Oh, to be a fly on the wall of a theatre professor’s office. Those walls have witnessed many laughs, tears, and the making of life’s big, post-grad decisions. Faculty offices are somehow, simultaneously daunting and yet comforting.
I got to sit down in the office of Marci Duncan, Assistant Professor at UWF, for a few minutes before seeing the final dress of Silent Sky, and I ended up in tears. Good ones, I promise. Turns out, Marci can turn any conversation into a pep talk you didn’t know you needed. More on that later…
In addition to being lifted up, I love getting to talk to Marci because she’s a strong personality in all the best ways: she’s open and positive, confident and professional. As a teacher, Marci is your biggest cheerleader but also, she doesn’t take your shit.
Regrettably, I only got to take one class from Marci during my time at UWF. Since that class four years ago, Marci has become the head of the acting program and a parent for the second time. In fact, her miracle baby is just a few months older than Matilda. I still keep up with Marci on Instagram, and I see stories of her eldest son, Anthony (currently a student at UWF), and of her baby boy, Jackson, who frequently attends rehearsals with her.
Yes, you read that right! Eight-month-old Jackson has attended rehearsals (and classes) with Marci. Why? First of all, Marci commutes 45 minutes to work and back every day. She rarely has less than a 14-hour work day. Second, and these are Marci’s words, “I’m a professional. I do my job and I make sure my child is being cared for. I have a student that I trust that I can ask to watch him during a lecture class or a meeting, but otherwise he’s in the classroom or at rehearsal.”
This isn’t Marci’s first experience as a Stage Mom. When Anthony was much younger, Marci was a single mom, taking theatre classes and working professionally in Orlando. Anthony accompanied her to those classes.
“Did you have to have ‘a conversation’?” I asked. “No, I didn’t even have to have that conversation. I was worried about him being a distraction, but you have to do what you have to do. There was no shame in that.”
She’s right. Theatre asks MUCH of us, especially when you’re in college or teaching. You spend all day in classes and evenings in rehearsal. You get minimal breaks to eat, study, work on a scene or an assignment. Theatre is not for the lazy or the faint of heart, folks. You can expect to have an emotional breakdown in front of all of your classmates in a typical Friday morning class.
Anyway… my point is, when you’re a “theatre person,” you acquire a second family, whether you want to or not. This family dynamic, in addition to open and clear communication with colleagues, granted Marci the ability to be a powerhouse Stage Mom. And it helped that the cast, the family, was there to help. “I didn’t want to ask but I also didn’t have to. My castmates adopted him. When I was on stage, they played games or colored with him backstage. It helped that he was well-behaved but I had to teach him that when we were at the theatre, I was working.”
And Anthony is a better human being because of that. He grew up in the theatre, the most collaborative of all art forms. He learned teamwork and effective communication (storytelling). He was taught the difference between a work environment and a play environment. Best of all, he watched his mom pursue her dreams.
Okay, here’s where the pep talk comes in: Even though I’m mostly a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom), I’ve found ways to keep myself busy pursuing my passions, like The Stage Moms or Arrant Knavery. I confessed to Marci that I often feel mom-guilt because I spend a lot of time working on these things, while Matilda plays quietly next to me in the office. I began to cry and apologize (because, you know, mom-guilt), at which Marci immediately stopped me: “No ma’am. Don’t you feel bad about pursuing the things that you are passionate about. Our children have to see their moms working toward their dreams and it will teach them that they can achieve their dreams, too. No matter what the conditions.”
WHEW. Yep. I know this, but sometimes it takes a fellow Stage Mom to remind you that setting goals and working toward achieving them is one of the best examples you can set for your children. “But,” Marci says, “you have to keep taking their temperature. I constantly had to check in with Anthony to make sure he was good with being with me in my classes and in rehearsal and if not, I would have done what I needed to do to arrange for his care. It would have been more work, but I would have done it. Family comes first, always.”
Marci then shared with me that she and her husband had a difficult time getting pregnant and that it took them 7 years before baby Jackson made his adorable debut. When it came time to come back to work at UWF, Marci set the boundaries she needed to set in order to make sure that her family came first. That meant bringing Jackson to work sometimes, and instead of directing two shows, Marci opted to direct only one. This is what I meant when I said that Marci is confident and professional. She has learned when she needs to set boundaries “and do not apologize for that!”
If you’ve been following along with The Stage Moms or listened to our podcast, you know that what Ashley and I want to do is encourage creative moms to engage (or in many cases, re-engage) with their passions. We also want to advocate for creating rehearsal environments that are parent-friendly when they can be; accommodating the needs of a parent when possible. It’s encouraging to see institutions, such as UWF’s theatre department, doing just that, with women like Marci on the Stage Moms’ team.