‘Imagine’ will sort this one out...it’s a total ensemble piece so there are no ‘leads’ at all!
But seriously, this is one of the most tricky balances we try and achieve and is the part of our work we find most difficult..
When we cast, we go to the students who have shown that they are willing to put in the work during lessons – they learn lines, take direction, don’t forget things from one week to the next and generally could keep a show moving. We know that whatever happens with them we will get from the beginning to the end of the show.
There are others who we try and encourage and will discuss taking on increasing amounts. And there are the frustrating ones who are more than capable but who let you down when you give them a chance.
The most difficult ones though are children who we know are doing as much as they can (or want to) but the parents want something more. For example, we were heavily criticised by one parent after Robin Hood who felt their child had not had enough lines. What in fact had happened was that we had allocated him/her with more but he/she would burst into tears every time they went on stage. We discussed this gently with him/her and it was clear he/she was much more comfortable with a single line but being part of the chorus. This is often not what a parent wants to hear but happens more than you'd think. Many children respond best to very gradual increases in responsibility in shows and some are just delighted to be part of the chorus without the stress of solo lines. We have to be sensitive to all of these things and naturally, have to put the child's interests first even if this sometimes disappoints parents.We genuinely do take pains to understand where each child is and to present them with opportunities appropriate to their stage. Of course we don’t always get this right but I’m sure no other group would pay as much care and attention to this element of its work.
Finally, one respondent said we should teach the kids to stand on their own two feet by refusing to prompt them during shows. Tough love indeed! But overall we’d rather the children weren’t under any more stress than a performance already brings on.
We aren’t like a school – we can’t force children to learn lines and all we can do is encourage them (and encourage their parents to encourage them) to learn them in good time. If they haven’t learned their lines by show time then there’s not much we can do about it and for the sake of the rest of the cast we need to be able to move things along with a helpful prompt or two. But we will remember next time we are casting...