Parents - the curse of all Drama Teachers
Drama School parents..... hmmmmm!!!
"Little Danny was dancing even before he could walk!" is the type of comment I've heard several hundred times at this stage, and I'm always tempted to respond "Well perhaps if he'd started with the basics, he wouldn't now be totally lacking in coordination!".... but I'm far too polite to be that blunt.
When people hear for the first time that I run dance and drama classes several days a week, catering for hundreds of kids from 5 - 15, the response is often "God.... don't they wreck your head? All those screaming little wannabes?" Well, no actually, they don't. That's what kids do. That's what I did as a kid. It's a reflection of their energy, their enthusiasm and their desire to express themselves. That's precisely what I love about kids, and why I chose to be involved in tutoring them. The truth of the matter is that it's the parents who are harder to handle! Not all of them. Some of them recognise that drama classes are a vehicle for personal development and an outlet for energy and expression, without necessarily expecting that their child is going to be the nexy Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney. The troublesome parents, however, come in all shapes and sizes!
There's nothing wrong with dreaming. We all do it, and sometimes we have the drive and ambition to turn a dream to a reality. It becomes a problem, though, when a parent has a dream that doesn't quite coincide with the dreams of her offspring. I'm talking about the "Gypsy Rose Lee" syndrome here. The mothers who think maybe they should have been a star themselves, and now want to live the dream through their poor unsuspecting child. Year after year, encounter children who have no real interest in acting, singing or dancing, but whose parents believe they are a Super-star waiting to happen. More often than not, such children can enjoy their classes on some level, being a part of a team, developing confidence and even enjoying the fun of being on stage. But invariably , such children are aware of their own limitations, which can be very problematic when the parent has much higher expectations.
"Danny was only in the second row of the chorus! What's that all about?" they might bluster, and if you suggest that he's happy to be there because he can follow the more confident child in the front row, you open yourself to a string of abuse. "Are you saying my child isn't talented?".... or "Are you saying you're not a good enough teacher to bring him up to front row standard?".... and the most annoying of all, "I'm not paying you to produce a second-row-of-the-chorus performer. He should be out front!"
Just once, I would love to be honest and reply "Madam, I didn't produce him at all. You did, and if there's anything in heredity, it's pretty obvious where his lack of talent stems from." But of course, one has to bite one's lip from time to time. Having given little Danny the confidence to make it as far as the second row, it's soul-destroying when a misguided parent tears him away from the class and the bonds of friendship that he has created, without considering how the child might feel. Children aren't stupid! They tend to recognise their own limitations much better than their parents.
Child-care services! That's what some parents are after. Regardless of the talent, desire or interest of the child, there are those mothers who see the Saturday morning drama class as a perfect opportunity to dump the kids, while they do the weekly shopping, create free time to go to the gym, or to meet friends. Yes yes, of course I appreciate that in this fast moving society, parents do need a little free time to relax, but at whose expense?
Just a few years ago, two eight year old twins were dumped into one of my classes. For several weeks they sulked in the corner, not wanting to get involved in anything or to even communicate. They weren't troublesome. They just didn't seem to fit in. I took them aside during one of the classes and asked them if they liked Drama. They didn't speak. They just shook their heads in a negative fashion. Well what about singing? The same response. Dancing? Nope.... no interest. "So why do you come to Drama classes?" I asked, and for the first time, they were happy to speak. "We don't have any choice. Mummy does Pilates on a Saturday morning and she can't take us with her. We have to come here." It transpired that after drama class each week, they get dumped at swimming classes because Mummy gets a weekly manicure after Pilates, and the kids were dumped at a sports centre after that, while Mummy did the weekly shopping. "We don't like swimming or sports either." the other twin confessed, and my heart went out to them. "Have you told your parents you don't want to be here?" Well of course they had, but that didn't matter. They'd just have to grow to like it.
In truth, they may well have developed an interest in something, were it not that that they were being forced into each activity without any consideration of their opinions. My response to them was gentle and logical. "Ok girls. As I see it, you have two choices. You can sit in the corner and be miserable every Saturday morning, or you can say Well, here I am, so I might as well make the most of it. Half of the kids here don't really want to be stars of the theatre. They just enjoy the games, and the fun of being able to be really silly without being judged. I'll never force you to do anything on your own, but if you join in, at the very least, you're gonna have lots of new friends, and isn't that better than feeling lost and lonely?"
Within a few weeks, they were participating in everything, and last season, they both had a few lines to say in the end of term production. They may never be famous, but they hate to miss a class and their enthusiasm is something to behold. Not that their mother is aware of the change in them. She doesn't actually come to the end of term performances. She just drops them off and picks them up, but it doesn't really matter. The girls are doing it for themselves now, and not because they're being forced into it. It still saddens me, though, that parents can miss so much.
It would be wrong of me to suggest that most parents are problematic. The majority are genuine and always put the interest of their child first. And there's nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a parent beaming with pride when little Danny or little Casey steps up and performs to the best of their ability.
Children are incredible little creatures, and when we show a true interest in their interests, the rewards are immeasurable. Why would any parent want to miss out on that experience?