Surviving Children’s Theatre

Article by Kate Powell

Early nights!

Children’s Theatre means daytime shows. The usual 7.30pm is past the little one’s bedtimes so anything from 9.30am is usually the norm. Getting plenty of sleep is a must. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather poke myself in the eye than cope with a bunch of excitable screaming children at that time of the morning on too little sleep!

Warm up…well!

It goes without saying really, but a good warm up is essential. Chances are you’ll be playing a variety of characters and doing lots of different, more often that not, silly voices. Your one saving grace is that children’s shows tend not to run much over an hour in duration, however, you’ll probably be on stage for most of it, if not all of it. With up to three shows a day to get through, for all that vocal gymnastics, it’s best to warm up well or you’ll get tired pretty quickly.

Expect the unexpected

Lots of unexpected things tend to happen on kid’s shows. Sometimes, if you’re touring, a venue may not have actually expected you to bring much set (even though the stage manager would have told them what you have already) and you can’t fit it in the space or even through the door. There’s a chance you may get stuck in the early rush hour traffic so have to leave at the crack of dawn, then the next venue may turn out to be hours away. You may be travelling for more hours of the day than you actually spend in the theatre. If you’re based in one venue however, you’re unlikely to encounter any of those things of course.

The biggest surprises always come from the children in the audience. They have brilliant imaginations and you never know what they’re going to say or shout out. Some may even try and join you on the stage. One little boy once asked me, (while I was dressed as a dragon), whether I’d like to go to his house for tea! Another told me that I was the nicest dragon he’d ever met. Not sure how many dragons he’s actually come across, but there we go! Kids really do say the funniest things.

Concentration

Concentration and focus are key to children’s theatre. There’ll be a lot of distractions in the audience such as children needing the loo or getting a bit scared and shuffling along seats to the nearest adult. You’ll most definitely get a few criers! Just try to keep going! Some kids will get really into it, will shout questions and try and join in as much as possible. Kids also love to have a good laugh and giggle to each other whenever an almost rude word is said. Bum or bogeys are always favourites! It’ll take them a while to calm down after a ‘bogey!’ but just go with it!

Be prepared to wear anything

Children tend to love colours and anything eye catching or a bit wacky, so you’ll more than likely have to wear some outlandish costume during the show. That may be a full skin (Mmm sweaty!) or it could mean negotiating lots of changes of simple but effective bits and bobs you put on and take off on stage. Whatever it is, just have fun wearing it, even if you look like a nutter! I’ve actually got very lucky on the current show I’m in, in that I get to run about in pyjamas for most of it! Lovely!

Get in and get outs

Most children’s theatre tours will be small scale tours, therefore, they will often have a small cast and sometimes only one technician. This means that you’ll usually be expected to do get ins and get outs. You tend to become a little touring family and won’t mind all mucking in together…but be sure to pull your weight and never be a diva. That way, it makes things easier for everyone, especially when you’ve been touring a while and you’re all tired and irritable.

Don’t be self-conscious

Another thing to remember when doing a show aimed at children, you just cannot feel embarrassed at all at any time. Commit to whatever it is you are doing no matter how silly you feel. They sense fear and as soon as you lose commitment, you lose them. You need to get them on your side and be on their level without coming across as patronising. Make them believe whatever you’re doing/telling them. You’ll always get some ‘non-believers’ in the audience, the kids that think they’re too cool; but if you believe it, you can almost guarantee they’ll be joining in and loving it by the end!

Finally, Children’s theatre is harder than it seems, but the main thing to remember is to just have fun and if they see you having fun, then they will too!


If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Starting a career in theatre: Becoming a West End performer


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