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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

An Open Letter to The Person Who Critiqued My Son's Performance in A Christmas Show

I was having a pretty decent morning. Yesterday, our neighborhood had a freak power outage at 7:30 a.m. right after I had dried half of my hair.   Luckily for me, the wet side was on my left and I was able to roll my window down and let the brisk 41-degree air dry the other side as I rushed to get my boys to school on time So compared to yesterday, it was smooth sailing.

Until a few friends of mine told me not to read the local newspaper.  To be honest, I didn't need coaxing with that.  I don't usually read it anyway, but now I was curious.  As you know, there was a review in the paper of the show two of my sons, my husband, and numerous (new) friends are in.  It is a timely production of A Christmas Story. An adaptation of the movie and my son plays Ralphie. 

I felt that little tingle.  The tingle I can only imagine Bruce Banner feels right before he turns into the Hulk. Except, I'm something far more dangerous than a giant green meathead, I'm a Mama bear.   I tried to suppress this feeling before I made it to my office and searched the Internet.  

You see, Jack has wanted to be on stage since he was 2.  Any opportunity he has had to perform he has jumped at the chance.  Both my husband and I spent a good amount of time on stage.   We didn't let him audition until he was 8.  Jack's older brothers were in plays, but we wanted him to be ready for the massive time commitment any production takes.   He auditioned for a few shows and while his brother got lead roles, he got the chorus and ensemble, if he got a part at all. 

When auditions for A Christmas Story came around, he wanted to audition, but talked himself down saying he would probably be cut.  We encouraged him to try. When he got the news that he had not only gotten a part but the lead, his world blew up.  

That was in October.  We are now in December.   What I don't think you could have even possibly considered was that, a commitment to five- six nights a week for 2-4 hours is tough for anyone. It's not just the actors commitment, it is a family commitment.   We ate dinner at 5:15 every night so we could still see each other and make it to rehearsal on time.    I'm currently in the trenches of my master degree, while working full-time and raising four young boys, but you see, all that doesn't matter when you finally see the spark in your child's eyes when they finally find something they love doing and believe for the first time, that they are good at. Running lines day and night, became our life.

A little history about me,  I have a theater degree, hence me returning to get my masters at the age of 40.  I was in my junior year of college auditioning for parts across Los Angeles, I got some bit parts here and there.  Then I got a big break, an audition with an agent that I believed could change my life.  And he did, but not in the way I had hoped.  He told me that I was a great actress, that he wanted to represent me, but that wasn't good enough. I needed to change my appearance and test my morals if I really wanted him to be my agent.  The really sad thing is, is that I believed him.   I was just 21 and I thought he knew what he was talking about.  And just like that, I believed something someone else said to me, and I gave up my dream. 

So today, when I sat down at my computer and saw that you critiqued my 10-year-old son's acting I couldn't help but feel a bit defensive.   I'm not a theater mom. I'm just a regular mom, who just read someone publicly criticize her son.  In a community theater production. At Christmas.   Can you imagine if every kid that did any kid-like things was judged?  Jack loved playing basketball but he was terrible, thankfully someone like you wasn't there to point out all his flaws there too. He gave it up on his own accord. 

The thing is, my son is a kid, playing the part of a kid.  And the criticism was that he wasn't engaged when other characters were speaking.  Holy cow, talk about method acting, I think this is a brilliant interpretation of how every kid across the world interacts with their parents on a daily basis! He deserves a Tony Award.

I apologize if this is starting to sound a bit too Mama bear, theater mom crazy, but I'm writing it for every parent who has sat crouched in a cold dark backstage room telling kids to be quiet or listening for cues . Or pricked their finger sewing on a feather that has fallen off a costume. Theater is so much bigger than just the acting.

This little town of mine, and the kids in it, need this community theater now more than ever.  Why? Because acting is more than just pleasing the audience. It's allowing our kids to learn to express themselves in creative ways. It's showing them alternative ways to deal with complex emotions. Being a kid today in this violent world is not easy, but what is easy, is being a kid, playing a kid in an imaginary world and loving every single second of it.

The last thing I would want is for someone to read a bad review of a community theater production, and then decide not to attend. Because without an audience, those kids are just rehearsing, and they do a LOT of that already.  Plus,  those ticket prices, although they may seem high, are what keep these little theaters going, and these kids dreaming and learning how to navigate in this unpredictable society.

So thank you for saying my husband was the "highlight of the entire production", that was sweet, but I kindly disagree, I think every single person on that  stage was equally as bright.  And thanks for saying Jack did a fine job reciting all of his lines (167 of them in all, he counted). But, he isn't going to see your review.  We have taught him that people will forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you make them feel. 

After his opening night, the same show you saw, as I tucked him in way, way, way past his bedtime,  he said the best part of the entire night, was hearing people laugh and seeing people in the audience smiling.  You should know, you were there.

Really, that is what theater is all about. It is making people feel.  And with every kid who can stand on a stage and that is willing to do that for me, is a star in my book. 
All I ask is that next time, you feel like tearing something down consider the community that took the time to build it up. 

I encourage every single person in our city of South Bend, Indiana and a 25-mile radius to go and see the remaining 15 shows if they get a chance.  And if you aren't local, go and see your community's Christmas Show.  I can promise, you will smile, at least twice, and I don't know about you, but lately, our world has been filled with a lot of frowns.   

Thank you,
Noelle Gunn Elliott


  1. Not too mama bear at all. A fine lesson well delivered.

  2. Noelle: I appreciate your words so much. Those of us who work tirelessly to awaken creativity and curiosity, to open hearts and minds to joy and new ideas, to create bright spaces of welcome in a dark and menacing time cherish the support of mama bears like you. Thank you for making your family part of our family. -- Aaron Nichols, Executive Director of South Bend Civic Theatre

  3. Why was he critiquing the performances? Say what it really is - a light hearted production that will give you all the good feels during the holiday season. Kids work too hard to be criticized. I am proud of your son for having the drive! And...well, you are a superwoman in my book!

  4. We are going on Saturday and will cheer loudly for what I know will be an entertaining and fun evening! Good for you Mama Bear, I love that you spoke up, and particularly enjoyed the method acting line.
    A fellow mama bear.