The play’s the three

I’ve spent so much time watching our children play sports that sitting down to watch the youngest do theatre took some acclimatizing. How many quarters are there? How long is halftime? How do you know who wins?

There is much in common between acting and athletics: coaching, practicing, running scripts, staking out positions. But in sports, you’re allowed to make mistakes. In theatre’s alchemy of precision and creativity, a single error can destroy the magic. When the curtain rises, the actors wear zero protective equipment and desperately hope they don’t fall on their faces. Acting is an extreme sport.

I think of watching my son shooting a three in one of his basketball games. This is his shot, and it amazes me that he can do it, but in the pressure of the game, when James lets one go, there’s reasonable probability that it’s not going in. Between the ball leaving his hands and landing (hopefully) in the basket, my whole body tenses, I stop breathing, as I will it to hit the mark, not just so his team scores but so my child doesn’t feel the crushing disappointment of failure.

Watching Abby in Anne of Green Gables last week was like watching one long three-point shot.

It was perfectly natural for Abby’s school director to consider her for the part of Anne: she’s 12, she has red hair, freckles and scads of personality. A natch. Outside of small parts in her Grade 6 play and last summer’s local production of Annie, though, her acting experience was limited. The role of Anne, that’s a lot of stage time, a ton of lines. It’s the lead. Anne carries the play.

Age, hair, freckles, personality? Check, check, check, check. Memorizing? Oh…

The humorist Calvin Trillin once wrote that people who publicly criticize their children should have their parenting licences revoked. I’m inclined to agree. At the same time, I don’t think parents should boast about their children or fool themselves that they’re flawless. In fact, I’m certain such attitude will only lead to said child being forever dependent on said parent and, more important, said parent’s bank account.

All that memorizing, then, was a concern. Memory is not Abby’s strength. I wasn’t convinced she could sink that three.

“Are you going over your lines? You should go over your lines? Have you run through your lines?” I asked over the last few months. “You’re supposed to have the whole thing memorized by now. Do you?”

“Yes, Dad,” Abby would say and roll her eyes. “Mostly.”

It was the “mostly” that had me worried.

There were times, even, when she complained about it, said she didn’t want to go to rehearsal. This led to speeches about “commitment” and “letting down the team,” which, it turns out, are essentially the same speeches you give for sports. In the final week, though, the cast stepped up with some intensive long rehearsals. The actors missed some fun activities at school because they were so full-on committed.

Their first performance was for the local elementary school kids. “How’d it go?” I asked Abby afterwards. “It was good,” she said but made it sound like “It was just okay.”

“What went wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m too tired.”


The next night was the public performance. The curtain opened; the ball left the actors’ hands. Abby came on in the second scene and I watched the remainder of the play (metaphorically) through my fingers. Holding my breath as the ball arced up, up, up. And to my surprise and wonder and delight, it was sailing beautifully through the air. Abby, the older actors, her fellow Grade 7 classmates, they were nailing it. The audience was laughing and applauding, I was breathing. Abby was more than just another freckled face. She was good. She knew her lines. She had presence. She was affecting and disarming. She was loveable. She was Anne. The ball was dropping beautifully. Nothing but net.

In the final scene, Anne recites a poem, a poem I knew Abby had been having trouble remembering. On this night, she stumbled. There was a moment of panic as the ball swirled around the edge of the rim, teetering, teetering, until Abby gathered herself, finished the poem, closed the scene and returned for the sincere, possibly surprised applause of the audience.

Three points.

I’ve rarely been so proud to have underestimated my child.


More proud papa photos on Flickr.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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81 Responses to The play’s the three

  1. markbialczak says:

    Nothing but lines met! Swish Congratulations Abby and proud dad.

  2. El Guapo says:

    Congratulations, Abby! here’s to amazing your Dad even more as you grow up.

  3. Sports is a proper metaphor to use. Like sports, nobody realizes how much work goes into a production. Hours upon hours of painstaking preparation. Despite it being a scripted event, no two performances are exactly alike. And it’s ephemeral. It starts. It ends. It dissipates into the ether, never to be repeated. A beautiful post. What’s up next for her? Once you drink from that cup, you’re hooked.

    My daughter just had a bit part in the school production of The Little Mermaid The cast after-party after the final performance was at a terrible restaurant called Friendly’s. Ice cream and crap. You should have seen them all. Crying and hugging. They had been through something together and survived. And they were proud. Acting is a bonding agent. Did you know?

  4. Charity says:

    I love that play. ^_^

  5. I experienced this last year, when my 4th grader decided to sing and play piano for her school talent show. I couldn’t imagine how it would go, never having heard her really sing much at all. When she had the audience in full applause, I nearly burst into tears with pride. And I was a little ashamed for being a reticent stage mother. It was like watching this booger-picking, eye-rolling creature suddenly become the proverbial swan. It is amazing to see that.

    Congrats to your daughter!

  6. I don’t see that child as ever disappointing – no matter what she does. It’s not the mistakes we make, but how we handle them that shows our grace. She is a lucky child in her parents and her parents are lucky in their child.

  7. Ned's Blog says:

    Well done, Abby and Dad. Clearly, it was a big night for both of you, and a welcome reminder that you can’t make the shot unless you have the courage required to take the shot — on the court, the stage and in life. Bravo!

    (By the way, Ross, I can feel those proud Dad vibes all the way over here. Delayed by the time change, of course, but still… 😉 )

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yeah, she’s loving it. She’s never lacked self-confidence, but the idea that hard work really does pay off is something I hope she takes away from this. Plus joy. Joy is good.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        Abby reminds me of my youngest daughter, Elizabeth (aka, “Boo”); full of confidence and a natural leader, but not always prone to applying the level of hard work (I think) is needed. Like you, I tend to be the “responsibility alarm clock” or scratch in the record (*shows his age*) that brings reality. I’m trying to do less and less of that and hang up my whistle as the hall monitor. Not easy, but always a joy when she gets where she’s going without my prompting — even though I know it means I’m slowly being outsourced.

  8. Paul says:

    Those photos are amazing Ross. Abby has so nailed it. I love the expressions on her face, especially in the photo where it appears she is examining a valentine that a young man has given her. Too real and too funny. She nailed that look even though it should be a few years above her age of 12. I’m sure you must be bursting with pride for such a job well done – definitely a step towards keeping her from your basement at 30 (meaning that in a postive way, such that she is obviously standing on that stage centered and self-aware, providing her own energy and direction – a very mature presentation). Being from the Maritimes, I’m very familiar with Anne and have seen it performed many times, twice on PEI. She has aced that character and that ain’t easy.

    I hadn’t considered the sports analogy of acting – but having had two kids in sports (many 6am practices huddled in the cold of the rink), I can certainly see how it is apt. All that practice and those mistakes and then, when it really counts, creating something totally “perfect” – subsuming their personalities to create someone who has never existed before they came along – and never will again once they have passed. A uniqueness and individuality that stands alone and yet synergizes within a complex interactive matrix. Quite an achievement for a young woman of 12. Please pass along my congratulations.

  9. franhunne4u says:

    Impressive! If she can impress me with a few PHOTOS taken from a play, she is really good – not hearing her speak all I can judge from is her body language – and that is very, very clearly talking.

  10. First time on your blog (just found Ned’s and directed over here… how can I NOT check out a blog with this name?) and I love it already. I got choked up at the end, having two daughters of my own. I know the feeling. Then I went down and read the Bubba Blog (or the Blubbering Bubba Blog) and realized you really are on to something here. I think it must be science. Mostly because the song “He blinded me with science” was probably written by Bubba himself, under a pseudonym. And because he would have been blinded by his tears… ergo, tears=science. Some times you just have to dig a little deeper.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I I’m glad you can see some kind of pattern in my writing because it’s all one non-sequitor after another, starting with the blog name. Regardless, thanks for dropping by (and thanks, Ned) and do come again.

  11. This is too cute. I got a little misty eyed, not gonna lie.

  12. ksbeth says:

    wonderful russ. it’s harder to watch your child from the audience than it is to be the one on stage. naked.

  13. Trent Lewin says:

    Ah, that is awesome… I totally feel the suspense of that three-point shot or of that play, my kids are not at that stage yet, but I can taste the apprehension. I guess you’ve just encapsulated one dimension of the parenting life, the highs and lows of expectations and performance.

  14. Pingback: The play's the three | Tinseltown Times

  15. Lily says:

    Wow those pictures are great! Way to go Abby! I always had a huge amount of respect for any classmate of mine who could memorize line after line in school plays. I once thought I would be an actress. I took acting classes and performed in plays until one day I forgot my lines mid performance and ran off stage crying. I think everyone thought I was a really realistic crier, so that was kind of cool.
    What I’m trying to say is that I know how hard it is to do that. Abby must be very talented!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      She never stops surprising. All my kids are awesome. Watching the basketball game with my son right now. Go Raptors. (Psst, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a hockey fan.)

  16. Addie says:

    Mother watched each of my performances through her fingers, while in the front row. She said she just knew I’d fail. I wish you’d been there, instead.

    Brava/o, Abby and Dad.

  17. thisissinclair says:

    I still remember acting in many of my school’s plays/musicals and I can tell you: I t certainly felt like an extreme sport at times.

    Finished the story with a smile on my face. Very well done.

  18. Swish!! Congratulations…you must be very proud of her.

  19. benzeknees says:

    My daughter played soccer for a couple of seasons, but she wasn’t all that good at it & she wasn’t all that interested in continuing with it. She used to draw & created what I considered some spectacular pieces, but it didn’t seem to hold her interest either. She never really gravitated to anything as she was growing up except friends. As an adult, she is an Event Coordinator & she is great at her job – she is just naturally a “people person.” Not only that, but she is wise. I like to think she gets her wisdom from me. We used to have long conversations about relationships between different groups of people & she used to hear me counselling couples on the phone who were experiencing relationship difficulties, so she seems to have inherited a great wisdom about how people work, what motivates them & what drags them down. I hope (fingers crossed) she learned this from me & it’s a skill she keeps with her forever.

  20. cat9984 says:

    That’s great! And when she wins her Academy Award (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of the Canadian one) she can thank her father, “who was my biggest believer from (almost) the very start.”

  21. pinklightsabre says:

    That was beautiful.

  22. Pingback: Not-So-Humblebrag, or The Prizes is Right | Drinking Tips for Teens

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