We rehearsed around their school schedule but also their audition schedules because at long last I was working with professional children. Rather an odd title to have isn’t it? I mean how can being a child not be a full time job? In show biz there is a difference and I’m glad for my time with my youngest of colleagues on professional stages. The first little pro I worked with was on that Wonderful Life musical where my littlest pal learned how to tie his shoe laces. This older lad was playing young George and had just come off a national tour. I’d not been on the road for one yet and he’d been all over. Something I learned from him was it made a difference in making friends when the grown-ups weren’t patronizing. He was a good pal in the dressing room and we had a good banter and I was sorry in this version old Mr. Potter and young George didn’t have any stage time together, only our own time off stage. The other thing I learned I’ve found from some other junior colleagues since: drama teachers can be very jealous of their students’ professional credits and resentful of their experience.
That particular show there was a Monday night off when this lad was doing a bit of local dinner theatre. The show choir he was in had an event at an Italian restaurant so for a good price we actors could do a busman’s holiday and see our young friend get to really show his stuff. He was wonderful to see but didn’t lead the show. He was a big part of the ensemble, rather the glue of the show and his few solo moments were glorious. This teacher felt secure enough to give him things to do. The drama chief didn’t and we all learned later that he did not get the lead, even a lead in the musical. Bloody insecure dilatants taking their failures out on children! One of my von Trapp lads declined the offer for his Senior HS show. He was barely given lines by his jealous, frustrated drama chief. This kid was in several professional productions in the several theatres in his hometown plus lots of the better community shows while still keeping up with his classes and grades. How could he be a threat to a teacher who wasn’t already bad at the job?
I don’t often let it be known but I have played in Children’s Theatre. Generally it is more grown-ups, college students and the older adult or two but sometimes some children from the acting classes at the various theatres round out the casting. There are two kids I shared dressing room and stage with who were good to work with then and still grand to keep up with. They’re both theatre majors at their different schools. One is a playwright. What I’ve learned in the rehearsal hall, dressing room, on and off stage is that my youngest colleagues are glad to be treated as equals, not as kids, and in return I’ve been welcomed as a friend and not as some old grown-up. It’s like so many things in so many places: keep an open mind. We might feel we already know too many people but nobody has too many friends.
The children on this Atlantic City gig were amazing. They all had agents and managers too! They had some play time together on a five or ten minute break, but generally it was the earlier in their 20-somethings who got the youngsters all worked up as they got themselves. These were very polite and well behaved children who happen to be in commercials, some films and a lot of theatre. They also did some school shows and most were lucky enough to have teachers who didn’t resent the children’s professional experience, or if they did, still smart enough to cast them in strong roles.
Something nice about touring is getting to know the parents as well. At times both generations are in the show too and I’m always impressed to see the parent on the road, still as polite as polite can be, stand up for their child’s interests and be sure all is as it ought to be. I’ve also learned a lot from the young ones whose resumes are at times better than mine. It’s good when we remember that there is a child within earshot and it’s good to hear the young ones appreciate we respect them as colleagues. What I’ve learned to enjoy most from having my youngest professional colleagues about is that they are still children and even offstage know how to just play and have some good old fun and that this is infectious and can remind us that without an audience, without any of that attention, offstage time for us should be fun too.