Thursday, July 5, 2012

On the Downside of Passion

Dear Mackenzie,

In a perfect world we’d all get everything we want, especially if we’re willing to work for it. But that’s not always how life deals the cards.

About two weeks ago you flew to NYC with Mom to audition for the lead in a musical currently running on London’s West End called "Matilda". The show is based on the 1996 film of the same name directed by Danny DeVito. It’s about a wonderful little girl (Matilda), who along with her teacher teams up against the worst parents imaginable and the worst principal imaginable.

The show is scheduled to move to Broadway sometime in 2013 and they are currently holding auditions for that production. You couldn’t have been more excited when your agent called Mom to say the creative team wanted to see you for the role of Matilda.

I watched in silent amazement as you prepared for the audition. For weeks before you went to NYC, you took voice lessons specifically geared to Matilda, took dance classes geared to Matilda, worked on your sides, ran lines and listened to the soundtrack religiously. 

I wasn’t really surprised. Despite your happy-go-lucky nature, for a person your age you seem unusually committed to your craft. That said, both your mom and I noticed that for this particular project you ratcheted things up a notch or two. Your passion was palpable. I didn’t say anything to you or even to your mom, but as I dropped you guys off at the airport I had a sense you were going to get this role.

At the audition it seemed that of all things, you might be too tall for the role by the time the show opened. But the next day Mom heard from your agent that they wanted to see you again.  Apparently you were so happy and so relieved by that news that you sat down and cried for ten minutes.

Your mom told me I sounded very nonchalant when I spoke to you, and truth be told I felt it. I don’t know why, but I was convinced you were going to be Matilda. You went for a second call back, and then a third. And then your agent called Mom again. You weren’t going any further. Everyone involved had said they loved your work and your passion for the role, but that you were definitely going to be too tall and too mature for the role by the time the show opened next year. They were going to look for someone younger.

You were inconsolable. Mom told me that in the years you’ve been acting and auditioning, she had never seen you this upset about not getting a role.  When you and I got on the phone I tried to give you a pep talk and told you how proud I was of you, but you shut me down and refused to even talk about it.  You were devastated.

As you might imagine, my sweet daughter, your upset has eaten away at me.  Throughout your career (can a ten year old have a career?) I have been careful to always ask you a version of only one question: whether you are having fun with this audition, or that part, or those lessons. I’ve assiduously stayed away from asking you how something went, or whether you did well, or whether the casting people liked you.

My hope has always been that framing the questions in that manner would diminish the competitive aspect of what you’ve chosen to do and thus maximize your enjoyment.  But at almost eleven years old, your psyche is no longer oblivious to the pressure, or to the fact that you’re competing for these roles at the highest level. Add to that the capricious nature of decisions about acting roles (you’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too blonde, you’re not blonde enough, and so on) and the pressure cooker can no longer be ignored.

Like all parents, your mom and I suffer when we see you in distress. We want to protect you and your young psyche in every way possible, and it pains us when we can’t. The downside of being passionate about something you love is that you commit to it fully but you don’t always succeed at it. If you give your blood, sweat and tears to that thing and you still fall short, the pain and disappointment are that much more profound. 

On the flight home, you were discouraged and distraught. You had come very close on three or four projects in the past month or so and hadn’t booked any of them. You asked Mom why that was happening, but unfortunately there’s no good answer to that question. Mom asked you if you were still enjoying the process and whether you wanted to continue or to take a little time off to do other things.  You were adamant that you wanted to continue.

You’ll always have ups and downs in your career and in your life. Maybe you’ll make it big as an artist and maybe you won’t. I hope you do if it’s what you want, but there are no guarantees.

So what’s a parent to do? I’m not sure. In the end, I guess your mom and I will do what we’ve always done. We’ll encourage you to do what you love. We’ll make sure that if you’re competing it’s because that’s what you want to do, and not because it’s what someone else thinks you should do. We’ll celebrate with you in success and we’ll try to comfort you in failure. And mostly, we’ll just root for you and love you and believe in you, however it all plays out.

That said I admit that although I haven’t seen the show, I think the Broadway production would benefit from Matilda being a little bit taller. I’m just sayin’.

All my everlasting love,



  1. That's tough, but what can you do... She can't be responsible for the whims (or the taste) of others, but by pushing herself to follow her dream she's already a success.

    1. I agree. And what a nice thing to say.

  2. What a great post, as usual. Having felt rejection and disappointment at the competitiveness of life, and many times feeling it all too personally, I feel her pain. Having seen my son go after things he doesn't get after trying with all his heart, as a parent, I feel your pain. I agree with BloggerFather... She is already a success in so many ways, and so are you and Laura, for the way you have raised her and encouraged her. I wish I could hug her, and I wish she really knew vin her heart how much I really love her and how proud I am of her already. Love you all. Viv

  3. Hi ~ I am your daughter in the future ~ I have come so os so so close to hitting that magical whirlwinding stardust of the big lottery ~
    when hard work, passion and talent meets
    the right person at the right time at the right place with the right project...
    to no avail ~~~ arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

    but fear not ! I believe that artists like us are meant to do more!
    rather than rehashing a 16 year old script or a karaoke song from long ago ~~~~

    create create create anew ~~~~
    perhaps she is the girl the story was written about !
    write a new story get a camera learn editing software
    be the ultimate creator!!!

    I am the director
    I am the producer
    and i myself have found profound moments
    discovering my very own magical abilities through the arts that I LOVE so much!

    what is your perspective on life?
    what do you see?
    what do you WANT to make happen for the world?

    maybe she will not play Matilda
    because she is a true Matilda like girl... magical in her own right

    she IS the story ~
    now live it create it and
    I can't wait to watch and learn your lessons through your own productions!

    You are a Great Dad to support her ~
    the artist's road is bumpy, but exquisite!

    1. Wow!! thank you for sharing and for being that creator.