When I saw the flyer for Annie at the park, I froze. I was all at once thrilled and terrified. A theatre opportunity for Theo's age group, K-6, right here in Sunnyside? There was a part of me that was relieved when I looked at the flyer and saw we'd missed registration. I wouldn't have to bother asking myself if he could do this.
Then I got home and immediately regretted not taking down the info. So the next day I dragged my kids to the park in the rain and called the number on the flyer, leaving a voicemail. There was a website--I clicked thru on my Blackberry as the kids covered themselves in wet sand. I just couldn't wait. When I saw there was a fee to do the play, again the dual reactions came. It was both "GREAT! They'll take anyone if there's money involved" and "Ugh, so this is the state of kids' theatre education in Queens. They can't do it for free at school anymore, so we have to pay for it."
Theo's teacher knows I'm a drama nag. "Are you guys doing a play? Is there a drama after-school program? Is there a music class?" She was nice enough to put on an in-classroom play last year, and isn't sure if she can get permission to do it again this year, though she's going to try. PERMISSION! And Theo actually does have music this year, but the teacher is on maternity leave til January, so there are various subs til then.
I started to research theatre-related stuff for kids on the spectrum in NYC. Thought there would be a lot, but turns out, there isn't. At least not that I can find.
So when I thought about Annie, it just seemed like we had to go for it. I emailed Sofia, the director, and put "my son" in the subject line, knowing that these things can always use boys. Sneaky me.
Sure enough, she called and said she was so happy to see "son" in the subject line! There are about 25 kids in the show and only around 6 boys. She said I could bring him to her house to audition, and that most kids just sang Happy Birthday. I was in luck--the one song Theo really knows!
I spent the next few days teaching him the song "Tomorrow" just in case he could learn it before the audition, but as much as he liked the song, he couldn't memorize it. So Happy Birthday it was.
I was so jittery in Sofia's house. I had been working with Theo, and he promised me over and over again that he would sing using his nice voice. But then Sofia asked him to sing loud, like he was singing to the back of the room, and I knew he'd take that to mean, well, LOUD. He sang in his goofy voice and I asked him to sing nice, explaining to her that he has a goofy voice and a nice voice. She said "let's hear the goofy voice" and I immediately liked her and felt more comfortable. He sang "Happy Birthday dear Annie's mom." Despite all the prep, he still thought we were going to Annie's house. Luckily she got a kick out of it.
Then he sang Happy Birthday again, not as nice as he usually does but much nicer than the first time. She told me he has good pitch, and I was beaming! He actually really does have very good pitch, so I was thrilled that she noticed.
She asked if he could do a reading, and I said probably not, that he reads but is not quite on that level yet, and she said no problem, that they'd do a game instead. She got on the floor and told him to pretend she was a loud little kid and that he should tell her to be quiet. I was about to chime in that he should pretend she's Melody, but I managed to keep my mouth shut, since I was already coming off like an uber stage mom as it was.
He told her to be quiet. She asked why, and he said, "Because I said so." She asked him to say it in a mean voice, and he scrunched up his face and said in a meaner voice, "Be quiet." It was very cute. She asked Theo if he'd seen any plays, and he said "Beauty and the Beast." He meant the movie, but I kept my mouth shut, since the answer impressed her.
But then I knew it was in both of their best interest to get the truth out of the way up front. As I filled out the form, I casually mentioned that he has autism and that he is good at following choreography and direction. I couldn't believe how nervous I was. I couldn't focus on the registration form. As I filled it out, I actually couldn't remember my phone number. Sofia just said "okay" politely... I couldn't get a sense of her reaction. She could have been freaked out, or could have been happy to get the chance to work with a speical needs kid. If she felt either of these things, she sure kept a good poker face.
That night, I got an email with the cast list. There, toward the bottom:
Sound Effects Man: Theo Orecchio
What a thrill to see his name on a cast list! My son is in a musical. Must be what a football player feels like when his kid plays in his first game.
In the days leading up to Theo's first rehearsal, I showed him tons of clips from different versions of the show and movie on YouTube. He grew increasingly excited. "Will I be Annie today?" He thought he was Annie and that he was singing "Tomorrow." He didn't know any of the terms like character, director, rehearsal, etc...so we worked on that, too. As for "Tomorrow," I didn't bother correcting him since they do all sing that as the finale, which will satisfy him.
When we got to the first rehearsal yesterday, I hooked Theo up with a few kids I knew from the park (though he didn't recognize them). One boy his age is a kid Theo played with when they were both 1, at playgroup. His mom was kind enough to encourage Liam to make friends with Theo, even though I can tell from all the times at the park they've been together that he thinks Theo is weird.
I know that if the kids can grow to "get" Theo and be his friend, this can be a very positive experience for him and for them. But if they gang up to tease him when he doesn't quite follow as well, it'll break my heart. Actually, what I really hope is that the adults fall in love with him. If they do, the kids will have a better chance of following suit.
I was anxious the whole hour and 45 minutes yesterday during rehearsal. Heck, I had teared up just dropping him off. Just dropping him off! My level of emotion seemed ridiculous. When pick-up time came I peeked in and saw him pretending to be different statues along with the other kids. He was sort of in his own area, while the rest were clustered, but hey, he was doing it and looked like he was having a blast.
The director's assistant told me he was a good boy and they worked on character development that day. He and Liam did an improv game together.
When we left, Theo made my heart full: "I can't wait to be on stage in Annie every Tuesday until March." It was obvious he'd had a great time and was really excited. I asked him to tell me about the improv he did with Liam -- they pretended they were at the zoo. They saw monkeys and robots. Liam bought apples and Theo was the cashier. He showed me the sounds he made for the cash register.
So....so far, so good. I had only paid half the tuition ''just in case," but I think this will work out. Even if he's not the best, heck, there are kindergarteners in the show, so it's not like he'd be the only one off beat here and there. And I suspect he'll charm the audience as he did in his dance recital.
I know I've been throwing a lot of darts to see what sticks. There was ballet, tap, T-ball, and now piano and theatre. Some days are frustrating, but I can't quit on him. He deserves a mother who won't give up on him. The more he does now, the better shot he has at a high-functioning adult life. And I have a boy who surprises me on a regular basis with what he's capable of.
Did I mention my son is in a musical?!