I grew up doing children’s theatre. I’m sure some of it was bad. I’m sure some of it was funny for reasons other than the jokes in the scripts. I’m sure sometimes the director went home in tears and drank him/herself to sleep.
But that’s not what I remember.
I remember it being awesome – even when it wasn’t. I remember all the times someone went up on their lines and we had to improvise on stage and, most of the time, the improvising would go horribly wrong and we’d end up in giggles.
I remember when I was the wicked Queen in Snow White and the spell making me beautiful was broken and I was suddenly ugly. And my big rubber witch nose that was supposed to stay stuck to my face didn’t stick because I was a teenager and my face was greasy so down it slipped as I tried to hold it on to my face with my hand, all the while looking displeased and apologetic. And Snow White looked at me and tried not to burst out laughing while saying her line but she failed and “I pity you from the bottom of my heart” became “I pee hee hee you from the bottom of my har har heart.” And then we were all laughing and my long rubber nose was wobbling as the curtain came down.
Or the time that we were on stage in Lil’ Abner and General Bullmoose (I think) was yelling about something or other and his mustache started coming loose from his lip as he was yelling, fluttering with each holler as I, standing next to him in a skin tight sequined dress, started giggling. I thought I had it under control but a sequined dress and stage lights and giggles meant all the sparkles were shimmering as they were caught by the light and, without trying, I was suddenly a blue disco ball in a scene about a flapping mustache.
Or the time in Oklahoma when I got in that girl (stage) fight with Ado Annie on stage and her move was to fake “pull” my hair but she actually pulled it and my wig went sideways and I ended up with a ponytail coming out of my forehead.
But for all the things that have gone wrong while I was on stage as a child, I had more fun than the kids in the play I saw last night. And that is a shame.
It’s a shame because those kids think that is what theatre is. Those parents think that is what children’s theatre is. That production just killed off a whole generation of theatregoers in one horribly long night. And that is fully the director’s fault.
I’ve directed lots and LOTS of children’s theatre and have had almost everything that could go wrong on stage go wrong. There have been missed lines and dropped props and missed scenes and scenes that looped around because kids tried to make up the pages they’d missed. We’ve had doors that didn’t open, lights that didn’t come up, and curtains that didn’t close. Or closed at the wrong time or didn’t open at the right time if they opened at all. I’ve had most of a cast out with the bird flu and had to sub in random friends and family of the cast, throwing them on stage holding scripts and following the other actors about blindly. I’ve had to monitor fights and mop up tears and soothe worried siblings and redirect helicopter parents. There has been dead air, blank stares, random dancing, peaking out from behind the curtain – I’ve seen it all.
But every show I’ve directed or participated in, most of the kids had fun. Despite not knowing their lines or where to stand or forgetting their props or putting their tights on over their socks or whatever drama trauma they had, they had fun. And bad children’s theatre is bearable for the audience if the cast is having fun. No, really! Bad children’s theatre is hysterical for the audience if the cast is having fun.
Last night, I realized how I became to be how I am. It’s because of children’s theatre I always expect the worst to happen and am pleasantly surprised when the best happens. It’s because of children’s theatre I see the funny in the worst situations. It's because of children's theatre that I am amused when mustaches fall off or wigs are pulled sideways or I throw a ball at a stranger’s head and end up in a dogfight or I tie a random stranger's shoe. Really, it’s not a bad way to live while I wait for the curtain to close.
Here’s hoping the kids in that play last night find the humor in their experience and are hopeful enough to give it another try. I promise them, it will be worth it!
My name is ej. I'm a girl. I say that because with the short hair and the short initials, folks aren't always sure. More brilliant insights to who I am in About me