Stage Dad: “Life in the ‘Dead Zone’ by Glenn Cook

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My son and I seem to be in a “dead zone” career wise, and neither of us is too happy about it.

Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook.

The difference, of course, is that Ben turned 16 in December and, as of mid-January, I’m one year shy of 50. Or, as my oldest daughter said as I started writing this, “You’re not a teenager, Dad. You’re old.”

2013 was a strange and memorable year for our family, filled with several highs and numerous, at times devastating lows. Fortunately, 2014 has started out on a more positive note, despite my desire to wring the neck of a certain groundhog whose prediction of a never-ending winter has been all too true this year.

I digress, but on the “tage Dad front, there hasn’t been much to report over the past several months. In both cases, we’re still finding our way.

••••••

When this column last appeared in mid-May 2013, I wrote about the end of Ben’s run in Billy Elliot and the uncertainty we faced as he returned home after living in New York and on tour for four years.

Two weeks later, my employer eliminated my position in a restructuring. After 30 years as a working journalist, communications director, and nonprofit professional, I was looking for work. I still am.

The next month, Ben returned from New York. He said he was ready to take “a break” after working steadily since he’d turned 10. Within days, he was doing pirouettes and turns in the living room.

••••••

Ben Cook rehearsing for 'Billy Elliot.'

Ben Cook rehearsing for ‘Billy Elliot.’

As I’ve written before, all teen actors face career uncertainty during their high school years, especially those who make their living on stage. It’s called ‘the dead zone’ primarily for financial reasons, because it’s often easier and less costly for a young-looking 18-year-old to play 15. You don’t have to have tutors or adult supervision, which (understandably and justifiably) is required for minors.

That means a producer has to take a huge financial chance to hire a minor for those late-teen roles. And in the volatile, financially risky world of professional theater, especially Broadway, that’s a risk many producers aren’t willing to take.

Twice, Ben has been called back to auditions in New York for shows that — in the end — “hired older.” In the D.C. area, matters are complicated by the fact that Ben is a member of Actors Equity, and the many fine theatre companies here — with the exception of The Kennedy Center — do not have the financial capacity to hire Equity actors for teen roles. In most cases, they won’t even have him audition, knowing they can’t hire him.

He’s disappointed when these types of things happen, but that’s the reality he faces now. It is, as we say, part of the business of performing. You’ve got to take the bad with the good.

••••••

TV, movies, and commercial work are options, but they can be an even bigger crapshoot than landing a stage show in New York. In September, Ben was cast in a role on HBO’s Veep (it’s scheduled to air April 13th but otherwise has spent his time dancing, training, and being a teenager.

In many ways, after the whirlwind of the past several years, having him back at home with his twin Emma and older sister Kate has been wonderful for our family. However, the spectre of long-term unemployment has loomed over our heads as I face my own “dead zone.” The economics of journalism have squeezed out too many of my colleagues, many of whom have more advanced degrees and pedigrees than me.

Glenn and Jill Cook.

Glenn and Jill Cook.

In the middle of this uncertainty, we’ve been very fortunate that my wife, Jill, has a good job with medical benefits. I’ve also found freelance writing jobs and have started a photography business that focuses primarily on headshots, portraits, and events as well as some fine art. (To see my work, go to http://glenncook.virb.com or “like” my Facebook page — www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow.)

One of my favorite jobs has been working as a photographer for the Metropolitan School of the Arts, where Ben and Emma receive their dance training. They have a great group of friends that are based at the school as well as a terrific outlet to train and perform.

I enjoy being around for those performances, and have learned a great deal about photography as a result. It also gives me a reason to be close to them at a time when, as teenagers, they likely would prefer not to have me around.

So that, as they say, is the status update. Or, to sum it up in a sentence, “It’s been one heckuva year.”

LINKS

Read other articles in Glenn Cook’s column Stage Dad.

Stage Dad: So Long Billy! It’s Been Good to Know You!’ by Glenn Cook.

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