Don't tell the gang at Monster Theatre, but I think performing for children is the most fucking terrifying type of work any actor can do - and if anyone from Monster Theatre is reading this, you already hired me so you're stuck with me. Suckers! No takebacksies!
While I have done a school tour in the past, twice actually, with A Company of Fools, it was for high school kids, who are already way too cool for this shit. It wasn't unusual, especially at 8:30 in the morning, to see tired and cranky teens rolling their eyes at four grown ups in pantaloons. I can deal with that because I expected it. And we always won them over in the end.
But this production is for the kindergarden to Grade 7 set. These are children. Scary, impulse-driven children. While teenagers are too cool for your shit, children just won't take your shit. Worse yet, they will be VOCAL about it. Are you boring? They will tell you. Are you mean? They will tell you. Did some technical function just fuck up? Oh you bet ya they will tell you. It's what I imagine doing theatre in Shakespeare's day must have been like except no one is passing around rotten tomatoes for them to throw at you. (Thank Jeebus!) We've even had, in the past 4 days, one child drop his pants and pee on the floor as we were setting up and another burst into uncontrollable sobs as soon as the show began. Because critics.
You might be asking yourselves why I would put myself through this? Well, that's a pretty easy question to answer. In my day-to-day life, I am a control-freak. I love planning and knowing exactly what's going to happen next. But as an actor, I need to listen to my impulses, go from moment to moment, and enjoy this crazy ride of life without a safety net. The real reason performing for children scares me so is that they truly are the greatest actors. They somehow know how to do all those things and society hasn't beaten it out of them just yet, though you can already see it happening with the older kids. Basically, children are just fucking rocking at this game of life because they innately get that it's all a game.
That kind of pure, innocent self-actualization is powerful and fucking scary to me.
While they will be direct when they don't like something, I should also add that they will be just as loud when they love it too. Is your character sad? They will try to cheer you up. Are you saying goodbye and going offstage? They will scream at you not to leave. And man, let me tell you that there is nothing quite like a room of 600 kids in stitches at something you did or said to make you feel like the funniest fucking person in the whole fucking world.
In one post-show talkback, as I was taking one last question, a little girl looked me right in the eye and said: "I love you." No pretence. Just love. On another day, a little boy was following us around as we packed up. I remembered him since he had sat in the front row and I had chosen him for a question. He told us it was his birthday, so Tara pulled out one of our puppets and had it sing him happy birthday. A teacher who was watching then offered us a birthday cupcake. I may never see that kid again, but he is for sure going to remember us. And I will remember him.
I can only hope my presence in these shows will have some kind of impact. That I will inspire a few kids do to something or other. But at the end of the day, I think I have way more to learn from them then they do from me.