Marc Sanders and Julia on the set of Babes in Toyland

by Marc Sanders

Having participated in local community theatre for close to 25 years, much of the experience has become old hat and routine. Auditions are always nerve racking. Memorizing lines is always a struggle. Fellow actors for one reason or another need to drop out, and thus set us behind. Sometimes “divas” need to be tolerated. Still, the aspects of satisfaction define the true profit I usually earn from the experience.

I think I consistently return to theatre for that summer camp vibe. That sense of belonging where I can veg out on an old sofa in the dressing room or the lobby. The uncontrollable laughter you wish you could get rid of as you learn a new dance routine or strive for a face to face dramatic moment. The Sundays I spend helping to take down flats, just to put up new ones and then paint them all over again.

No matter how old you are or who you are, a theatre to work in is a place where your parents aren’t watching over you so closely, where you might have free reign to goof off with your fellow cast mates (maybe letting the expletives fly and laughing about it), savoring a greasy pizza dinner before getting into character, or simply taking some time to escape the stressful realities we all have to endure.

I love my daughter Julia like nothing else. She lights me up whenever I see her. If you have a person in your life who unconditionally runs to give you a hug as soon as you walk in the door regardless of how her day has been, then you should consider yourself in pretty good shape. When Julia is in your life, you’re not in pretty good shape. You’re in excellent shape.

Still, as wonderful as Julia is, there is stress that goes along with being her dad. My child isn’t sheer perfection. I’m not going to fool myself. She doesn’t always finish her dinner. Getting her to do her homework can be a challenge. Must she turn on the TV at 7 on a Saturday morning and thus disturb my slumber? Most importantly, though, I’m always questioning my own self-worth as a loving parent which feels like a stress beyond comparison. That is why when Julia finally shared with us that she wanted to be part of a show (but with me involved), I worried that my “summer camp vibe” would no longer be apparent. Would my daily stresses invade my theatre world? Forget Julia. How am I going to handle this?

Now that we have worked together on “Babes In Toyland,” I see I had nothing to worry about.

Over the years, on any given show there would be times where I’d come home frustrated with myself, or some of the other typical hang ups that can regularly occur; especially if it is getting closer and closer to performance time. I’d share such tales with my wife, Adrienne, who carries the talent of talking me down and being my greatest listener.

This time around, though, I’d end my recollections with how astonishing Julia is. The facial expressions are there. The sassiness is all over the stage. The projection of her voice is at full blast and the fun that I felt when I first started in theatre is there for me to see all over again; this time as an outsider looking in.

To truly understand if I’m enjoying the rehearsal phase of a show I am in cast in, or directing, is if I come home at 10 o’clock at night following an 8 hour work day and a roughly 3 hour rehearsal period, and despite how physically exhausted I might be, I’m just full of so much pep and energy that I just can’t sleep. I’m jittery. I get high off the experience. The feeling must be hereditary.

Julia might have only two songs, two lines, two dances, one costume change and a dog to keep track of, but you would think she was wild with excitement at the prospect of meeting Anna and Elsa from her favorite movie Frozen the next day. It didn’t matter if she had to be up for school at 6:30 the next morning. Julia just couldn’t sleep. She would be absolutely wired. Julia just had to sing her song one more time before brushing her teeth or she had to tell mommy that she needed a new pair of black stockings for her costume. This is the sign of a child bitten by the acting bug, and savoring every morsel of the rehearsal experience.

Even if it meant that she had to wait another 45 minutes before we got to her part in the rehearsal, nothing phased Julia. I loved watching her meet new friends. I loved knowing that she could turn to the older cast members for help with her makeup. (I am no makeup expert.) I cherished watching her sit on Serena’s or Lisa’s lap each night during director’s notes. This wasn’t just a bond with other people. This was a bond with her show, and a bond with her theatre. This was Julia treasuring something she naturally loved. She grew to love this all by herself, and now her theatre was loving her back for it.

I might be playing a clownish villain in “Babes In Toyland” with the crazy costume, and the song and dance routine, but that’s not what set this show apart from all the others I’d done before.

What made this experience unique was riding over to the theatre together with Julia. Practicing the songs in the car. Going over lines together. Wondering if Ms. Carlyn would be upset at us because we are running late for call time.

Little things I treasure. Telling Julia I’ll be there in one second as I want to make a quick stop at the neighboring comic book store, and then watching her to open the door to the theatre to walk in and meet up with our castmates. I didn’t have to walk her in and stand by her side. She didn’t have boundaries to observe, or strict rules to live by. Familiarity had set in for Jules. Carrollwood Players was no longer my theatre. Carrollwood Players became our theatre.

She’s 7. Who knows how much she’ll remember of this experience when she’s in her teens? Who knows how much she’ll reflect on it when she’s in her twenties? Who knows if she’ll even show the DVD recording of the show to her own children one day? None of that matters to me. What matters to me are the moments we shared together during this small window of time in our lives.

I lost my mother this year, suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s still crushing me on a daily basis. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. What I earned in return, however, was a daughter who, beyond any influence, learned to love something on her own that just happens to be something I’ve always loved.

For this small window of time, could I be any luckier?

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