“Rob, I’m taking Benjamin to hockey at 11:30 then picking up Charlotte at lacrosse at 1:30, so would you please drop-off Robert at baseball in Wayland at 12, pickup Katherine and Elizabeth at dance in Newton at 12:30, then bring Elizabeth to an audition in Sherborn at 1:00?”
I was just following transportation instructions from my wife, Meg, when I arrived at the church in Sherborn where auditions were being held for Woodland Theatre Company’s production of The Sound of Music. And while filling out the audition form for my daughter, Elizabeth (8 years old, and the third of five children in our family), a little voice in my head said, “Hey, Rob, why don’t you audition? You love singing and acting, you love this musical, if Elizabeth gets a role then you’re going to be making the daily drive to Medfield anyway …. what do you have to lose?” So I listened to that little voice, and right after Elizabeth auditioned, it was my turn.
And that’s how it worked out that Elizabeth and I became a daughter-father duo in the cast of The Sound of Music this spring. And while I know it’s a cliché, it’s certainly accurate to call the last two months a “once in a lifetime experience” for me.
Elizabeth got a lead role. She plays Gretl, the youngest member of the Von Trapp family. And me? I play the role of Franz, the butler. Think about how cool that is: we both auditioned for a musical, we both got roles, and it’s the EIGHT YEAR- OLD who got a lead role and the MUSICALLY EXPERIENCED DAD who got a small, supporting role.
Sometimes I wonder, what did Elizabeth learn from this remarkable audition outcome? Here are my guesses: 1) It’s OK to take risks, to be spontaneous, and to “go for it.” 2) I always thought my dad was so talented, and maybe I’m even more talented than he is! 3) My dad must really love me a lot since he was willing to audition for a musical just to create a way to spend more time with me! And 4) Since my dad was so excited about being offered a small role in the show, perhaps it’s not the size of the role that’s most important, it’s the idea that any role gives you an opportunity to be a member of the cast and to be part of something magical.
I know Elizabeth has loved being part of this production. All seven of the actors and actresses who play the Von Trapp children have bonded just like real brothers and sisters. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, since they spend so much time together, have similar interests and abilities, make similar personal sacrifices to be part of this hard-working cast, and are close to the same age. They joke around off-stage, laugh constantly, hug and high-five each other, and are always happy to be reunited with one another at the start of another long rehearsal. They were meant to be together!
Likewise, the adult actors and backstage crew are like aunts and uncles to Elizabeth and the other kids in the cast. They’re always complimenting the young actors and actresses on their acting, singing, and hard work; they help them with their costume changes, and they laugh together whenever they’re not practicing a scene. It’s been wonderful to watch Elizabeth (and all of the other child actors) become part of an authentic “second family” at Woodland Theatre Company — and for me, it’s a been a pleasure to participate fully in this family, as well.
First and foremost, my parental joy as a cast member has come from just spending large blocks of time with Elizabeth, both at the rehearsals and on the long car rides there and back. But beyond that, I have been privileged to watch Elizabeth grow as a little professional in the theater biz under the expert tutelage of artistic director Doug Hodge and musical director Chris Holownia.
No, she doesn’t get paid for her acting, but everything about Elizabeth’s approach to the show has been 100% professional: The way she took personal responsibility to memorize all of her songs and lines early on; her enthusiasm for going to every rehearsal, even when she was exhausted and the rehearsals were scheduled to go well beyond her bedtime; her high energy level during long rehearsals that required several consecutive hours of high intensity dancing, acting, focusing, and listening; her appreciation for and collaboration with her acting peers in the show; her willingness to receive feedback about how to improve her performance; and the list goes on and on.
It’s important to say this: everything I wrote in the above paragraph about my daughter, Elizabeth, is also true about all of the Von Trapp Family children. Julesy (Liesl), Brooks (Friedrich), Chloe (Louisa), Tyler (Kurt), Anika (Brigitta), and Katherine (Marta) all approached their roles as true professionals and, as a result, were accorded the same respect as the adult actors in the play. Frankly, I think all of the adults in the show, to some degree, stopped seeing these talented, hardworking children as children and started to see them simply as thespian peers. But they are children (all ages 8 to 14), which makes their accomplishments in this production all the more amazing.
I tell Elizabeth at least once a day, “I’ll always remember this, my girl! I’ll always remember the happy times we shared as fellow cast members in the greatest family musical of all time.”
Something tells me she will, too.
- Rob Crawford