02 December, 2009

stage mother

I would never have thought I had it in me.

You know Avery wants to be an actress. She spent long months on the wait list at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, which actually trains children fulltime, running as a real school, to be singers, actors, dancers, while one imagines fitting in the odd English and maths lesson now and then. All she wanted was a spot in the Saturday lesson. Finally one appeared. I was reminded of the old New Yorker cartoon, "Spots still available in domino tournament. If nowhere else."

So three years ago she began her weekly Saturday acting lessons and has enjoyed them tremendously. "You should have seen what we did today, one girl was sent out of the room not knowing that her character had been kicked out of the apartment she shared with the rest of our characters, and then had to come back and improvise..." interspersed with Antigone, pantomime, you name it. She loves every afternoon of it. Well, associated with the school is an agency, and they agreed to take her on. Many piles of paperwork, submissions of photographs, signing over of all her life information ensued. And since then, many auditions. Even callbacks. But never a job.

Until today.

I must backtrack and explain the process, for my own sanity. You must understand that when your child turns 13, many people step forward to give you advice on many things, which all boil down like a reduced veal stock, to the following issue: how to get your child to be more independent. But not [other people's fingers raised here in admonition] to assert her own independence too much, or request independence in a disrespectful way, or achieve the independence first and THEN ask for it. The permutations are quite, quite unbelievable, and you will know I speak the truth when I say that I have heard far too much on the subject. This recalcitrance on my part is due entirely to my desire to keep Avery wrapped up in cotton wool, preferably curled up next to me with a good book and a leg chain, for the foreseeable future. This I realize I cannot attain.

So I compromise. I try to leave her in charge of decisions, details, arrangements. In general it's working out fine (there was that incident with the taxi and an ice skate which nearly gave me a heart attack, but I'm over that now).

My phone rang last week to tell me that Avery had, not an audition, not a callback, but a REAL JOB. As a voiceover for a character on "Bob the Builder," a very popular BBC show here in the UK and also as an import to the US. Cool! But let me tell you, the road from the job announcement to the eventual job was dark and twisty, like a character on "Grey's Anatomy." First there was the laconic request from the agency for a "letter of permission" for Avery to miss school on the day. So I typed up a letter to Avery's form teacher, explaining the job and asking that she type up a letter giving Avery permission to skip school. Nothing happened. "She's out ill," Avery explained, "so I gave the letter to the substitute." I promptly forgot about it for another couple of days. "Don't forget to ask for that letter," I mentioned once or twice. "I won't."

Finally it was Monday, Avery was finished having her braces put on (don't ask) and I felt it was time to move on to the next crisis. "You know, you've got to produce that permission letter or you can't go on the job," to which she replied in a pain-hazed frenzy, 'I know, I will, I will!" and disappeared into the school. I knew the issue was not over.

Halfway through coffee on Tuesday with my long-suffering friend Dalia, my phone rang. It was the agent, Reb. "You know, I needed that letter yesterday, so the council can apply for her permission!" he wailed (this was the first I had heard about council permission). "This is the first I've heard about council permission," I wailed back, and he said, "You have to fax it to me by this afternoon, and even then I have to go to Plan B [some much more wonderful child actress, his tone implied]."

Before I could reply, another call came through. Avery on a borrowed phone, at lunch. "My teacher says there isn't enough information about the job in the letter you sent, for anyone to sign it and in any case that's not her job, it's the pastoral head, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME and what a terrible week..." Understandably frantic. I ring off telling her I'll call her back. Ring up Reb. "What more information can you give me?" "What did I give you already?" "NOTHING!" So he comes up with the name of the producer and the address of the job. I ring off and call Avery to tell her I'm emailing all the information to school, but the call goes to voice mail. Lunch is obviously over.

I sigh, feeling my stomach muscles clench. I know I can't solve everything for her, but the day after her braces are put on, to see her face such disappointment through no fault of her own... I couldn't bear it. So much for independence. I called the lovely school secretary and grovelled, gladder than ever that she and I had forged a little friendship over "Lost Property." "Email me the information, and I will walk it over to the pastoral head... wait, I see her now. Send it right on." I do so. I ring Reb to tell him the letter's coming. He says he'll ring when it comes.

No call comes.

I turn up at school, grovel some more to the secretary's secretary who smiles sunnily and says, "Oh, yes, that permission letter's been given to Avery to bring home." OH NO! I meet Avery outside school, grab the letter, race back to the office. "Could you fax this to this number?" handing over the grubby sheet torn out of my mystery novel, given me by the dismal Reb. She goes away with it and comes back. "That fax number is not answering," she says, sympathetic with my squirming anxiety. "My teeth hurt so much," Avery moans almost silently. "I'm not allowed to have medicine in school, so I haven't taken anything..." I can't bear it. I ring Reb. "Why isn't your fax machine turned on?" I ask through gritted teeth. "Oh, I'll check, hang on..." Back again. "It's on now." B***dy hell. Finally the fax goes through. Avery swallows her nurofen, drinks water, we walk home in the gathering dusk, realizing there are no snacks she can chew, feeling slightly hard done by, steeling ourselves that the job might not now come through.

At home, I simply cannot bear another phone call, so Stage Father takes over, to be told that the council permission is missing and so she cannot do the job. After all my crazy day. I feel I can hardly bear it. Avery chokes down some soup for supper, we are all demoralized.

Then this morning, John is imbued with an extra sense of "after all that!" and rings the council himself. And voila! Job ready! Be at Sylvia Young in an hour! Done.

Long story short, she had the time of her life. "There was a room separated by glass from another room where a man was arranging all the sound, and I was all alone in the room, wearing these headphones, while one lady told me what to say, and the storyboards went up..." Sheer heaven. "I had so much FUN." She did one version in English, and another in American, presumably for the two markets in which they'll sell the DVDs. "I played a little girl who cheered a lot, 'yay! yay! yay!'"

As a parent, one learns to rise above annoyances and try really hard to think what one's learned from the situation. How about, "Never ever EVER get involved with show business"? I don't think that will work. Avery had such fun. I suppose I learned the channels of power to go through, the fact that no one on either end cares that I don't know what I'm doing, that everyone is supremely ready to drop a piece of paper that's asking him or her to do something. Everyone except the school secretary, who deserves a medal. Or a plate of brownies, more likely.

Up and down, up and down. Great parent-teacher conference, awful cold, great Thanksgiving, awful braces, great acting job. As for my career as a stage mother, I think it's over. I'm much better as a cook for someone who can't chew.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
(serves 6)

2 tbsps butter
1/2 white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups mushrooms, white or chestnut, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh leaves
splash Madeira or white port or Calvados
2-3 cups chicken stock (just to cover mushrooms)
1/2 cup light cream

Melt butter in a heavy stockpot and fry onion, garlic and mushrooms till soft. Add thyme and Madeira and simmer high for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and simmer until mushrooms are completely cooked, about 10 minutes. Puree with hand blender, add cream. Season with sea salt and pepper.


This soup can be made with turkey stock (Thanksgiving or Christmas leftovers?), or beef stock. I made it once with stock from roast duck bones and that was lip-smackingly luscious, but rare. I don't roast ducks very often. I bet with a rich ham stock it would be lovely too.

Turn off your phone, close down the computer, gather your long-suffering loved ones with disappointments, frustrations, sore gums, homesickness, anything, and tuck in. Pure creamy comfort. That audition can wait.


andrea said...

How exciting! My son loves Bob, I will have to watch out for this episode :)

andrea said...

Hi Kristen! I have been reading your blog for a long time, I found it when I lived in London (moved back a year ago!), and have always enjoyed your stories and recipes! You have a lovely family - and I miss London!

Shelley said...

Oooooh, I am so excited to think that I know a real live actress.
I can't wait to tell Captain Hastings who is hiding from a storm at the moment. He will be wicked proud...I know that!!!!!

Kristen In London said...

Hi Andrea! I'll definitely let everyone know when there's a date for "Bob": we're strangely excited!

Shelley, she's a future star! Tell Hastings, who will say, "I knew her when..."

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Congratulations to your daughter! How very, very exciting. Kids these days are so brave and outgoing.

Your cream of mushroom soup sounds divine. I'm thinking of making it just for me... no one else in my household seems to like mushrooms. Too bad for them.

Kristen In London said...

I know, Plane Ride, I was so excited for her too. And as for the mushroom soup, will anyone recognize them all smooshed up and creamy? Good luck! I am a firm believer in cooking just for one, by the way...

LMac said...

Plane Ride -- If you enjoy a type of food that the rest of the family doesn't, prepare it! Don't cheat yourself of an epicourious delight.

Kristen In London said...

I agree, LMac! Cook for yourself once in awhile, just make sure your family don't starve. There's always scrambled eggs... Have a wonderful holiday, everyon!