Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How I Became a Stage Mom

Tonight I attended a free and open to the public talk at my alma mater, MTSU. The talk was with Dan O'Shannon, a man who has essentially gone on to live out my dream career. He's done stand up comedy and then has been a successful television writer and executive producer for over 25 years. Listening to him talk about his first job on "It's a Living" which was one of my favorite shows as a little girl, I quickly realized that this dude was like a rock star to me. It was like he was Justin Bieber and I was a 14 year old girl.

I heard stories about how he used his own life experiences to create stories for Cliff and Norm on "Cheers". He described in detail the experimental techniques he started using on "Frasier" to make the show more "filmy" and less "sit comy". He proudly admitted that he'd actually been responsible for writing the final scene in the last episode of "Newhart" but because he'd decided to leave the show to go work for "Cheers", they didn't have to credit him with the idea. He talked about how they (the writers) always try to write a loving relationship between Cam and Mitchell on "Modern Family"... not a gay relationship.

He also told some other stories. One story he told was about the four things he thinks a person can/should have in order to make it in the industry. They can have a whole lot of one thing or a little of all... but these things must be present to some degree in order to become a writer in Hollywood...
-political mind
Without at least some of all of those things, the industry isn't going to be the path you take... your back up plan will become the path.
He explained that unless you have the personality to be able to know when to fight and when to keep your mouth shut, to be willing to sit up all night to measure paper on a script you bought on the street so that you can manually key your own script in on a typewriter without a space bar that consistently works, and to work three part time jobs in order to keep from starving to death while you try to find a "real" job then it's not going to happen for you. Talent isn't all it takes. And then he said that he hated it when he hears people say that they know they had the talent and they wish they had just gone for it because they could have made it... because it's not true. These people should just stop beating themselves up. There's nothing wrong with not shooting for something simply based upon talent.

These words were life changing to me. I have been beating myself up for not going for my dreams for so many years. But the truth is, the entertainment industry probably would have crushed me. I probably would be a total mess right now if I'd gone that route. Sure, I'm not writing for television and I'm not acting on television. Maybe creating television wasn't what I was cut out for. Maybe loving television is my job. And I'm damned good at enjoying television. So good, in fact, that I never stopped grinning the entire time Dan was speaking (He told us to please call him Dan). And this day and age, so many folks are so down on television that my job as a television viewer is actually pretty important, if you ask me.

Know what else I'm good at? Something that poor Dan's parents were not. He told us some stories about his childhood. About how at age 8 he decided to be funny. He started studying comedy. At age 8. And he'd tell his parents that he was going to move to California and write comedy. And his dad would literally look at him and yell at him and tell him what an idiot he was to think that he could make it in television. Once his dad said that he liked some fancy car. Dan said, "When I'm rich, I'll buy you one." His dad chewed him out for thinking he'd ever be rich. All Dan thought was that his dad had screwed himself out of a car.

Dan left home to pursue his dreams with $100 in his pocket and a note on the kitchen table. He did not have the love and support of parents who believed in him and stood behind him no matter how ridiculous his dreams were.

But Hunter does. My son has a mother who may not have been driven or talented or political enough to rush after her dreams of being a television writer and/or actress (hey, I had a lot of dreams... all of them involved television) but she is perfectly ready to rush head first into pursuing her plan b dream... to be the best darned mom she could ever be.

Funny, growing up, my mom somehow communicated to me that people who allowed their kids to pursue things like acting careers or singing careers or beauty pageants were bad types of people. I know now that she was probably only intimidated by these folks because they seemed to be more confident, more wealthy, more beautiful than she was. My mom's insecurities appeared to always determine the many strange prejudices she seemed to have. Unfortunately the negative attitude towards so many things rubbed off on me.

So I brought my bad attitude baggage into adulthood. I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong with letting my child pursue an acting career (as long as it was his or her idea and not mine). But there was something in my gut that made me feel... dirty?? at the thought of it. So it was off my radar. We weren't the type of people who did that. Whatever that meant.

And then Hunter got sick. And then he got better. And then we realized that he was really freakin' depressed. And we got desperate. Suddenly we were the type of people who would do anything. And acting just so happened to be the thing he said he wanted to do. The thing that brought him back to the land of the living.

Last July we were in the car when Hunter heard an ad for open casting calls for a talent agency. I remember saying to Ronin, "Do you want to attend this audition?" She did not. I didn't think to ask Hunter. Surely he'd not be interested anyway. And after everything he'd been through and his anger and... "Mom? Why can't I go to the audition?" Suddenly, my world changed. He was interested in something. And that was when the "Pippin" thing fell into perfect place.

Throughout the past few months he's continued to ask that we take him to auditions. At age 8, he has decided that he is going to be an actor. So we have started the process of getting him some head shots and finding him a talent agent (or two). And now our son is officially represented in the South East and in California.

Because suddenly we are the type of people who would fly out to California for our son to do a gig. We are the type of people who go to PSA shoots in exchange for a bag of candy just to build up a resume. We are rushing head first toward this dream. For our son.

But I wonder if we would be doing this for him if he'd not had leukemia? I'd like to think that we would be. But I wonder.

Folks, if your kid has a dream, help them follow it. Supply them with the tools necessary to do the very next thing that will allow them to take one step closer toward that goal. No goal is too lofty. And there are very real opportunities for your children between here and there and sometimes just allowing them to try will be good enough. But at least they will not one day end up on a stage telling a lecture hall full of college students that you screwed yourself out of a car.

All children deserve to be heard, to have their dreams recognized and acknowledged, whether they have had cancer or not.

So, despite the fact that his odds of becoming a famous television star aren't great, we are going to shoot for that anyway. On faith. The same way we shot for him to have an unlikely sibling donor and for him to completely beat the hell out of the nasty disease he had. His odds of getting leukemia were low. He got it anyway. His odds of having a perfect sibling match... also low. And his odds of surviving the whole ordeal weren't awesome. Yet all of that worked out in his favor.

Why wouldn't this whole acting this work out in his favor also?
Besides, what's it going to hurt to try?

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  1. This is an amazing entry, Mandy! You're so insightful, and Hunter is a blessed kid for having parents like you.

    1. Thank you sweet friend. I think we are the lucky ones!

  2. You are an amazing woman raising amazing children! I agree wholeheartedly!

    1. Thank you Unknown for you kind words!

    2. It should not be unknown it is me Nelle. Do not know why it keeps posting me as unknown I will have to fix that!

    3. lets see if this works now. I fixed it!

  3. Really enjoyed this post! I admit that I wondered if a tiny bit of this was you pushing Hunter because it was a dream of yours. If you pointed him in this direction. But that is clearly not the case. He chose it and you are being an awesomely supportive mom. You are open to the possibilities of the universe and showing your kids how to be open to it. More people should live that way.

    1. Well, I admit that because it's something I am interested in and am also passionate about, it's been easier to get on board with it. But I'm certainly not pushing... just acting as a manager? Thank you for your sweet words. I love you.

  4. You so awesome sometimes, Mandy.

    1. You so awesome all times, Jess :-)

  5. Love this post! How great would the world be if we all had such supportive parents!

  6. Hi, Mandy --

    Though we've never met, I feel I know you. You've such a great gift for writing with clarity and poignancy, and right from the heart.

    I have passed this blog address on to Dan O'Shannon so that he, too, could read your lovely comments. (I was the guy that interviewed him last Wednesday night.)


    Dr. Bob Pondillo


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