OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Over the years I've spoken to many a director who have told me that they would never work with children. I was always bewildered upon hearing this because there are some fantastic plays and musicals that would be missing out on. So I would often ask the director why they would pledge not to direct young actors. The answer I would mostly get?
"Because I can't deal with their parents."
I can understand some of this, In my history of directing shows with children, I've interacted with some phenomenal parents and some that drove me nuts.
But the key word in all of this is "some". Not every stage parent is out to dominate the rehearsal process or force you into making their child the star of the production. Yet, I've often seen that when parents ask reasonable questions or make fair requests, they're automatically dubbed as a "Mama Rose" or the negative connotation of a stage parent. I find this unfair.
As much as we see the presence and support of parents within a theatre community, let's not forget that finding that same support for participation in the arts is not as popular outside of theatrical communities. This is even more true as the child gets older and starts to think about what to study in college
When you cast a child in your show, you're not only asking the child for their commitment for the next couple of months, you're asking the entire family. The parents have to drive the child to rehearsal. This simple task requires a family organizational plan by itself. Things like fitting in dinner, homework and an appropriate bedtime have to be considered especially on weeknight rehearsals. Safety is another thing that should be a priority as well, both inside the theatre and out.
If a director isn't considering these things, chances are they're going to have a negative relationship with parents, and deservedly so. In professional theatre, the lines are drawn pretty clearly due to union rules but in non-professional theatre, most of these decisions rest on the shoulders of the people running the production.
In those situations, what steps should a director take to prevent negative relationships with parents? It's fairly simple.
Communication between a director and parents must be crystal clear. Make sure parents know everything that is going on with that production, this way there are no surprises. Most parents like to be over prepared, so organize yourself with that in mind.
This starts with the rehearsal schedule. Make sure parents have all the dates necessary as soon as possible and give them proper notice when things change. Also be honest about what times rehearsals start and end.
Keep them knowledgeable of what their child is going to be doing in the show. I was directing a show where a child was basically given the "Birds and the Bees" talk on stage. I made sure I let the parents know that and even sent them the script before auditions to make sure the material was appropriate. Directors should make this clear with language and physical action requirements as well.
As we've seen in the past, bad things can happen anywhere. So that's why your rehearsal process and theatres HAVE to be safe environments for children.
Whenever I direct children, parents are always allowed to sit in on rehearsals. This is strictly for safety purposes. I know there are some directors that keep the rehearsals closed, but I feel its important, as long as it's not disruptive, to have the parents always present. If children have to do quick changes backstage, either I let the parents actually do it or someone who has been approved by the parent.
A director and stage parents have to have mutual respect and appreciation. As a fairly new parent myself, I understand this more than ever. At the end of the day, even with the most difficult parents, the common thread is that they simply love their kids and want to make sure they're having the best time as possible in the production. So as a director, we must acknowledge that.
It's been over a decade since I last worked with a parent who I would never work with again. Yes, some are going to be more difficult than others. But a parent asking questions or making requests isn't a "Mama Rose", they're just being a responsible parent.
So before you pledge to never work with kids again, take a step back and think about what working with stage parents is actually like. Chances are, you might change your mind.