Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On One night in North Carolina

Dear Mackenzie,

At about 8:12PM EST on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina, you said “Momma, Momma, Mommy”, and I started to cry.  You said the words in a strong and booming voice. You were not at all in distress.  And yet I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.
 
I don’t know if I ever told you my sweet little daughter, but when he was a young man your grandfather was a musical prodigy.  He was an orchestra conductor and composer of classical music.  In his early teens, your grandfather studied under the distinguished orchestra conductor Herbert Von Karajan.
 
Karajan was known for two things.  The first and most important is that he was a masterful conductor. He was the best and most prominent conductor of his era, and maybe of the 20th century.  He had what in the conducting world is known as “two right hands”.  That means he could skillfully conduct different parts of the orchestra simultaneously by using both of his hands independently of each other. This is apparently very difficult.  If you ever study classical music maybe you’ll try it yourself.

The second thing for which Karajan was known is that he was apparently in the Nazi party in the 1930’s and early 1940’s and was a Nazi sympathizer.  This was not so great for your grandfather since he was Jewish.  Nonetheless, I guess your grandpa was indeed gifted because Jewish or not, Karajan took him on as a student in the early 1940’s, which was a great honor.  At thirteen, your grandpa had gone to Salzburg, Austria along with several other young men from different parts of Europe to audition for the great Karajan.

Each of the candidates was asked to conduct a movement of a symphony with Karajan’s orchestra while Karajan observed. One by one your grandpa and the other young men (no women were allowed in those days) took their turn.  Finally, as one of the candidates led Karajan’s orchestra through a movement of one of Mozart’s symphonies (listen to Mozart’s music sometime, it’s magnificent) he worked up quite a sweat.  According to your grandpa when the young man finished, Karajan took the baton out of his hand and said “This is Mozart.  We don’t sweat with Mozart”.  I love that story.

You might have inherited some of your creative genes from him.  You certainly got creative genes from your sister Jamie.  As you know, when Jamie was twelve she toured with the national Broadway tour of Annie, first playing the role of July, and then Pepper.  From the time you were about three years old whenever you saw anything related to Annie you wanted to be in it, “just like Jamie”.
 
When you were five, you auditioned for the role of Molly in a local children’s production of Annie organized by a group called the Broadway Bound Players.  Broadway Bound Players is a great acting program for young children.  The quality of acting is not always great, but everyone who auditions gets a role no matter what.  At age four you had played a mouse in one of their productions of Cinderella, and the producer thought you were ready to “move up” to a speaking part.  But at the audition you fell apart.  It was very unlike you, as you’ve been incredibly self-possessed and confident from the time you were born.  Yet on that day, in that moment, when your turn came you froze.  Even with the gentle coaxing of the producer and director, after a few tries you started to cry, said you didn’t want to be in the play, and that was it.

On the ride home I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios. I silently wondered if this would mark the beginning of an irreversible downward spiral in your life; your confidence ruined, your dreams shattered forever, drug and alcohol addiction just around the corner. Fortunately your mom, being the uber parent she is, understood you were five years old, had simply had a difficult moment, and consoled you as only a mother can. You asked if you could audition again next time, and with the resilience that only a five year old can summon, went on to other things.  Or so it seemed.

In January 2008, Mom found out there was indeed another audition for Annie.  But this time it wasn’t for a pay-to-play kids’ production. It was for a replacement cast for the national Broadway tour.  At that audition Martin Charnin, the director and one of the creators of Annie, told your mom that they were not replacing the Molly character, which was the only character you could play given your age, but that you had a lot of potential.  He explained that if you took dance and voice lessons religiously for the next eight months, he would “be inclined to make you his next Molly” when the new tour went out in November.  Both your mom and I were floored, and when Mom told you what Martin had said, you decided you wanted to pursue singing and dancing classes.  And you did.

In June, the tour came to Southern California and we took you to see the show. As chance would have it, at intermission we saw Martin in the lobby and went to say hello.  He was very nice but it was clear that Martin had no recollection of you at all and had no idea who you were.  I remember it dawning on me at the time that, like any good director who works with young people, he probably offered great encouragement to all the kids who exhibited the least bit of potential. Following the audition in January, Laura and I had started to wonder aloud how we would deal with six or more months of life on the road if in fact you got the next tour. After that encounter in the lobby, it felt obvious no discussion was necessary and we stopped talking about it altogether.

Then came September, and the auditions in New York for the new national tour.  You were excited to go and we wanted you to have a wonderful experience, but we were careful to manage your expectations. The audition dates coincided with the weekend of your seventh birthday, and we made a point of telling you this weekend in New York was a birthday present, with the audition just one part of the adventure.  We also made plans for your friend Riley to come see you from Philadelphia, for you guys to visit the fabulous American Girl store in the city, and who knows what else.  Then off you guys went to the Big Apple.

Midday Saturday, your mom called me to say they were about to make the first round of cuts, and that you would be among them.  I asked her how she could possibly know that and she said you had come out during one of the breaks and told her they had not asked you to do some specific dance that the Molly character does.

My heart sank.  Of course I wanted you to get the role if that is something you wanted.  As importantly, like any parent I was desperate for you not to feel the pain of rejection.  I had secretly asked whatever higher power is out there that you’d at least make it through the first cut. You had worked very hard for this audition by any standard, let alone that of a six year old.  I hoped you would be able to experience a little of that wonderful feeling of achievement and fulfillment that ideally should always accompany hard work and commitment, but doesn’t nearly enough. I hung up, tried to imagine what might be going though your tender mind, and thought about what I could say to you when we spoke that might provide you both comfort in the present and inspiration for the future.

I also tried not to look at the clock.  About an hour later when the phone rang I desperately didn’t want to answer it. But when I did your mom told me you had made the first cut.  When I could breathe again I congratulated you on your great work and then relaxed. Prayer answered.  The phone rang again a couple of hours later, then once or twice more after that, and each time your mom was calling to say you had survived another cut.  By day’s end you were one of the finalists going back Sunday morning.
 
I had a sleepless night.  I was certainly no longer relaxed and I felt helpless to do anything except worry. Early Sunday morning Mom called and said it looked like you were one of two for the role of Molly.  The final phone call came around noon.  I will always remember your mom’s words when I picked up the phone. “Hi honey”, she said lightly. “Mackenzie wants to tell you something”.
 
Six weeks later, you and Mom got on a plane to Jacksonville to start rehearsals and three weeks after that I sat in a darkened theater in Raleigh, North Carolina, my heart pounding, your mother’s hand in mine. At about 8:12PM EST, the curtain went up on the 2008-2009 national Broadway tour of Annie.  “Momma, Momma, Mommy” said Molly, the youngest orphan, and I began to cry.

All my everlasting love,

Dad





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