On the last night before the Unified auditions, I sat alone in my hotel room, reflecting on what the previous year had been like. I almost couldn’t believe the whole crazy experience would soon be over. Somewhere in the hall my son Sam was filming a silly Snapchat story with one of his friends. As the night wore on, I fought the urge to tell him it was time to come in and get some rest. Eventually I texted him and suggested that perhaps it was time to call it a night. Predictably he sent back a text telling me not to worry, that he “had it under control”. This had been the dance we’d been doing for the last 7 or 8 months. Sometimes he took my advice, sometimes I didn’t give him a choice, and sometimes he would push back hard and I would back off.
If there is anything I see other parents struggle with as they try to help their children navigate this process, it’s finding that balance between helping and controlling, doing too much or not doing enough. Figuring out the “right” way to be involved is tough. Every child is different and what works for one may not work for another. But the important thing is to be involved. Most kids cannot handle all the demands of this process alone. In addition to getting through their senior year, theatre students are also performing in shows and managing the complicated and confusing application and audition process. In order for kids to be successful in this endeavor, they need to truly understand the programs they are applying to and carefully prepare for their auditions. They need to present their best selves and remain poised under enormous pressure. In order to do this they need tremendous support from the important figures in their lives.
I spent a great deal of time considering when and how to be helpful to Sam. I wanted to make sure he was engaged in the process and that it was his process, not mine. I knew that if I took on too much responsibility, or did the work for him instead of with him, he wouldn’t feel ownership over it. On the other hand, I could see how overwhelmed he was becoming as he tried to balance the demands of his senior year, school performances and the application/audition process. So I began to think of myself as a scaffold, there to support him and hold things together. I wanted to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.
I saw my primary role as that of a consultant. I offered him advice when he asked and sometimes even when he didn’t. Occasionally he needed an assistant and I would do the busywork of the applications so that he could focus on his audition material or his essay writing. Sometimes he needed a manager, so on a few occasions I set limits around social activities when I knew there were important deadlines coming up. And sometimes we argued. More times than not I let him choose how he wanted to handle things. When I thought it was really important, I pushed harder for him to prioritize his applications or audition prep. We had countless conversations about deadlines, priorities, preparation, rest, focus, commitment, and many other application/audition related topics. Those conversations didn’t always translate into the action I was hoping for, but more times than not Sam did what he needed to do. I could see that he was learning from his mistakes and even though it wasn’t always obvious, he was listening to me. Together we muddled through and in the end it made us closer.
Supporting my son through the application/audition process was one of the most challenging and gratifying experiences I have had as a parent. Watching him handle the ups and downs, push past his fears and ultimately succeed in finding his way was exciting to witness and share. Along the way Sam needed to know he had a touchstone, a steady hand to guide him. This gave him the grounding he needed to hang in there when it all felt like too much or when he felt an audition hadn’t gone well. More than once he said “thanks Mom, I couldn’t have done this without you”. All children need that steady hand. Exactly how your hand will guide your child may be different than how I guided mine, but with gentle and persistent support your child will also find the way. In the end, you, and they, will be richer for the experience.
My next few blogs will focus on the technical aspects of the application process and how to navigate the many minefields your student may encounter along the way. I will talk about how to make a balanced list of schools, when to start preparing audition pieces and a variety of other important topics that can help you and your student stay on track. Robynne O’Byrne