There is nothing quite like the anxiety that afflicts the parent of a child who is standing alone on a stage, illuminated by a spotlight and preparing to deliver a series of lines.
No parent wishes his child to fail at anything, of course.
But the fear is especially acute, it seems to me, when the setting is a public one and the parent is utterly powerless to offer help should it be needed.
And there are few settings quite so public — or so conspicuous — as a stage.
That’s the purpose of the stage, after all — to literally separate the performers from the audience, the better to focus the latter’s attention on the former.
The spotlight further accentuates the concept.
I had little experience of any of this until my son Max, who’s 7, joined the cast of “The Reluctant Dragon,” a production of Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre that had its four-day run last week.
It was a revelation.
Participating in the comedic play provoked aspects of Max’s personality that neither my wife, Lisa, nor I had suspected might be lurking beneath his generally modest facade.
Turns out the kid possesses a repertoire of facial expressions and gesticulations that heretofore he had rarely demonstrated — and then only when he was embroiled in a dispute with his older sister, Olivia, who’s 11.
We were surprised too that Max showed little if any trepidation at performing before an audience.
This from a boy who, just a few years ago, would hardly speak to people he didn’t know well.
I was confident that Max was ready for the show. Lisa and Olivia spent hours going over the script with him, and when the cast put on the show for relatives, the day before the official opening, there were just a few glitches.
(And even those I likely wouldn’t have noticed except that Lisa, who probably could have recited the entire script, pointed them out to me.)
Still and all, during both of the public performances I attended I felt a slightly diminished version of the nervousness that makes my heart beat faster when, for instance, I have to speak in public.
I needn’t have worried.
Max not only didn’t seem bothered by the spectators, but he reveled in playing his role. He even added some embellishments that I suspect were not suggested, or endorsed, by the director, Leanne Hinkle.
I think Max’s first play is destined to be one of the more memorable episodes of his childhood.
I certainly hope so.
It’s unlikely, of course, that his newfound interest in theater will directly influence the course of his life — the vast majority of kids who play sports, for instance, won’t become professional athletes.
But no matter.
You needn’t earn a paycheck to be an actor, any more than you must sign a multimillion-dollar contract if you just like to shoot baskets in the backyard.
The value of the experience can’t be measured in any conventional way, and I have no interest in engaging in such an exercise.
It was quite satisfying enough to watch Max smile and laugh, to know that he has gained confidence in himself. He also made several new friends among his fellow cast members, Natioshya Hickson Clarke, Khloe Borbon, Erelah Rosin, Paige Wolfe, Jarren Cikanek and Justin Wolfe.
What I gained was an appreciation for the dedication and enthusiasm of the people without whom the nonprofit Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre would neither exist, nor thrive.
Those involved in “The Reluctant Dragon” included, in addition to Hinkle, Joelene Murray, Marge Loennig, Bob Hinkle, Isabella Evans, Lily Hoelscher, Cherie Evans, Sebastian Cole, Liz Lippert, John Murray and Brandon Myers.
They made it possible for Max to learn things he might never have learned otherwise — things that he will remember decades from now, things that will, I expect, enrich his life in ways he can’t begin to imagine today.
This is no small gift.
Nor is the gratitude I feel, living in a place where people have that magical combination of talent and generosity that can make the lives of ordinary kids like Max something more, well, extraordinary.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.