The tabloids and television celebrity shows are full of stories about young stars in Hollywood gone awry. Even at a young age, it seems if a celeb is a bankable commodity, they are often allowed to run wild without restrictions. Sadly, this usually leads to public behavior that tarnishes their image, disgraces their families, and often leads them to substance abuse and even jail.
Of course, there are some young celebrities that manage to keep their behavior under control. But this appears to be the exception, not the rule. Is the same true for child stars of the “legitimate” stage? I am not talking about Child Beauty Pageants – those are another sideshow all together. I’m talking about programs that cast parts, rehearse and stage full-scale productions with only the director, back-stage and technical help as adults. Everyone performing on stage is aged five through thirteen.
On the whole, thank goodness, the answer is no – these programs do not breed insufferable mini-stars. Of course there are exceptions, but generally these programs for children have their priorities straight. The tone, presentation and attitude of the participants are largely shaped by the person or organization running the program.
The children learn teamwork, discipline, to keep smiling no matter what and gain a great deal of self-confidence. Some children find they aren’t that interested and only do one show. But others find that being on stage is something they will always love. It can give kids a chance to feel like big fish in the small pond. Starring in the town’s production of Guys and Dolls is a far superior experience than going to audition after audition in New York or LA with nothing to show but worn out shoes and a deflated ego.
Recently, I was invited to a production by the Danielson, CT Broad Street Kids’ production of Annie, Jr. (The story is just like the original although edited for proper content, etc. for children). This city-supported program stages several shows a year. Danielson, CT is a lovely town in northern Connecticut with an Americana feel, population about 4,500. It is a borough of Killingly, CT, population 16,572.
From this small population, The Little Theatre on Broad Street draws an astounding number of youngsters who participate in their Broad Street Kids productions. There were a total of sixty-two children playing parts and singing on stage. It sounds like it could be a near riot. It was not.
Not one child was nervous or out of place, not even the five-year-olds. Not one missed a cue and there was not one unplanned sound from backstage. Adult theater companies, please take note.
It is a credit to the program’s Director, Allegra Plantier and the show’s Producer, Jessica van der Swaagh that the quality of the production is excellent; yet off-stage the child performers are very much the unaffected youngsters of small town America. To protect the children, their real names will not be mentioned here.
The quality and range of their voices was impressive, particularly the leads – Little Orphan Annie and Miss Hannigan. Even individuals from the gaggle of orphans who had one line to say or sing, such as Kate, were wonderful and completely in character. In fact, character development was a particular strong point. Lilly St. Regis and Rooster Hannigan were easy to spot in the busy New York City scene. Oliver Warbucks and his Secretary Grace Farrell were smooth and relaxed on stage. Little Molly from the orphans was just as into her part at the end of the show as she was at the beginning.
In this company, the same child is not always cast as the lead. For example President Roosevelt was solid in his small but important part in Annie, Jr. However, that young man had a full-length lead in another show. That is thoroughly refreshing. In a few programs some children don’t have a chance to try out for the lead. It is also a testament to the wealth of talent in Danielson and the surrounding borough.
From an objective point of view of course there were things that could use a little improvement. Nothing is perfect. But I must say that all of the performers in Annie, Jr. did everything that was asked of them extremely well. If there is a Children’s Theater Program in your community, I highly recommend you and your child give it a try.