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The hardest thing for a parent to do is watch their kid fail. But without failure, there is no true success.
“Audition Opportunity!” read the subject line of the email. My nine-year-old, Orly, is passionate about acting. He wants to be on Broadway one day. He’s auditioned for several roles in different theaters, which landed me on multiple mailing lists.
“Looking for three to four young actors, any age but under 4 feet tall, to play the role of Theo in our upcoming Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Pippin” University of Miami’s Ring Theater was hosting the audition. Theo was the only child part in the play, meaning the young actor would be performing alongside University of Miami’s junior and senior theater students. They were looking for three or four actors so that the children could alternate in between performances.
Knowing my son would kill to audition for this, I forwarded the message to my husband. Not two minutes later, the phone rang.
“Did you see the email?” I asked, forgetting to say “Hello.”
“He’s going to love this,” Orlando replied. “What a great opportunity.”
“What about the height restriction?” I asked. “Orly might be right on the cusp of four feet.”
“Yes, I think he’s right around that height.” Orlando agreed. “You know who else might be perfect for this audition?”
Justin was our adorable six-year-old who has an incredible ability to memorize lines, but his personality is very different than his brother’s.
“Do you think Justin would want to do something like this?” I asked.
“Let’s ask him. They’re looking for three to four actors for the same role. Both brothers could be Theo. How cool would that be?”
“That would be awesome,” I agreed.
We brought up the audition at dinner. Orly’s eyes lit up immediately. “I want to audition!”
Justin was less enthused. “Justy, tell us. Do you want to audition for Theo?” I stroked his cheek.
“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, buddy. But we think it would be a great experience for you and imagine how cool it would be if both you and your brother got to be in the same play.” Orlando said.
“Okay, I’ll do it.” He said casually.
After dinner, Orlando played some of the Pippin songs so the boys could become familiar with the play. Orly began rehearsing right away. For the next few days, I’d hear Orly singing alone in his bedroom and in the shower. He was always practicing. He’d auditioned for roles before but had never taken them quite as seriously as this one.
We’d been trying to instill the importance of preparation in him, and it seemed to have all “clicked.”
He’d get frustrated with his brother who was not as committed. “Justin, you have to be prepared for this audition,” he’d scold him as if he were an adult. “If you’re not willing to work for this, you’re not going to get the part.”
Justin was unfazed.
On the day of the audition, we sat the boys down. “Okay guys, today’s the big day. Remember that several things can happen: 1. Both of you get the part, 2. Neither of you get the part, or 3. Only one of you gets the part. Regardless of what happens, remember that you are brothers. If one of you gets to be Theo and the other doesn’t, be thrilled for your brother; brothers back up and support each other. Understood?”
They nodded their heads and off they went with their dad.
Upon their return, I got the details. Orly had a great audition. Even the director commented on how well he did. Justin, on the other hand, was all over the place. He sang well but was fooling around and being silly. Orlando and Orly were not happy about his behavior.
Every day for the next few days, Orly asked, “Have you heard from UM?”
“Nothing yet.” We continued to prepare both of them for the possibilities we had discussed earlier.
Then I got the call from Orlando. “Are you sitting down?” His voice sounded surprised.
Could they have both gotten the part? Is it good news or bad news?
“What is it?” I asked.
“Justin got the role of Theo.” Yes! They both got the part. “So they both got in?” I confirmed.
“No, Caro. Orly didn’t get in.”
I never considered that Justin would get the role over his older brother.
“But didn’t you said he was fooling around during the audition?” I asked.
“He was!” Orlando exclaimed. “She liked Justin’s innocence and angelic face. Apparently, not being polished worked to his advantage. The director loved Orly, but he was too tall for the Theo she envisioned.”
“Orly is going to be devastated,” I said softly.
We’d been telling our son to work hard and be prepared and that would get him to where he wanted to be. But his little brother was getting the role even though he barely worked for it. As much as we loved Justin, we felt disappointed. It didn’t seem fair or right. Orly wanted this more than his brother did. He worked harder. He deserved it more.
For a moment, we thought of telling the boys that neither of them got the part. Justin wouldn’t be as devastated as Orly would be—but only for a moment.
Are we crazy? We can’t do that.
Justin deserved to have his moment in the spotlight as much as Orly did. And whether he had been fooling around or not, he had earned his role and it was our responsibility to celebrate that. Besides, we have to let our kids fail. We’re not doing them any favors by shielding them from disappointments. These moments build character. We knew what we had to do, but it was painful.
“Let me be the one to tell him,” Orlando said. “I’ll come by and pick him up in 15 minutes. Have him ready.”
With my poker face on, I told my son to get ready to go to the grocery store with his dad. He put his shoes on and rushed out of the house.
Orlando drove them around the block and parked in a nearby school parking lot. “What are you doing, Dad?” Orly asked.
“Orly, I have something to tell you. Justin was chosen to be Theo for Pippin, but you weren’t.” Our son’s eyes dropped down to the floor.
“Orly, I know this is devastating for you, but you can’t let it get you down. You had a great audition. You killed it. In fact, the director called me because she wanted you to know how impressed she was by you. She said she’d keep you in mind for future performances.”
“But if I did so well, why didn’t I get the part?” he asked.
“Because this wasn’t the right part for you, buddy. You are too tall and mature for the role. You’re not going to be a good fit for every part. And the acting world is full of rejection. If you want to be on Broadway like you say you do, you’d better get used to hearing ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes.’ That’s how it works. You’re going to have to develop thick skin.”
“Okay,” Orly whimpered.
“About your brother. Justin has been your biggest fan, sitting front row at all your performances and rooting for you. He’s always the first one to run up to hug you when you’re done. It’s his turn to shine. He deserves for you to be as supportive of him as he has been of you. And if you weren’t going to get the part, who better than your brother to get it?”
Orlando pulled Orly close to give him a hug. Tears streamed down both of their faces.
I waited anxiously as I saw my husband’s car pull into the driveway. Orly got off and opened the front door. “Justin,” He yelled loudly. “Come give your brother a hug!”
Justin ran right into Orly’s open arms.
“Why are you hugging me?” He asked mid-hug.
“Because you’re Theo.”
“Really?” Justin squealed. “Are you Theo too?”
“No Justy, I’m not. But I’m so proud of you.”
There are moments in life you will never forget. Watching this young boy, whose glossy eyes and pink nose revealed he’d been crying, put aside his feelings to celebrate his brother was one of those moments. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son.
When it was time for bed, I laid next to Orly like I always do. He began to cry again. “Mom.” He sniffled. “It’s not that I’m not happy for Justin. I’m genuinely happy for him, but I’m sad for me, too. I don’t get it, mom. I’ve been working really hard. Is it that I’m not good enough?”
“These things happen, my love—even when you work hard—but eventually your persistence and commitment will pay off.” I rested my head on my hands as I spoke to him. “You can feel happy for brother and sad for yourself at the same time. You know what you have to do tonight?”
“Cry all you want. Feel sad or mad or whatever you want to feel.”
“And then tomorrow get back up again, ready to audition for the next play. Tomorrow, get back to working on your craft to be the best you can possibly be … because there’s an awesome role waiting for you right around the corner.”
Just then, Orlando walked into the room. “Orly, you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you got the role of Theo or not. Remember that the director said you made a great impression on her. There are no wasted auditions. One day, she’ll think of you when another kid role comes up, and this will all have been worth it.”
“You promise?” Orly asked.
We do not take promises lightly in our home. Having our children’s complete trust and confidence is one of our biggest priorities. Orly knows that, so this was an extremely loaded question.
Orlando paused, looked at his son, and replied, “I promise.”
A smile crossed our son’s face. We kissed him and walked out of his bedroom.
On the opening night of Pippin, we left Justin backstage and took our seats in the theatre.
With a huge smile on his face, Orly turned to me and said, “Mom, my legs are jelly.”
“Why” I asked.
“Because I’m so excited for Justin.” He squeezed my hand as we waited for his brother to take the stage.
I felt a little proud, a little sad, and a little hopeful that our son would be rewarded for his commitment, courage, and character.
But no matter what, I knew everything was going to be alright.
(Stay tuned for next week to find out what happened next)