I have spent and will spend a lot of time in this blog mentioning the importance of a commitment to the production or class that you are taking part in. You know not to be late, not to miss rehearsals, and to get your lines memorized. But how can you do all that when your parents drive you to rehearsal and sometimes are late? Or there’s a family trip to Chicago that’s been planned for months and you just now were informed? Or you have to choose between studying for finals and getting off book by the director’s deadline? You want to commit and do everything that’s needed, but some things are just out of your control.
The truth is, as a young person, almost everything is out of your control. It seems like you have mounds of responsibility, but no power. How then, to be a dedicated professional without becoming an emancipated minor and stealing a car? Will it be worth the fights with your parents or the D in Biology to do this play?
I have no easy answers for you, but I do have some suggestions and possibilities. There are two major obstacles to every teenage performing career, and these are parents and school. Let’s talk about parents first.
I don’t know your parents personally, of course, and I would never presume to understand their neuroses or their rules or their chosen parenting style. You do have this information, and you need to take it under serious consideration when you are planning to take part in a production. Weigh the pros and cons of each factor, and come up with what’s worth it and what’s not.
That’s my disclaimer, now on to the good stuff. Let’s start at the beginning.
So you want to do a show. Let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, that it is a show at your school. The first thing you need to do, before you even think about auditioning, is improve your schoolwork. Wherever it is, get it better. Significantly so. That’s going to be some of the strongest ammunition you have.
The next step is to talk with the teacher who is directing and ask the following questions:
- What is the rehearsal schedule?
- What is the performance schedule?
- How big will the cast be?
- Will everyone be needed at every rehearsal?
- What do I need to do for auditions?
- When are callbacks?
Write the answers down (Really.On paper. With a pen or pencil, no a marker or crayon. You will not remember all of it otherwise). Take them home, and with the rehearsal/performance schedule, figure out any conflicts that you know about. Weigh the conflicts against the schedule. A good rule of thumb is, if you know you would miss more than 3 rehearsals in advance, don’t do it. Three doesn’t seem like that much, but think about it this way: If you have a cast of 20 people, and each of these 20 people only missed three rehearsals, that’s a possible 60 rehearsals without a full cast. Terribly frustrating to everyone involved, unfair, and poor productions result. Don’t be part of that equation, I beg you.
If, however, the schedule looks good to you, we can move on to the next step. You are going to put together a diplomatic proposal to your parents. Parents, in my experience, tend to have two main objections to their children doing plays. Schoolwork and transportation. Usually in that order. You need to come up with a proposal that outlines what you want, what you know they want, and how you plan to do both. This is where the schoolwork bump-up comes in. Actions speak way, WAY louder than words.
If you have laid the groundwork by improving your grades significantly, this will prove to your parents that you are capable of doing your work in the time you have now. Outlining a plan of action to make up the time taken up with rehearsal will be easier than if you are already struggling. Make sense? I thought so. See, you’re smarter already.
The other groundwork that you can lay is transportation alternatives. If you do not drive yet, find someone who does who also wants to do the show. Arrange a possible ride exchange for gas money or burger bucks or help with science or cookies or something. Or, set up a tentative carpool plan by talking to the parents of friends who are planning to audition. All this, still, before you have laid it before your parents. You can also explore bus options, if it is safe in your area, or subway, or even outfitting your bike as an alternative. The less your parents have to shuttle you back and forth, the more receptive they will be to the idea.
Now you are ready to put together the first part of the proposal, which is to give them all the information you have. Here is how it could go:
Mom and Dad, I’d like to talk to you about an activity I’d like to get involved with at school. They’re doing “Anything Goes”, and it looks like it’s going to be a really great show. Auditions are Tuesday and Wednesday the 10th and 11th after school, and callbacks are on Friday after school. The rehearsals start the next Monday, and are every day from 3-6 pm. Mrs. B. told me that the ensemble is called only on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays until the last week, so that’s what I’d like to do. The performances start on the 1st of November, and run Fridays, Saturdays, and a Sunday matinee for 2 weekends, so we’re done before we go to Nashville for Thanksgiving. I already asked her about those three days we’d be gone in October, and she said she could work around it.
I’ve got a pretty good study schedule going now, as you can see by my last quarter report. I’ve been spending extra time at the library after school and replacing some of my TV and phone time with study, and I can just as easily do the after school time in the early evening after rehearsals and continue the TV and phone scale-down. There’s also a group of us from my Government class who are auditioning, and we’re going to try to have a little study group during down time at rehearsals.
I know your work schedule is kind of hard and traffic is yucky at that time of day, but Maggie’s mom said that if you can pick us up on Fridays she would get us on the other two, because she works right by the school. While it’s still light that late, I can take the bus home, too.
I would really like to be in this show because it would be fun and challenging and exciting. You know I’m thinking about a career in performing, and I’d like to get as much practice as I can balancing a commitment to a production with a commitment to the rest of my life. It is a commitment, though, and I don’t want to audition if I don’t know if I can make the commitment.
If your parents are still with you at this point, you can go on to the second part. This is where you have to really read your parents, because you’re going to ask them for what you need from them. You will need to know exactly what this is, this need, and present it bluntly yet professionally. If you need rides to every performance, say so. If you want to stay at home by yourself while they visit Aunt Phyllis for two days, be prepared to present that as a separate proposal within the context of this one, with potential problems solved in advance. If you will need bus fare and snack money, tell them that right now. A possible next wave:
If I’m going to make the commitment I’d like to make to this production, I will need your help. What I need from you is to be able to do my chores on weekends and Mondays instead of midweek until the show opens, to go through the rehearsal schedule and tell me now if there are any conflicts I didn’t know about already, to not ask me to skip a rehearsal or leave one early to babysit Nathan, and for those six weeks to let me let my room go with the understanding that as soon as the show closes, I give it a deep clean.
Here comes the hard part. You have delivered your terms of the proposed agreement. You must now ask for theirs. Be prepared to listen carefully and professionally, and be open to negotiation. Here goes:
That’s what I’m thinking. What would you need from me for this project to happen?
You may get anything from, “a couple more A’s would be nice,” to “you’ve got to be kidding. You’re not getting into another play and that’s final. You’re already doing debate, choir and track,” to “couldn’t this wait until after the election?” You know your parents. Have an idea or two in your head about what they may want, and be ready to give it to them. If they want you to give up another extracurricular, know what you’d be willing to lose for a time. If they want you to get started on your college applications, have a stack in your room ready to go. Promise to mow the lawn and wash the car every Monday and set alarms on your phone so you remember to do it.
Your parents, unfortunately, also know you pretty well. They know that promises are sometimes made and forgotten. If you have managed to get this far with your proposal, they will want some kind of security or collateral as a consequence if you Welch on the terms you are proposing to follow. Again, you need to be prepared with offers of your own, such as giving up a planned ski trip or relinquishing your phone or car, even grounding yourself if you don’t follow through. Your parents, of course, may have ideas of their own, and you kind of need to agree to anything. Write it out and sign it, if that helps. This shouldn’t be a problem, since those consequences will not need to be enforced, right? Right.
Then, follow through. If you get through all that, and they let you do the show, do everything you said you would and more. Do whatever if takes. Hold them to their end, too. If they suddenly ask you to miss a rehearsal, remind them of their promise. If it is unavoidable, ask them to call the director and explain. It’s only fair, and even if it’s not fair, it is according to the terms or your agreement.
Take all this with a grain of salt, and adjust the format to fit your situation. As for doing shows outside of school, that’s a much larger animal. I highly suggest being successful at balancing school and show within school for at least 3 shows in a row before you start auditioning in the community.