Write an article about your life as a stage mom. Now there’s a tricky task. Before I can even get into the life part, there’s that term — stage mom — to get past. It’s different from say, soccer mom. “Soccer mom” conjures images of a chatty, snack-toting carpool master, heartily cheering for the whole team and sharing umbrellas with the parents. “Stage mom” is a washed-up shrew in gaudy orange lipstick, known for shoving the enemies in the audition line and pocketing her precious little star’s paychecks. So let’s clear this up right now: It’s not like that. I completely made up that orange lipstick part.
If you are looking for the mother of all stage moms, she is not here in Westport, but she does have ties here. Watch Bette Midler as Mama Rose in the TV movie Gypsy, in which Westport’s own Cynthia Gibb garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee. Gibb happens to be my kids’ voice teacher/acting coach/therapist and my guide to this crazy biz. Once I adjusted to the surreal notion that the Fame star dated Chris Atkins—swoon—Cynthia and I became friends and eventually launched Triple Threat Academy (triplethreat.us) together. Having had the wonder of theater opened up to me as a shy kid (thank you Marcus Olsen, wherever you are), I was a believer in its powers: instilling confidence, public speaking skills, empathy.
I did not expect to end up with three professional actors: Jamie, Cameron, and Natalia (aka “Talia,” but SAG and IMDb know her as Natalia. I wonder about that, is Talia Mann a better stage name? Do soccer moms have thoughts like this?).
There is also Zoe, Cam’s twin. Not an actor. As this is the Thankful issue, I must note: I am very grateful I have only three child actors. Zoe is a budding fashion designer. When her siblings are grown and living in our basement, they at least will be clothed.
Life is tough for Zoe; child actors demand a lot of their parents’ attention. Much time is spent on Metro North for auditions a few times a week (pre-Covid), self-taping/editing auditions (at home—pandemicsilver lining), and paperwork: accounting, corporate filings, union dues, child permits, resumes.
Jobs can mean the family is divided for weeks or months at a time. But they also mean fun family trips: Florida when Jamie was playing Billy Elliot, Los Angeles while he was shooting Country Comfort for Netflix. And then there was the Mann Clan RV Trip. Let me back up and give you the lead up to that story, which gives a pretty clear snapshot of the pace of actor family life.
Acting professionally usually means lots of auditions, rejection, and time sitting around waiting to book something. Even with three kids in the biz, odds are good only one will be working at a time. But in 2020, there was some weird glitch in the rejection system and the booking gods said yes to two Manns at once.
My husband and I divided and conquered. Jamie (16 then), Talia (10), and I spent that winter in California. Jamie lived his dream on a soundstage and Talia went to a charter school right next door to the “lot” (as in Sunset Bronson Studios’ lot, which makes me feel very “L.A.” when I say it. It’s the Old Warner Brothers lot. The Jazz Singer was shot there in 1927. The Jeffersons was shot there. Donny and Marie. Jeopardy…).
I digress, but not really, because this is important: As a kid I would have done anything to be on that stage with Donny and Marie. I understood Jamie’s dream. I was willing to forfeit planning more than 24 hours ahead in life and help him go for it. As a writer, I had the flexibility to do it, and I found it more fun than criss-crossing Westport from 4 to 8 every day driving.
Cameron, in the meantime, had landed a role in Mare of Easttown. The HBO series was shooting in Philly, with Kate Winslet. His shoot days were spread out so he could go back and forth for short stints. The kids have mostly stayed active students in Westport schools, which has kept their childhoods normal, minus the odd shout-out from an Emmy winner (thank you screen mama Julianne Nicholson!).
On the week in March 2020 when Covid hijacked our lives, Jamie had a week off. He and I had flown back home and he jumped into school at Staples. My husband Ben flew out to be with Talia. I headed to Philly with Cam, where he was scheduled to shoot March 9 to 11.
On March 11, Cam was shooting and I was 6 hours into being on hold with the IRS (normal stage-mom stuff) when the news broke about schools closing in Westport. I immediately texted Jamie: “Get out of Staples!” As far as we knew, he had to be on set Monday.
I changed our flights to the next day and added two seats for the twins. It was like Outbreak and we needed out of Westport fast. Cam and I would hop Amtrak in the morning, and and I’d have three hours from stepping off the train in Stamford to get home, pack up, feed the goldfish, and skedaddle to JFK. If anyone can do that it’s a stage mom. (By the way, if your kids are in the biz, goldfish are really as far as you can go with the pet thing.)
As we all know, school did not open again that spring, and all productions shut down. We fortunately had rented a three-bedroom house in L.A. in a hilly, lovely neighborhood. When our lease was up on May 7th, the six of us piled into a five-person RV and road-tripped through 15 states. I roller skated in the middle of a Utah highway, Cameron had a Zoom callback with Courtney Cox in the RV at the foot of deserted Mount Rushmore, and Jamie visited the empty campus of his dream school. It was all a tad surreal and amazing.
Natalia booked the Netflix movie A California Christmas, which shot in July mid-Covid near San Francisco. It ended up being Netflix’s 13th most watched movie in 2020, which was a huge surprise to everyone, including the young actress, Lauren Swickard, who played Talia’s mom and penned the script—her first. (Watch for the sequel, out this holiday season.)
We are so grateful for these adventures of 2020 — a year that was so tough for so many. People imagine this as a cut-throat business, but we’ve only found big hearts, from the top down to the Covid supervisors and Crafty (who supply the endless free snacks, which is mainly what I’m in this for).
As far as the moms… I’ve made countless lifelong friends. We cheer for each other’s kids. We share scoop on the best coaches. We are each other’s families when we are away from our own. If we were on location and a rainstorm hit, and the crew person assigned to hold umbrellas over our heads was not around, we would totally hold them for each other.