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Life Upon the Wicked Stage with Mom

1 July 2010 Stories and Appreciations 4,461 views 4 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

I was always an artsy type, a complete mystery to the rest of my athletic family. But when I was in high school, my “Joe Jock” father made the ultimate sacrifice and performed alongside me in a show. It was not an easy decision for him to make, but it was one that changed him, and our relationship, forever.

The show was a rarely-produced musical called “Little Mary Sunshine.” Due to a severe lack of men (a perpetual problem in community theater), my dad was recruited to play the pivotal role of Yellow Feather. A completely inappropriate and politically-incorrect portrait of a Native American, Yellow Feather was the villain who captures Little Mary Sunshine for his very own. My father had a total of four lines, which we rehearsed every day after school without fail.

“Me Yellow Feather. You Little Mary Sunshine. Me want you, Little Mary Sunshine. Me want you now!

It was wrong on so many levels. But my dad committed to the experience and embraced it, borrowing my eyeliner to use as war paint and accepting flowers at the stage door. He marveled at the numerous parallels between sports and theater. Instead of practice, we had rehearsal. The rehearsals were led by a director, not a coach. Costumes were equivalent to uniforms, and we changed in dressing rooms rather than locker rooms.

Lastly, performances were ultimately like the big end-of-the-season game. My dad finally understood my world, and we had forged a unique bond without involving sports.

Eventually I became a parent, and my son decided he wanted to be on stage. Reflecting on my theatrical endeavor with my dad, I thought perhaps I could offer a similar experience to my child. Perhaps we, too, could forge a special bond over the world of theater.

“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” was the play. My son was cast as a woodland creature and I was the White Witch. As in the movie version of “Lion,” the White Witch is evil and everyone basically wants her dead. Considering my son was on the opposing army, this was not a good start to our special bonding experience.

The show was produced by a local children’s theater, where both adult and child actors were used in age-appropriate roles. When we arrived at our first rehearsal to read through the script, I scanned the room trying to figure out who else may be playing other pertinent roles. The room was packed, buzzing with energy.

As we read farther into the story and more characters were introduced, a horrible realization began to dawn on me: Out of a cast of approximately 60 actors, I was the only full-fledged adult in the company. Sure, there were loads of grown men and women in the room. Unfortunately, they were only there to provide transportation to the numerous woodland creatures not old enough to drive themselves. Not old enough for a license, but hungry for the White Witch’s head on a pike staff, I should emphasize.

To no one’s surprise, good prevails over evil and the Witch is indeed killed. I had been wondering how a theatrical version would handle this, so I read the stage directions with interest. After rehearsal I commented to my son, “Did you see that when the Witch dies, she gets carried off by woodland creatures?” To which he replied, “Mom, it’s gonna take, like, eight kids to carry YOU off!”

I was a goner. My character was killed off in a huge battle scene, and let’s just say those woodland creatures were chomping at the bit to get a piece of me. Unbeknownst to the director, at the next rehearsal the kids showed up with their own weaponry. Swords, shields, maces, you name it. I was terrified to be alone in a room with them.

The director decided to pair members of the Witch’s army (I did have a few spiders and rats on my side) with Woodland Creatures to stage their own mini-battles. My son was paired with a boy who was obsessed with clocking his opponent over the head with a boulder. In the meanwhile, my battle with the mighty lion Aslan was staged. Aslan was played by a baby-faced boy who had just turned 18. Next to middle-aged me, he was the other “elder” in the company.

Also in the cast was an evil wolf that had seen one too many Bruce Willis movies. His menacing laugh consisted of mwah-haw-hawing his way offstage. Father Christmas was played a 15-year-old who unintentionally impersonated John Wayne. His sidekick was an elf who either was attempting an accent or had a speech impediment. I was never quite sure which.

The large ensemble, which was rarely on stage, was responsible for yelling group ad-libs like “Yeah!” or “Get her!” Unfortunately, no one ever knew when to say these lines. After a dramatic speech, rallying my army into battle, my followers looked up at me blankly, not making a peep. I was forced lead my own battle cry until finally the director said bluntly, “You know, the witch really shouldn’t have to cheer for herself.”

I don’t know that the Witch’s army ever got it right. And I can’t say the experience was quite what I had expected. But my son did avoid being knocked out by a papier-mâché boulder. And the White Witch did die at every performance. I never did get carried off, though. I died near the edge of the stage and dragged myself into the wings, with every bit of dignity and grace I could muster.

A year later, my son and I appeared in the musical “Oliver!” together. He played the title role and I played the undertaker’s wife. Every night from offstage, I would weep as I proudly watched my son sing “Where Is Love?” Then I would make my entrance, shove him around, lock him in a coffin and sit on it so he couldn’t escape.

Yep, these moments are what childhood memories are made of. And if nothing else it will give him something to talk about in therapy years from now.

Kobi Shaw


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  1. This was good, another winner. I can proudly say that I’ve actually heard the author’s father recite his LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE lines, which he still knows. The years have not dimmed the lustre of his debut performance; his voice rings out with confidence. However, he still no closer to being an Indian.

  2. You both did a wonderful job in Oliver & your son was great when he “got” to sing. How nice that he is mature enough to be able to separate the formal ‘play’ from reality and is able to continue to explore his imagination and his desire to perform. Of course, I love your performances always also! You have a wonderful gift in music and performance that is a joy to watch – thank you for all your songs and performances for the last few years.

    Great article (again) and full of ideas for those of us with kids or parents! Oh, everybody!

  3. Loved this!!

  4. I guess your father was very understanding person, and very glad to know that you guys developed a good relationship on the basis of common theme you and your father found.
    Transferred from one generation to the other.

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