I thought of that fellow while watching Drowning Crow, Regina Taylor's adaptation of The Sea Gull. As we all know from the Chekhov play, Madame Arkardina doesn't pay much attention to her son Constantin's experimental drama. Here, though, Josephine Nicholas Ark Trip actually uses the word "turds" to describe her son C-Trip's words. (It's but one example of Taylor going overboard.)
Anyway, of all the e-mails that came my way about this issue, two poignant ones really stood out. One came from Omaha, Nebraska: "I and my circle of friends who have studied theater -- and hoped to make our living at it -- have often discussed how our families seldom (if ever) have attended our performances. I'm especially thinking of my best friend Miriam, who spent four years working her way up in a drama program to play leads in Vanities and The Wizard of Oz. Not one of her family members showed up to see what she'd done -- and she has an enormous family.
"For me it started in high school when I played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls. I think, for high school, I gave a pretty good performance -- but my parents came and my mom told me that she was embarrassed to have her son up on a stage and singing in front of people. Needless to say, the next year she didn't come to Hello, Dolly! In college, I got to play Applegate in Damn Yankees, Conjur Man in Dark of the Moon and the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz -- and they saw none of these. In my final year, I had the opportunity of a lifetime: Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. My friends -- even the ones who were usually jealous of anyone getting a part that size -- gave me terrific compliments about my acting, timing and delivery. I called my parents, who lived only twenty minutes away, and they couldn't be bothered. They said, 'We have things to do around the house.' I was heartbroken.
"I believe there are two kinds of actors who do the best for themselves: First come the ones with parents who are so supportive of their careers that they at least try to see everything they do. These kids have the confidence to succeed because it is instilled by love and devotion. And then there are the parents who have so rejected their sons and daughters in their performances that this is what drives the children to success.
"As for the ones who don't succeed: People have often asked me why I never went on to try for a professional career in theater -- something that I very much wanted -- and my answer has always been, 'I know I could have done it but I don't have the confidence to survive the rejections.' I've felt that rejection all my life. I still love theater very much. A day doesn't go by where I don't read a play, listen to an original cast recording, or try to get one of my students excited about some aspect of this lifelong love. But don't you think that a lot of people still look at the theater and see it as 'filled with debauchery,' 'a playground for homosexuals,' and 'an ego-driving drug for social misfits?' Many of my students' parents seem to wince when I tell them their sons excel at drama. When I tell them how much talent they have, they thank me, but a wall goes up right away as if to warn me that they will not have a son who does this for a living -- or who even enjoys drama.
"And then there was that production of Amadeus I directed last year. The young man playing Salieri was just amazing. The audience was in awe of him because he had the charisma and talent to pull it off. People are still talking about his performance -- but his parents are not, because they didn't come to see it. It broke my heart to see what they missed and to see what that did to him. His family -- people who will be his constant through life, people capable of reliving this moment with him -- won't be able to because they were too busy or, perhaps, ashamed."
Then I heard from a 20-year-old named Ryan. "I am a young actor in a family of athletes and my performances and concerts have never been deemed important enough for them to attend. I still have numerous relatives who have never seen me in any show and several don't even know that I sing. But I do. After seeing Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan when I was five, I did my first school play, A Teddy Bear's Christmas, and soon after that, my first community theater show: I was Little Jake in Annie Get Your Gun. Then came my first paying job, in a new work called Something Big Happened Here that was based on the works of several poets. My mother saw the show for one reason: She said it was too far of a drive to drop me off, go home, and then come back to pick me up. My second professional role was a lead: Hansel in Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel. It had been cast with real children as opposed to adults, so landing that role was a huge deal to me -- and no one in my family saw it. Yet, through my entire childhood, I was chastised and criticized if I missed so much as one sporting event that any of my four younger siblings was in."
But let me tell you how Ryan finished his e-mail: "Your comment about the look of heartfelt thanks that you get when you compliment an actor on his performance also struck me. In high school, I played Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls. After the show was over, I was leaving the auditorium's stage door and I saw a girl who was in many of my classes. She had never liked me and had belittled me on a daily basis. I knew she'd come to see the show because her good friend was playing a Hot Box girl -- but then I found out she'd been waiting there for me. I figured she was there to trash my performance, but she wasn't. She looked me square in the eye and said she was sorry for every rude thing she'd ever said to me, for when she saw me on that stage, she saw not only how much I genuinely loved what I do but a 'spark' in me, too. She said that the minute I walked onto that stage and sang 'Fugue For Tinhorns,' she knew I would make it and be 'somebody.' She actually said, 'I didn't see a kid in a high school show; I saw a star.' Now I see her on a somewhat regular basis, and when I make it to Broadway, I hope that she will come."
When that happens, Ryan, I want to sit next to her. Perhaps a relative didn't come see you in Guys and Dolls, but a friend did -- just one whom you hadn't met yet.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]