Being a child in theatre is almost worse than being an adult in theatre. I mean, true, for me this job pays for food for me to eat and health insurance that I use liberally, but I still think it’s harder for kids. Rejection on a grand scale is still super new. Stakes opening night feel like a life or death lottery. And aging out is a constant struggle.
You learn all the words to Mary Lenox’s song in Secret Garden and shoot up two inches so you’re too tall to audition. You really want to be Annie, but it’s not even the singing that knocks you out of the running — you’re too tall.
You can’t be Liesl in Sound of Music because you’re too young, but you can’t be any of the others because you’re too old. 90% of childhood in theatre is your own quickly growing body being too something for you to be cast. And don’t even get me started on the poor boys who get cast in a show and have to drop out cause their voices start to change. It’s a brutal, brutal world.
When I was little, I was desperate to be in the Sound of Music. I wanted to be a Von Trapp child. Any Von Trapp child — I would have happily played a boy. My mother dutifully took me to the audition where the other little girls were dressed up like Toddlers and Tiaras, and I was dressed in the one dress I hadn’t torn to shreds playing in the yard. They lined us all up, and we had to go on stage one at a time to sing in matching(ish) groups of potential children. The group of pale, gangly brunettes was near the end, so I made my mom take me to the bathroom so I could panic in peace.
But the bathroom was filled. Girls primping, girls crying, one girl wailing like a freakin’ banshee while her mother pinned her and put lipstick on her. It was terrifying! Why were we there!
I asked my mom to leave, but I had signed in so she made me stick it out. I gathered with my gangly group, we all sang, a few cried, and then we got rejected. It was terrible.
And it didn’t get any easier. Not for years. Too young for teen chorus, too old for the little kids. It sucked. When the local girl booked Annie on Broadway, it sucked. When I got cast as a tap dancer in the Nutcracker, it sucked.
But I did it. I stuck it out and became a big kid performer. I feel like I should give some speech about how the trauma was worth it, and for me it is. I mean, this is how I make my dollars. I play pretend for a living. But as far as fun hobbies for a kid, I don’t know… do mathletics or save puppies. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.