Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Perform for Children

Some actors think performing for children must be less difficult than performing for adults, but in fact, this is false. On the contrary, performance for children is fraught with great peril, such as the very real chance that one of your public will bite you on the leg.

This really did happen to me the other morning. I had just finished a puppet show and was standing there before my spectator, age 2, when suddenly, totally without warning, there came CHOMPPPP the sensation of approximately 3,527 baby fangs sinking into my right thigh.

The mother apologized profusely, impounding her giggling child in his stroller. "I'm so sorry," she said. "If it makes it any better, it means he likes you."

This was of course a revelation, accompanied in that moment by the confirmation of something I have long suspected: virtually no one has ever really liked me.

But rest assured there is more to performing for children than fending off thigh bites. No; you should also become versed in the use of a tranquilizer gun. I present as explanation the following authentic transcript of one of my puppet shows this past summer in Boston. The text was Rudyard Kipling's The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo, a story with beautiful words that needless to say nobody got to hear:

ME: Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but...
SMALL CHILD'S MOTHER (at 8,600 decibels*): TYRONE!!!
ME: ... uh ... so he ... he uhh ...

But of course this is all part of the exciting, "by the seat of your pants" aspect of performing, an expression which derives from the fact that, at some point during your performance, you will almost certainly wet the seat of your pants.  Nevertheless, as a Seasoned Theatrical Professional,** I always keep going:

ME: ... uh, so he was a different animal, with four short legs. He was grey and...
SMALL CHILD: blablabla
ME: ... and he was ...
SMALL CHILD: blablabla
ME: ... and he was woolly and ...

Frankly, I think she was on the right track with the whupping idea, save for the tragic fact that no one volunteered to whup her. I would have courageously volunteered, only I had puppets on my hands, which somewhat hampers your whupping abilities. ("Madam, don't make me come over there, or I shall whup the living doody out of you with this cuddly kangaroo.")

This is why I propose - to you and to the MacArthur Fellowship jury alike - the invention of the Whup-o-Matic, a giant automatic whupping apparatus that you could keep on hand during performances and other special occasions. You could operate it secretly from a tiny remote control concealed somewhere on your person. Say someone started talking during your show; all you'd have to do is oh-so-quietly press one tiny button and (WHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPA) (SCREAMMMMM) (SUDDEN BEAUTIFUL SILENCE) order would be restored. This would surely be the best news for the theatrical profession since Disney's Beauty and the Beast closed on Broadway, although granted it will be playing in theatres with names like the West Uvula Regional Players until the Nuclear Holocaust.***

But I digress. My point, for all you actors out there who perform for children, is this: despite the immaturity of your public, it's all worth it in the end, when - as you finish the last triumphant flourish of your performance - they squirm around on the floor and cry about random non-issues. This is incredibly prevalent at puppet shows. In fact, I have a pet theory**** of childhood that goes, the amount of anguish a child experiences at an event increases in direct proportion to the event's "fun" quotient. And if you don't believe me, consider THIS made-up statistic: for fiscal year 2010, elementary-school birthday parties were responsible for a solid 92% of world anguish. What's more, when you factor in trips to Chuck E. Cheese, this figure flat-out doubles.*****

Therefore, in order to combat this harrowing state of affairs, here are my

1. Wear protective thigh gear.
2. Never talk down to the kids - it's the parents who are total morons.  Only kidding, parents! Ha ha! Or am I?
3. Therefore, if the kids talk during your performance, just understand that this happens.
4. On the other hand, if the parents talk, you are legally within your rights to impose the death penalty.
5. I don't know what 5 is because Tyrone's mom yelled over it.

Quite frankly, I think you have a beautiful future in children's theatre if you just follow these simple directives and take enough narcotics to maintain your smile. So I highly recommend that you enter the profession, and if it turns out not to suit you, and you find you need someone to commiserate with, I urge you strongly - from the bottom of my heart - don't choose me.  Besides, I'm out of commission until these danged thigh wounds heal.

* Although this show occurred in the U.S., I have since moved back to France, thus all figures are in Celsius.
** With headshots, a variety of dialects, AEA eligibility and also measurements. Please contact my agent for further information. I have great hair. I once read most of a play.
*** When cockroaches are the only form of life left on Earth, you can be sure that among their number will be a small but dynamic group belting out "Be Our Guest." Needless to say, these individuals also have headshots.
**** It has a little theory collar and eats Purina Theory Chow.
***** And if you don't believe me, tough.


Kiefler said...

To go along with your theory on children's anguish, I give you this quote of Mark Twain:

"Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size."

Nicola said...

Wow, now see that's what I would call excellent support for my theory :) I'm honored!

La Professora said...

I teach college students, does that count as children's theatre? I've always said that college was like kindergarten with beer.

Would the equivalent of parents talking during a performance be the parent who thinks it's perfectly reasonable to call a student's cellphone during class to check if said student has gone to class? Can I use the Whup-o-Matic then? How about on the parent who gets my e-address from the syllabus to email ME for the date of the final exam which is also on the syllabus? 'Course, now I know where the lack of reading the syllabus skill originates.

The solution to the ankle/thigh biters is boots, big ones.