I wanted to take some time this week to talk about a theatre position that often gets overlooked by the public. Indeed, many times in my career the theatres I have done work for have not had the luxury of such a position. (Though I would be astoundingly grateful if ever someone were able to fill such a position.)
It is the position of child wrangler.
This is a very important position. Anyone who has been in a large cast with many children but no wrangler can attest to this.
An average child under the age of 12 or so is energetic, enthusiastic, and crowd pleasing just by their very presence on stage. On the opposite side of that coin, most children of the same age group lack focus, discipline, and an understanding of their own backstage volume. Enter the child wrangler.
What makes a truly exceptional backstage shepherd of the young?
First and foremost they must enjoy children. I think that is a no brainer. But that enjoyment should come with a very specific balance of character; they should be someone who is strict enough to make sure all of the negative traits of children do not get out of hand and effect the quality of the production. Yet at the same time, the wrangler should be someone who understands the ins and outs of theatre, such as entrances, exits, cues, and the like. A good babysitter back stage may keep children safe and out of the way, but without theatre knowledge could create a confusing or unpleasant situation for the children under their care. Such an experience may prevent younger people from trying theatre again. As with most things in life, too little and too much are both detrimental to the theatrical experiences of the average child.
There is one final aspect of a good child wrangler which I think most will not think about. A wrangler should posses a patient understand of not just children, but of adults who do not care to, or are not especially adept at interacting with children.
Theatre, particularly community theatre, contains certain risks. One of these risks an actor must be willing to take, is being in close working proximity to demographics of the population which they would otherwise avoid working with. In the case of many, (myself included) children below a certain age fall into this category. It is not that I hate children. Rather, when in a show, I have a very specific job to do. I undertake my responsibilities in a very serious manner. Given that most children in this day and age, when left to their own devices, behave in a manner that is quite disruptive to those ends, my job is made more difficult than it has to be when I need to deal with the average child backstage.
Even when better than average in behavior, I have little to say to children which they will enjoy or understand. A good wrangler should understand this type of adult, without being judgmental. They should, in short, not see people like me as children haters simply because we choose not to deal with children.
True, some adults also have to be wrangled. But that is a whole other thing.