Famously, two things don’t belong onstage – animals and children (and I add a third – directors).
Personally, I prefer children to animals.
Children are more easily trainable and (slightly) less easily distracted.
I have had to work with children a number of times.
I’ve played Miss Hannigan in 3 productions.
I have played Mrs. Paroo in Music Man.
I have played Mrs. Fezziwig in 3 productions of A Winter’s Tale (A Dicken’s of a Christmas Carol).
Oh, and I’ve done Bye Bye Birdie twice – and while I love playing Mae Peterson, I could live without all that teenage angst that tends to accompany that show.
My rule of thumb when it comes to working with children, is to treat them (mostly) like adults – I let them know, upfront, what the big fat scary fat lady expects from them and what the consequences will be if they don’t deliver.
And it works.
They’re not stupid, they’re kids.
I congratulate them when it’s a job well done, and I let them know when they are on thin ice.
I am always happy to put in extra practice time with kids. We both benefit.
Or share tips on how to up their performance or make it easier. Passing it on.
I am always happy to collaborate with them to come up with “bits” and/or “moments”.
I respect them as fellow performers and I expect them to treat me accordingly.
I let them know, we are in it together.
And, believe it or not, the kids like me.
They usually start out terrified of me.
But then so do most adults.
I had a little kid in Annie come running to me in the dressing room weeping because the “big girls” were “picking” on her. (You can best believe the older girls were all listening at the door to see what would happen. And what happened, is I calmed the girl down, and we worked through it and everyone was okay.)
I have received a “Number 1 Mom” ribbon from my darling Winthrop from Music Man.
I kept one little boy busy by teaching him how to burp at will.
Hey, he’s an actor and it’s a skill!
We had a “problem child” in A Winter’s Tale – voice like an angel, mouth like a sailor, and driving everyone up the wall. I volunteered to take charge of him when he wasn’t onstage. During each performance, we accompanied each other from the dressing rooms to the stage and back again, and we got on just fine.
He kept getting into trouble for swearing; and one day walking from dressing room (which was in another building) I stepped in a puddle and said a few choice words.
He was, “Oooooo, what you said!”
And I explained that as I was over the age of 18, I could use those words; however, they were not appropriate for him. I also told him, once he turned 18 to look me up and I would teach him some new ones!
And that, of course, is my biggest problem working with kids – my mouth.
I do try to keep it rated G, but I admit that I sometimes (okay, usually and often) fail.
I actually enjoy kids (don’t tell them). They are so interesting to talk to, so open to everything, and so willing to learn new things.
I just don’t want any of my own.
I’m perfectly happy borrowing somebody else’s kid, teaching them how to burp, and then sending them back to their parents.