the tremendous BUSYness this causes in our household, there are consequently few opportunities for quiet, tender time with individual kids.

And as a father of seven, I foolishly thought that I knew most of what needed to be known about parenting, if only due to brute repetition. (As an example: after changing diapers for 13 years, I bow to no man who claims that he knows more about diaper changing than I do.)

Then, rehearsal the other day taught me different; that those tender, individual moments are in fact critical.

In Beauty and the Beast, as reported earlier, I have been cast as Maurice, the father of Belle, and I have to sing (gulp).

Well, we have been rehearsing that song; and while I will certainly never be mistaken for Ol' Blue Eyes, I will be able to hold my own, so long as I keep practicing. (There is nothing like sheer terror to act as a motivator for practicing!!).

The song I have to perform is not in the Disney movie version. It is sung right after Belle returns from town, after the opening sequence. The song is sung mostly by Maurice to his daughter, at first to reassure her that she is NOT odd, as she is her mother's daughter, ". . .therefore, you (Belle) are class". Then, this reflection upon Belle's mother causes the song to focus on the mother that is not there. We quickly come to realize that Belle's mother is dead. As actors, both I and the young woman playing Belle are forced to face that; I have no wife, she no longer has a mother. As actors, if you are both honest and effective, one must to a greater extent become the character you are playing. And I became Maurice that day, becoming a widowered father, singing support to my lovely, forlorn daughter. I realized that these characters have been clinging to one another as father and daughter in a way that I have never experienced, due to the number of children I have/siblings my children have, and it brought home for me in a very electric jolt the power of the parent/child relationship.

They say also that you have to bring material from your own experience to your acting to make the role more real. This was the opposite. The play actually taught me, at least in a glimpse, what it is like to be a widower, to raise a girl all alone, and to have her cling to me like a port in a very long storm. Which makes for a powerful scene, though one over which I really had no control. I am not a widower, I have not had to raise a daughter on my own, yet during that scene I knew what Maurice was feeling.

More importantly, aside from being a powerful scene, it reinforced and strengthened for me my own very unique parental love for my children, and to cherish them both in heart and in deed like Maurice cherishes his daughter.

On another note, I am going to have trouble performing this song without crying real tears, over the loss of my stage wife, and with love for my stage daughter, while also feeling the love I have for my own flesh and blood children.

So much for the idea that it is the actor that brings all the goods to the stage floor. It seems that the play itself brings quite a bit to the actors to then take home with them.

In the short week that has not even fully transpired since that rehearsal, I have had individual time with some of my children of a type and quality not previously known. . .and it has been wonderful, and the play taught me the need and importance of this.

For that, I am now very grateful that I was cast in this show, however reluctant I was in the beginning. It is proving to be a blessing for me and my family.

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