Lessons From a Stage Mom

What do you think of when you hear: “Stage” or “Theater” moms. I think they suffer from bad publicity. We watch reality  TV moms who put make-up on their babies and strap tutus to their diapers and we think we know what a stage mom is. But if we were to peek inside the home of a really talented teenager who is asking to pursue a dream, a passion, like acting or singing, we might just understand. For parents of kids like these, there is no choice. Moms (and dads) drop everything to support their children’s ambitions and, yes, become stage parents.

I recently spoke with Lisa Pisano, a dedicated mom who has been supporting her son, Chris, a senior at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Ma. Chris’ passion is musical theater and he will attend the highly selective Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in the fall.

When Chris told his mom “this is what I want to do” in ninth grade, Lisa did her own research and found programs in the area to support his interests. For three plus years, in addition to performing every chance he got, Chris took weekly dance, voice, and musical theatre acting lessons plus additional classical acting classes, giving up sports and the violin in the process. Lisa was by his side, managing her son’s calendar of dance, voice and acting lessons every day of those three plus years.

With the full support of his mom and family, Chris prepared for the intense musical theater audition process by learning seven songs and five monologues (after sifting through hundreds of choices). However, as it turns out, the preparation, the driving to and from the hours of lessons, was the easy part. The college application and audition process was more complicated and time-consuming than anything Lisa had yet encountered: “At one point, I put my head on the kitchen table and thought, this is simply not possible!” After applying to 17 schools and auditioning at nine musical theater programs, “Chris was accepted at 12 (six musical theater) schools and had a lot of great options,” explained Lisa.

I asked Lisa to share her lessons learned from this process to help other parents as they navigate their way through the world of musical theater lessons, auditions and support:

  1. “Training cannot be underestimated.” At this level, they have to start serious training in dance, voice and acting in their freshman year of high school or even earlier. Then they need to commit to the three disciplines and participate religiously. Your child needs to lay the groundwork for the eventual audition process. It’s really helpful to have a coach who’s familiar with the business. Chris worked with Chrstine MacInally from The Performance Factory.
  2. “Don’t start too early, but don’t start too late.”  We started the college music theater application process in Chris’s junior year and that was a good time to start. Some parents start earlier, but you need to let kids experience high school. You need to let them grow.
  3. “As a parent, you can’t get on their roller coaster.”  In this business, it’s not always the most talented person who gets the part. They also choose based on who looks the part. You have to be ok with that. He might not be the star.
  4. “Have an exit strategy.” They need to have a back-up plan for their talents in case they don’t “make it.” Ask anyone in the business, it’s a tough life. Even if you are successful you don’t make a lot of money. Chris’ back-up plan is to teach theater and do community theater on the side. He’ll do something on the stage or he’ll shrivel up and die!

5 thoughts on “Lessons From a Stage Mom

  1. This is terrific advice from a dedicated mom. Thanks, Lisa and Laura for finding each other and Lisa, for sharing the richness of your experience. We’ll stay tuned to see where Chris’ passion takes him.

  2. I think it’s like everything else kids do…parents can be supportive, but they can also take it too far. When they take it too far, it can be very detrimental.

    1. Sean, thanks for commenting – do you have an experience to share about a parent that took it “too far?” It would be great to start a conversation about the pros and cons of supporting creative kids.

      1. Oh yeah…I remember in my youth sports days, tennis was the worst. Parents wanted their kids to be the next great American star, and they were going to do whatever it takes. Parents calling kids cheaters in the middle of the match to get under their skin was probably the worst I ever saw.

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