Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't put your daughter on the stage

Jo and I were very disappointed. At Izzy’s graduation ceremony they were reading out the citations, and we both thought they were referring to someone else. 

Hang on a minute: graduation? Izzy? 

Yes, apparently Reception children now don’t just go off for the summer holidays, they graduate. It must be an American thing, like when they replaced sixth form dances with “proms” in order to prop up the British ballgown industry. 

24 five-year-olds, each sporting a homemade cardboard mortarboard with a tassel, sat proudly facing their parents. One by one they came forward to receive a scroll, shaking hands with the teacher as she described the child’s achievements. 

I could tell that in some cases they were scratching the bottom of the epithet barrel. “Lively” for the disruptive ones; “calming” for those who never said a word, “popular” for the annoying brats who wound everyone else up. 

Jo and I knew Izzy’s report would be about her reading skills. She is so advanced, the school had to go out and buy extra books for her. We sat ready to glow. But instead the teacher described an entirely different child. 

This was a performer, actor, potential star of stage and screen. Who on earth was she talking about? Certainly not our Izzy. 

Sure, she sings along to Frozen in the back of the car, wildly off-key, flinging her arms about to the music, but stand her in front of Granny and ask her to perform, she clams up. As Izzy collected her scroll, Jo whispered: “We should complain!” 

Then the class sang Here Comes the Sun. Izzy always makes us be quiet when The Beatles come on in the car. She loves The Beatles. 

Through my iPhone video screen, as the class stood shiftily, mumbling the words, I saw that one child alone had morphed into Bonnie Langford. Izzy was beaming, swinging her hips, performing the actions and shaking her head in the instrumental bits. It was magnificent. 

I was horrified. 

“Oh no,” I murmured to Jo. “We’ve got to stop this.” 

The last thing I want is an actor for a daughter. As a director, I spent years auditioning young hopefuls straight out of Sylvia Young and other stage schools for my productions. Hundreds of them queuing outside the Pineapple Dance studios, twenty seconds of twirling and a quick “We’ll let you know.” Ten years later some of those kids would be performing in Starbucks, still hoping to be spotted. Fame is a deadly drug. 

I’m pleased to report that all my children have avoided the stage, though Ben did a radio play and Sam was in the back row of Oliver until his height mercifully disqualified him. Of course, we have plenty of time to disabuse Izzy of the appeal of greasepaint, and we’ll certainly be turning the volume down on The Beatles. 

That night we took Jo’s mother to see the musical Billy Elliot. I’m proud to say Jo could translate all the Geordie dialogue for her American Mum, who understood not one word. 

We were 20 minutes into the show when the deputy stage manager suddenly walked on and brought it to a grinding halt. Billy was unwell. 

After a delay they brought on a second Billy Elliot and the show restarted. He was a good actor, and made everyone cry when he sang to his mother’s ghost. 

Then I noticed the marking. That’s what dancers do when they hold themselves back. They mark their actions, rather than dancing properly. 

Oh no, I thought, it’s happening again. 

Sure enough, a minute or two later, the stage manager returned. This Billy was sick too. It took a while, but they eventually found a third. 

We really felt for this young chap, second understudy, thrust into the limelight. But he was fantastic. He danced like Wayne Eagling, even if his acting was more Wayne Sleep. The lad brought the house down. 

As tears streamed down his face at a standing ovation that refused to be silenced, I thought of his proud parents and briefly imagined Izzy on the stage, feeling that same adoration. 

That is, until the cool night air brought me back to my senses.

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