Green notebook with script and pencil. Check. Homework in backpack. Check. iPad fully charged, loaded with audio books and quizlets. Check. Granola bars and gummy candies. Check. We jump into our Honda Fit and hit the road, rehearsal bound. Just my teenaged son and me on a theatrical odyssey.
As a mom who has always worked outside the home, I never had the privilege, joy, or annoyance of driving my children to their activities. An occasional weekend soccer game, maybe. But for the most part I have had to depend on the kindness of family and friends to do this common American suburban chore. When my son was presented with the opportunity to audition for a role in a professional Shakespearean play, my first thought was, “not even possible.” But upon closer reflection, I realized that the time had come for me to arrange for this to happen, to be the mom I had always wished to be. The patient and listening chauffeur, spending quality one on one time with my son.
The past few months have not been the easiest for us. Our household relationship consists of constant battles over dirty soccer socks, data usage, and missing Biology homework assignments. At home, it’s a battle of wits and angry words, nagging from me, and defensive explanations from him. Stress over schoolwork, soccer, and schedules. How he doesn't want to follow in the theatrical footsteps we have laid out for him, he doesn't feel like a real actor. He wants alone time and chill time. But the minute the red car doors are slammed and we plug in the phone to hear our playlist of songs, the surrender flag is raised, we set sail up Route 31 and it feels like old times again.
On the way up to the rehearsal hall, the conversation is peppered with updates on classes, rumors about Cotillion dates, movie quotes, soccer strategy for his team, and listening to our favorite songs from bands he has introduced me to. On the way home we try to accomplish something useful. Review of Latin terms, or the soothing voice of Sir Ian McKellen narrating tales of Odysseus at sea. My son still gets carsick, so reading is out of the question, but I admire his attempts at diligence to make this hour a useful one.
If I'm lucky, after our food stop, in between slurps of fountain sodas, I get let into secrets of the professional theatre world. Like, how the door code to let us into the theatre is actually a character’s name, or how many drapers it takes to pin a costume, or his description of the latest antics of his scene partners, professional actors who have played the world’s greatest characters on illustrious stages. He wonders aloud what it will be like to spend all of the winter holidays at the theatre this year, and who might come to see his show. He once asked for professional head shots, another clue that he's more willing to step into my footsteps, or the footlights, whichever the case may be, than it first appeared.
When we pull into the driveway, we go back to old habits. Like Odysseus’ own loyal family, Dad and Sister are waiting for us to help fold mountains of laundry or schedule the next day’s activities. We go inside and life resumes. Like Odysseus returning home, it seems overwhelming to reveal all the tales of the journey. We’d rather keep them for ourselves, our own treasures of Troy.
Lisa Houston is the Director of Drama at The Pennington School. Her son, Will Harding is a freshman there and will be appearing soon in the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor." (Dec. 2-Dec. 27 at the Kirby Theatre in Madison, New Jersey). When she is not teaching, directing, or driving, she enjoys yoga, running, and reading on the beach.
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