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  • Dinner Theater 101: About Us

    In our family, we don't do dinner — we do dinner theater. Come over to our house and inevitably you'll get a show of some kind.

    I'm not sure when this started, except that I can't remember a time when it hasn't occurred. All four children have the performer gene.

    By way of introduction, let's provide you with cliff notes on how we got to this point:

    Jill and I met in 1994 when I spoke at her Career Day at Reidsville Middle School, where she was the counselor. We became friends, and did a show ("Annie") for the local community theater group. I was nearing the end of a five-year marriage/seven-year relationship that had produced a son (Nicholas, the now 16-year-old); Jill was living with someone and engaged.

    Later that year, she married (I was, ironically, the wedding photographer). The following spring, I divorced. That fall, she divorced. The next year, we got married.

    Several months later, we had Katharine (now 12). Just 11 1/2 months after that, Ben and Emma (now 11) came along. And we haven't stopped since... 

    We moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2001 and work for associations that support K-12 public education. Emma and Kate live for dance, while Nicholas is a singer/actor/emerging artist in North Carolina. 

    Ben? We'll leave that for another posting.

  • Musical Obsessions and Circle Backs

    Each summer, which is when we see Nicholas for the most sustained period of time, the kids find a new musical to obsess over. Usually this starts with Nicholas and spreads to the rest of the troupe like swine flu, eventually taking over all of our lives and not letting go until the next one comes along.

    A quick rundown of just the last five years:

    • 2005: "Wicked" and "Mamma Mia" (Nick).
    • 2006: "Rent," (the movie, then the show), "A Chorus Line," (revival), "High School Musical."
    • 2007: "Hairspray" and, sadly, "HSM2" (the movie, not the high school play Nicholas was in last year).
    • 2008: "Avenue Q," "Mamma Mia" (the movie dragged the rest of us in), and, yes, "HSM3" (but only Emma, Ben, and Nick this time).
    • 2009: "Spring Awakening" (all except Emma) and "Next to Normal."

    This does not include shows the kids perform in with Metropolitan Fine Arts Center. Think about the entire Disney canon there, plus "Annie" and "The Wizard of Oz," and you can see why I made the "obsession" reference.

    What do I mean by circle backs?

    • "Annie" was the first show Jill and I did together; last year, we watched our kids perform in it.
    • We found out Jill was pregnant with Kate during "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"; two years ago, while our entire family was participating in another production of the show, my father died.
    • "The Wizard of Oz" not only permeates society, it runs through our family like a bad computer virus. I served as an assistant stage manager for one production, while Kate made her stage debut in another at 6 weeks old because Jill was playing Glinda. Nicholas has done the show three times, and the trio performed in an MFAC production in 2008.

    Considering that Jill was pregnant with Ben and Emma when she did "Annie Get Your Gun" — they made their stage debuts in utero — I can't wait to see what happens when that one gets revived. Of course, that show also has a circle back of its' own: It was the first Broadway show Jill and I saw together as a couple.

    It won't be the last.

  • There's a Moment You Know...

    I can think of several moments that fit this line from "Spring Awakening" (2009's summer obsession) as long as you're willing to be liberal in the interpretation.

    • Seeing Jill sing.

    • Peace Day.

    • The red overcoat.

    • The 21-week ultrasound.

    • The nurse saying, "You're having a boy ... and a girl."

    • My baby, blue and gasping for air.

    • Moving to the D.C. area.

    • "Who Let the Frogs Out..."

    That last one, in many ways, is why we're in this position today. It's hard to believe it was just three (very long) years ago. But it was June 2006 when Ben and Emma performed the song as part of their jazz class in Metropolitan's production of "The Little Mermaid."

    Simply put, Ben stole the number and show — a lengthy extravaganza that showcased MFAC's growing student body — not once, but twice over the weekend. It was when we saw he was at home, literally, on the stage.

    A year and a half later, people still mentioned that night to us at random moments, with almost an "I was there..." aura about it. By this time, Ben had auditioned for and signed with an agent.

    Quickly, he learned rejection, how you could get so tantalizingly close to something big and then be turned down because you weren't the right height, weight, or hair color. But by the fall of 2007, he was cast as Tiny Tim in Ford's Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol," and life had changed forever...

  • "Joseph": Coming Around Again

    One of our family’s favorite phrases is, “What goes around, comes around.”

    As parents, we try to teach this lesson to our kids, but I was reminded again tonight that it applies to theatre as well. And I’m not just talking about the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that continue to be performed — often badly — year after year.

    In this case, what goes around has come around not once but twice. Nicholas has been cast as the lead in his high school production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the catchy/kitschy Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that is based on the story of Joseph in Genesis.

    This is a huge accomplishment for Nick, who has been involved in theater for his entire four years of high school and plans to major in it in college. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him to develop and showcase his talents in a role he’s wanted to play for a long time.

    It’s also an opportunity to revisit a show that has played a significant role at key points in our lives as a family.

    In 1996, Jill performed in the “Joseph” ensemble for the Community Theatre of Greensboro and I volunteered to work one of the spotlights. Early on, we found out she was pregnant with Katharine, and wondered how we would break the news to our parents. I will never forget how Jill’s mother Betty found out.

    We ate lunch with Betty before the matinee. Exhausted from tech week (and in Jill’s case, the first trimester), my lovely bride turned down an opportunity for a cup of coffee and my mother-in-law knew. She just knew.

    Betty was a deeply spiritual woman who also was, ultimately, a realist. Sitting upstairs at the Carolina Theatre, she merged the two by mixing the word “holy” with her default choice when picking through the profanity dictionary. Little did she know what the next few years would bring.

    Cut to 2007. We are living in Virginia. Kate, Emma, and Ben are dancing at Metropolitan Fine Arts Center, which had formed a new nonprofit company, Metropolitan Performing Arts Theatre. MPAT’s second show was — you guessed it — “Joseph.”

    All three children auditioned — Ben was cast in his first big role (as Benjamin, the youngest of the brothers). The girls were in the ensemble with Jill, who had not performed on stage in several years. I was slated to be the stage manager and do the program. It was, for all of us, an opportunity to participate in something together as a family.

    The opportunity was bittersweet, however, when life intervened again. My dad’s blood disorder had turned into an aggressive form of leukemia. I went to Texas 13 times that year and just five weeks before the show went up, he died on July 29.

    The diversion of doing “Joseph” — the little show with the big themes — was good for all of us, although I missed most of the rehearsals due to the back and forth and we were gone to Texas for a week for Dad’s funeral. Everyone involved — from cast to crew — was extremely understanding.

    On Sept. 8, “Joseph” premiered for the first of its two weekends. It was an aggressive and expensive undertaking for a small theatre company, but overall it was a success and a huge step forward for MPAT.

    Three days later, on Sept. 11 and before the second weekend of shows, my second “mom,” Fran, passed away. We waited until the second weekend was done before returning again to Texas for our second funeral in two months.

    Much of that period, understandably, is a blur. But what I remember most vividly is how wonderful it was to have my family — biological and since extended — together for much of that time.

    Only one of my children did not get to participate in the show: Nicholas. When he was with us in Virginia, he came to the rehearsals. Sponge that he is, he learned all of the colors in order in “Joseph's Coat" — one of the show’s signature songs. He also memorized much of Joseph’s big solo, “Close Every Door.”

    Since he’s been in high school, Nicholas has tirelessly lobbied for “Joseph,” which despite its loving but slightly irreverent look at a religious story is perfect for his Catholic high school to perform. Now, as he starts his senior year and looks ahead to college and beyond, he gets to play the title role.

    As we circle back, we move ahead. And we are reminded again that, at least in theater, thankfully what goes around comes around.

    Break a leg, son.