The director’s voice projects throughout the whole theater. Sitting in the audience he announces on the microphone, telling the young actors on stage to up their enthusiasm because they are in a party scene. The children nod their heads and the director says “Go!” The scene restarts. Five-year-old Ian Rhoad sneaks a small chalkboard with the words “laugh out loud” written on it into the scene and holds it up for all to see. The onlookers giggle, and while the director comes off like he’s not amused, he smiles on the inside.
When it comes to “A Christmas Carol,” children play a big role. Director Dallas Henry put out a casting call for elementary and middle school students, and around 30 showed up to audition. Fifteen students from ages 5-14 have been cast in the play, all the way from schoolboys to Tiny Tim.
Henry, who has worked with children in the past but not on stage, has said having kids in the play has been quite an experience.
“Adding children to a show could be a nightmare, but in my sense, it’s kind of a wonderful experience when you see them do it right on stage,” Henry said.
Some may think having rug rats running around the theater would be a hassle, which is why some of the college students were deemed “kid wranglers.” They make sure the younger actors are where they are supposed to be and that they have their props. And, because Henry wanted the show to be kid-oriented, the kid wranglers also make sure the children assigned to a prop are putting them in correct spots during scene changes.
“They can be a handful because, you know, they’ll miss their cues, or they won’t go on stage and so you got to kind of sit on the kids and say ‘OK, you have to pay attention,’” Sebastian Smith, who plays Bob Cratchit, said.
For the most part, though, the children are where they need to be. Fortunately, they have their lines down, but that’s not necessarily hardest part about working with kids, Henry said. The children are not allowed to look into the crowd, which can be difficult for them.
“It’s not the lines — they get the lines better than the adults because they go home and work them,” Henry said. “They’re wanting to see acknowledgment, and they also want to make sure if something happens that I see it.
“I make the adult actors, if they break character, do 25 pushups, so as a joke we said we would started making them [the children] do five pushups if they look at me.”
No, Henry doesn’t make them do pushups. However, in order for the actors to bond with the younger ones, the Cratchits sit and hang out in the same area — which the children have no problems with. Smith, who plays the father of the Cratchits, always finds his Tiny Tims, Zephaniah Siebler and Anna Bracciano, on his lap.
Smith believes bonding is a very important aspect of working with kids.
“You do build a bond with them, and with children you have to — you have to build a bond because they can’t fake that, they have to have that basis of reality in order to really bond with you [on stage].”
Seven-year-old Zephaniah, who has been taking singing lessons for the play, feels like he has a good relationship with his “family.”
“I’m friends with my whole play family, and rehearsals are fun,” Zeph said.
Nine-year-old Anna, who played Penny the Dalmatian in the play “101 Dalmatians,” is also having fun during rehearsals and is excited about her solo. She has also really become her character as Bob’s son so much that she doesn’t call him “Sebastian,” but something else more appropriate.
“I call him ‘Daddy’ because it’s just easier,” Anna said.
Smith goes with it, following Anna when she grabs his hand to go toward the stage calling him “Father.” Smith has had to deal with some “fatherly-type questions” with his pretend sons as well as take care of a few of their needs.
“Tying shoes is in my job description,” Smith said, while he tied Zeph’s shoelaces.
Smith has had a good time being on the set and believes all the children in the play are talented, fun and have been doing well so far. He also said he will miss working with the kids once the plays are over.
“Overall, it’s been a very rewarding experience to work with the entire cast,” Smith said. “I’m probably going to have some attachment issues after I have to say goodbye to these little kids and never see them again.”