Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Work! Turn to the left. Work! Turn to the right.

I have a confession to make.

I have been holding out on you.

I have been having adventures that I haven't shared with you.

For instance, I have become a Stage Mom.

I'll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Ok, I'm back.

You see, enough people told me that Esther was just like the Gerber baby that I began to think that they might have a point.  The tipping point was when the dermatologist that my family has been seeing for 35 years insisted that she could make money as a model.

So, money AND an adventure into a culture that I have not experienced before?

Yes please.

So, I began somewhat half-heartedly doing some internet research and sending her pictures to the agencies that seemed to have fancier websites.

We got an immediate response from a company that turned out to be a scam.  Of course, I didn't look it up on Yelp before we drove 45 minutes both ways on a Saturday morning and save myself the trouble.  However, I am pretty proud of myself for going with my gut that although I expected talents agents to be a little skeezy, these guys were too skeezy.  On the way home, I also puzzled out that I didn't really respect a business model that couldn't make enough money off the percentage they would make.  I used my University of Chicago-honed economic analysis skills to realize that they had to incentive to actually find us work if they made a big chunk from me up-front.

Apparently, my research had not turned up the old chestnut that you should NEVER pay up front for any kind of representation.

Yup, that's me there: with the fancy degrees?

It was another 2 months before I heard back from anyone else.  Then, it was the last agency that I expected would go for us.  Seriously, this is a direct quote from their website:  "Quickly the news spread amongst the soccer moms of Chicago's suburbia. . ."

You might need another minute to compose yourself.

(At this point I need to clarify in case our agency is reading this, the joke is that I am the last person my readers would expect to be chosen by an agency who normally appeals to soccer moms.  And that is not disrespect to suburbanites.  I totally tried to be that and failed abysmally.  So, I am - without sarcasm - excited to be part of your group.)

So, of course, I let the call go to voice mail since it was an unknown caller and then promptly forgot it was there and didn't listen to it until 3 days later.  What I DID pick up from my internet research is that you have to be super-available to talent agencies.  So, I had already failed my daughter by not returning their call immediately.  I was amazed at how anxious this made me.  I called the next morning 4 times before their office actually opened.  When I spoke to the nice woman on the phone, she gave me a date and time in six weeks.  I was sure the lag was punishment for my slow response.

The morning of our audition, I tried to keep Esther's schedule totally normal, which would result in her napping and waking up just in time to leave.  Of course, she had other plans.  So, we hauled ourselves into the soft industry warehouse loft offices groggy with no nap.

It turned out that it was a group audition and we were directed into a well-lit waiting room with white and chrome eames-style chairs around the perimeter of the room.  On the way up, the elevator had so much cuteness in it that I definitely feared it would exceed capacity and we would all plunge to our fiery deaths.  A man was waiting to take the elevator back down with an empty stroller and warned us that strollers weren't allowed in the office.

Duh.  That was clearly stated in the confirmation email.  Did they really not read it or did they just think it didn't apply to them?

I'm a fanatical rule-follower.  (Did I ever tell you about the time when I was waiting for a ferry and watched tourists decide that the "Wait here to embark" sign didn't apply to them?  I watched the other tourists fight conflicting herd instincts: do I obey the sign or follow the others?  Since I was a native, I knew to obey the sign and got to feel smug when the crew ordered the folks back up the hill.  Rule-following always pays off.  Except when it doesn't. But don't ask me how to tell the difference.)

I assume that the guy had been early enough to be warned.  I have no idea if it was a coincidence that the other two families that brought strollers were both sent home without contracts.  However,you weren't supposed to bring more than one child per adult or be late and all of the families that broke those rules passed the audition.  So confusing when rule-following isn't consistently rewarded.  And when things like merit actually could for something.

So, everything about the audition experience, from the email full of rules to the waiting room that we were asked not to wander out of when comforting crying infants to the attitudes of the employees seemed to be designed to communicate that they had all the power and, as the "talent," we were in a position of supplication.  They did not need us; we needed them.

This totally makes sense and I was prepared for it.  No one was mean and if it makes their life easier, then I can play by their rules.  I don't need their affirmation to feel good about myself.

But that is certainly interesting when thinking about most stage parents, isn't it?  I spent a year teaching kids in three different theatrical productions and I have to say that their parents totally fit the stereotype.  The only one who handled it well was a child of a successful 60s musician and had been on tour herself as a teenager.  Again, she had enough self-confidence that she didn't need her daughter to get it for her.

But as they took the kids one by one into another room to see how they would respond to strangers, I admit that I felt nervous and actually asked one of the other parents if it had taken this long with the other kids that had gone before.  Here's hoping that little bit of visceral sympathy with those parents of my students keeps me centered and hospitable to the parents of Esther's peers.

There were 10-12 families there at the same time we were and the agency had scheduled several other appointments like this throughout the day.  From their identity signals (clothes, haircuts, etc.), most were upper middle class status-y types with one pageant mom and one young working class family.  Only one other family seemed like me by being dressed in casual clothes that were practical rather than expensive.

In the past, I would have archly described these characters, hoping to sound a little like David Sedaris, and many of you would have laughed along with me, loving that God made a world where people have idiosyncrasies.  This is not that post, somewhat because I don't have time to do it right and partly because I'm feeling a little tender toward those folks.

I have only told a few people about this adventure and when I do, it's with a little bit of embarrassment and a lot of self-mockery.  I mean, many of the posts on this blog are as good a testament as any to my desire to live a life of meaning and passion for the things that God loves.  And here I am feeding the capitalist, materialist monster because my daughter gets a better billable rate than I do? 

But I have never been led astray by the heuristic of asking the question, "Will this make a good story?"  God is in every workplace and I will not belittle folks who are called to fields other than fields of service by saying that I am supposed to be taking a nobler path.  Making my life into a good story has always moved me toward God, even if sometimes I feel more like Jonah or Hosea than like Sarah or Rachel.

Back to the story at hand, each family was either asked to wait until after the audition to fill out necessary paperwork or to resubmit new photos in 3-6 months because their child wasn't ready yet.  I thought this was supremely well-done diplomacy and made me comfortable with the prospect of working for them.  Five families, including us, were asked to stay.  No one had a meltdown when their kid wasn't chosen and no one was weirdly triumphant.

We were offered the chance to pay for a special workshop, pay for an upgraded online account and pay for a portfolio but no one implied that we would get less work without paying for those things.  In fact, children under 3 years old don't even need professional head shots since they change so quickly.  (Esther's comp card is the image above.)  So, all I needed to do was create a couple of online profiles, print out comp cards and get a work permit, which required a trip to the Board of Education, finally getting a copy of her birth certificate and a note from her doctor.  The work permit experience heightened my sense of ridiculousness to new levels.

And then we waited.  A month after officially becoming clients of our talent agency, I got a call.  I had even made the effort to run across the house to get it before it went to voice mail without knowing who was calling, which is unheard of for me.  So, today, we will drive out to Roselle, with an armful of Christmas-style clothing, and have our photo shoot with a slew of other children whose names are all prominently monogrammed on personalized items in the Land of Nod catalog.  Like the audition, though, one family might be similar to us because their daughter has Esther's middle name, with the same spelling.  Since we got that name from the character in a young adult fantasy novel, there is hope we won't be the odd ones out.  Still, hospitality is my main spiritual practice so I will try to move myself out of my comfort zone with the other parents to befriend them.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Emily DeWan said...

Love it! I'm always curious to hear parents' experiences with child modeling. At my old job in Chicago we worked with lots of child models (though none as young as Esther), and it was always fun talking with the parents. Thankfully we never had any stereotypical stage moms. I look forward to hearing more adventures!

Sarah Q said...

I have been patiently waiting for more on this story! :) You know, whenever you get a chance....