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May 23, 2018

A guy who has worked with child and teen actors on stage and screen for 20 years discusses WHY???

No, it ISN’T just masochism!

Okay, first off, show me a writer that is NOT a control freak and I’ll show you a LOUSY writer. That being said, what I decided early on during my time as a playwright, following a long and not so memorable career as an actor, was to KEEP creative control over my product. This realization came to me after being the victim of several “gifted” directors that interpreted my work… Well, let’s just say not quite how I had envisioned it. As a matter of fact their vision of what I wrote came across as acutely myopic.
Once I decided to direct my own works for the stage I became a theater pariah. Directors saying that I didn’t have the chops to direct. Even though I had been acting ALL my adult life on stage and by osmosis absorbed the rudiments of NOT letting the actors run into each other and interp their lines pretty well. I figured I could try, and succeed a LOT more often than the learned directors I had worked with, to present a cohesive, coherent version of what I had originally written.

Working with adults I found this same attitude of “what do you know, WRITER” permeating the process, so rather than go back to having my plays directed by others (of course we are talking local premiere productions of my work, not the stuff I was lucky enough to get published, out in the world, there you take pot luck), I had an epiphany!

I started writing stuff for kids and teens to perform on stage, finding an untapped well spring of talent hungry for meatier roles than those usually handed to them. I found them to have NONE of the predilections of their older counterparts, and NEVER did I hear cross their lips (in response to a direction I gave them): “I don’t think it would be in the parameters of my character to do it that way.”

I did hear a lot of “yes, sir” (we were in Texas after all) along with many “sure” and at the worst “I’ll try"in response to a bit of direction or (gasp) the dreaded LINE READING. I also found that constantly having a kid in the cast (usually just one or two would do) kept the adults in the cast on their best behavior too. Having at least ONE in every play became my good luck charm and I used their presence as both talisman and trademark.

Dealing with them, directing them, working with them, became second nature to me and I realized I got just as big a kick out of it as they did (perhaps more) most of the time. Yes, coping with immaturity and fretfulness of the children, and the raging hormones, and awkwardness of young teens was TOUGH. Managing the mood swings, tackling the tears, corralling the egos, became an art unto itself, but when I really stopped to think about it directing ANY actor is the same mind field, the only difference is with kids the occasional explosions tended to produce less fallout.

When I switched to film and web series production I found it to be the same dance just with a different band, so I kept on working with the younger set and never looked back.

In the end I found my involvement both rewarding and fascinating. Child actors (and I use actor generically to mean both sexes) have a very limited life, good ones are like catching a glimpse of a unicorn. For even IF they continue into adulthood as an actor, and some of the ones that have crossed my path have gone on to get their SAG/AFTRA cards, gotten roles in TV series, or movies, one is even a lead in a National Touring Company of a Broadway hit musical, but what none of the ones I know, nor any of the famous ones that are probably dancing around in your head right now as you ponder it, have ever been able to do is… STAY a kid. The kid they were is a memory, sometimes preserved on film or video, but ultimately lost to history after just a scant few years. It’s nice to share that limited time with them, work with them to evolve their skill set and help them towards their goals.

For all the extra headaches and heartaches they bring to stage or a set, they also bring a magic, that even THEY cannot hold onto for very long. You can be an actor till the day you drop, but you’re only a kid actor for a little while, and then like a magician’s assistant: POOF they are gone.