Moms and daughters on stage, together, and still speaking


To those of you with teen-age daughters who ask you to walk 20 paces behind them in public, I'd like to introduce Ellen Ponder and Kathy Nolet and their remarkably tolerant children, Carrie and Cami.

The girls have been cast in the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater's production of "Annie." And right there on stage . . . next to them . . . singing and dancing . . . will be their mothers.

"It's really neat to be able to say you're in a show with your mom," says Carrie Ponder, a sixth-grader at Key School in Annapolis and a veteran performer. "We were going to be able to share a mirror, but then the orphans got a separate dressing room. I was so disappointed."

"Someday, I want to be on Broadway," says Cami Nolet, a junior at Severna Park High School. "And my mom will be able to say she acted with me."

This is a shock, I know, to women whose daughters would deny them thrice before dawn. It is equally startling to mothers whose idea of quality time is two tickets to "A Little Princess" -- not four months of musical theater. And it is a revelation to women such as me, who had resigned ourselves to packing our daughter's makeup kit in this life. You mean there is another role for us? Literally?

"One of my dreams has always been to be in a show," says Ellen Ponder. "And another dream was to be in one with Carrie." She had had the same dream -- never realized -- with her father, who graduated from Baltimore's Peabody Institute. If you ask Ellen which of these dreams matters most, she cannot say.

" 'Annie' is perfect, because there are roles for both kids and adults. And Carrie was so cute, the way she coached me for the audition. I got a look at what a pain I have been with her."

Carrie was a sleepless wreck waiting for the director's callback for her mom. "I always knew she could get into a show," says Carrie. "She has the best voice in the world. I can't believe she did this for herself. And for me."

Ellen works four days a week for an executive training firm and has a 3 1/2 -year-old at home. And, as you might imagine, a very supportive husband. "He knew this was important to me and to Carrie," she says. "He sees how happy we are."

Rehearsal nights are chaos. Ellen races from work to pick up her children, through a fast-food drive-through window somewhere, home to drop off the baby and pick up the cast members she car pools with and then off to the church or school that is the current rehearsal hall.

"Things like getting to the grocery store seem impossible," Ellen says. "But I enjoy being with Carrie, and it is fun not to just drop her off and pick her up."

Cami Nolet's mom has also been her musical director for as long as she can remember. Kathy Nolet, an elementary school teacher in real life, was the founder of Merely Players, and Cami has been in plenty of her mother's productions. Now, she is beside her on stage.

"When I was young, I used to be embarrassed by her," says Cami. "All your teen-agers are.

"Now, we are like best friends. Since I'll be leaving for college soon, it is the best to spend time together."

"I marvel at it myself," says Kathy Nolet. "I would have died at this age if my mother was in a show with me. But Cami doesn't care what anybody thinks."

Cami has effortlessly memorized her lines, her songs and the dance steps that Kathy is struggling to remember. "But she is so encouraging. She works with me and tells me, 'Don't worry, Mom, you'll get it. Just keep practicing.' "

Those lines usually appear in a mother's script. "But Cami is such a neat kid."

So many of us know what it is like to serve as valets to our children in their pursuits, to facilitate their shows, their recitals, their sports. We are chauffeurs, costume coordinators, equipment managers. We have had our chance, and now we get to supply orange slices and blue eye shadow for the next generation.

And many of us have seen the embarrassment our mere existence can cause our children. Add stage makeup and a song-and-dance number, and it might kill them.

For that reason, Ellen and Carrie and Kathy and Cami share something extraordinary. Something much more than a dressing-room mirror.

"Annie" is playing at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater now through Sept. 2 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Call (410) 268-9212 for information.

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