By Eric Gelb
Matilda The Musical, Annie, Lion King and Once… all Broadway blockbusters that heavily rely on the talents of 7, 8, 9 and 10 year old child actors to carry the entire show. And, of course, from an audience’s perspective, the kids are cute and talented. But the two hours or so that you watch them is no gauge for how life changing the experience is for them, and the many parts that make up that experience. Easy to say, harder to explain. Let’s begin!
First, let’s have some perspective. When a child this young attends a casting call for a Broadway show, the push has had to have come from an adult (nine year olds aren’t exactly regulars on casting call websites), but the kids that actually get cast have to share the passion and desire for the art. So once the kids get cast, they have to deal with schooling – which is up to the parents. Do they keep them in public schools to keep it easier to transition back to a normal life after the show although it’ll be harder during the show, or do they homeschool the kids which works inversely, keeping it easier during the school but harder after their run in the show ends. While booking a Broadway show is extremely important, there is an aftermath of everything and school plays a big part in that – they are really “that young”. So school is definitely one of the big parts of performing young on Broadway.
The second part of being a child actor on Broadway is the fame, glamour and glitz! Almost a blessing in disguise, but it’s hardly a secret. Broadway’s best kept (not) secret is the stage door – the door in which the performers in the production enter. The stage door also serves as a haven for audience members to mingle with the performers, which, as you can imagine, makes them celebrities in a way! This leads to twitter followers, and then fans, and then to fame, which is certainly suitable for a grown adult. But when you’re newly nine or ten, the fame is a shock.
While school and the fame are two very tough topics young Broadway performers are subjected to, there is a main focus and center of the experience – the actual performing. Take Annie – she opens the show with the soulful Annie, but gives the rest of the cast plenty of time to shine, but in a show like Matilda, the title role is more challenging, requiring the performer to recite not only their lines but russian and several math facts at rapid-fire pace. Matilda is on-stage most of the show! While the girls at Once are only in a few scenes, their character is pivotal and requires a great deal of emotional depth.
Being a performer in professional theatre is difficult, but being young adds layers to the difficulty (the issue of school and the adjustment of fame), but the cherry on top is the opportunity to perform on a Broadway stage. However big or small their roles, these young people are living out their dreams.