Stage moms deserve a hug.
In a popularity contest between stage moms vs soccer moms, soccer moms win hands down. We celebrate children's achievement on the stage and ballfield, but regard the role the parents play in these arenas quite differently. The life of a stage parent is solitary, complicated and fraught with obstacles.
I assumed the role of a stage parent about five years ago when one of my sons was cast to play a lead role in a traveling Equity Playhouse Theater production. My considerable experience as an entertainment attorney and artist manager notwithstanding, I was less than prepared for navigating many of the challenges we quickly encountered on the road. How would my wife and I manage our thirteen-year-old's education, daily supervision, housing, living expenses and compensation? Would this take a toll on our family? Would my actor son be able to sustain the rigors of a professional lifestyle? How could I protect him? Where did I fit in? What was my role? Those were just some of the questions swirling in my head.
We considered the long view: did Max truly want to make acting a career? Should we allow him to? At the ripe age of thirteen, how could he possibly know? What about school, friends, and just "being a kid"? My wife and I were ambivalent about all of this. Of course we encouraged him to pursue his dreams, but we didn't want him to get hurt. When I was confronted with these questions about my own son, my objectivity and professional knowledge was skewed. Where was the road map? Who could we talk to?
Whether on stage, screen, television or YouTube, there are more children working today as professional artists than ever before. Aspiring creative children take different routes to these destinations. This presents many obstacles for prudent parents with children who seek to work within the creative arena.
What is the correct path for a child performer? We have many examples of the bad stage parents in the media--parents who mismanaged their child's earnings, or pushed their own agendas, hoping to live vicariously or gain fame through their child's notoriety. From my years working with young professionals, I can attest: the vast majority of stage parents only have their child's best interests at heart. Their children are passionate about music, acting or dance, and dedicated enough to want to perform professionally. The parents genuinely want to help. But they struggle to answer these questions themselves, to say nothing about how best to help their child succeed. As an entertainment attorney and former artist manager, I have met them. As a stage father, I have been there myself.
The path from amateur to professional is well established for child athletes. The milestones include youth and travel teams, high school and college programs. Most parents quickly learn the route while standing on the sidelines, talking with other parents. They are usually aligned in a supportive environment, rooting for their team to win. Many sports parents appreciate the camaraderie and friendships forged within the social circles around the sports activities. As a hockey dad, I love watching my youngest son practice and play ice hockey and enjoy the time spent with other team parents.
Stage parents, on the other hand, with children interested in theater, music and dance, do not share a similar social structure. Part of it is the difference in competition: sports teams band together and compete against another team. When a child is auditioning, however, he's fighting for a role. The waiting room outside an audition is tense and uncomfortable. Of course this makes the journey harder, forcing parents to go it alone and figure everything out on their own.
America loves sports. While watching events on television, broadcast networks often pan to the proud parents watching their athletic stars compete. It's a part of an American success story, proud families whose support and sacrifice have made their children's careers possible. And they are often richly rewarded for it--in more ways than in their child's success. The parents of Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams and many Olympians are celebrities. They often speak at events and mentor other sports parents. Held in the highest esteem, they are applauded when they team up with their athlete children in business and charitable ventures.
Stage parents do not enjoy similar appreciation or opportunities. In fact, they are sometimes merely tolerated, and frequently pushed to the wings. This negative reception is rarely warranted. Sports parents have to chauffeur their kids to the activities, and stand on the sidelines cheering. Stage parents too spend countless hours on the sidelines, but their cheering isn't visible; their cheering is in the form of the time sitting outside teaching studios, audition spaces, rehearsal halls; or in the car; money spent on lessons and tutoring. If they have more than one child, the time spent with the professional child takes away from the time spent with the others. Some stage parents find they can't maintain their careers and take care of their child's too--and sacrifice their own.
It's time to show stage parents some love. Society's negative views of stage parents is largely unwarranted. Instead of enjoying the recognition similar to sports parents', they often serve as a joke's punchline. They're stereotyped as characters, from the "Dance Moms" reality show and Gypsy, the Broadway musical. Proud moms and dads may shy away from admitting they are helping their children foster a career in entertainment, not wanting to be viewed through that negative lens. Perhaps our perspective needs to change, to focus on their sacrifice and generous support of their children. Instead of denying their identity as a stage parent, one day they may proudly declare, "Yes, I'm a stage parent"--a well-deserved title for which there should be no shame.