Children in Theatre: from the audition to working in professional theatre
Jo Hawes first became a children's casting director seventeen years ago, and in that time she has cast more than 75 productions, mostly West End and touring musicals, including shows such as Shrek, Oliver!, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This must mean that she is ideally placed to impart her knowledge to young hopefuls and their parents, which she began to do two years ago through workshops and now continues to do through this, her first book.
She starts off in a rather simplistic style, with lots of short sentences gushing about how wonderful her job is and more exclamation marks than the average e-mail scammer. However the style soon settles down and the value of the information quickly becomes apparent.
This book rather greedily has two subtitles, the second being "a guide for children and their parents". The aim of the book is to arm parents—plus most of it is perfectly understandable to all but the youngest children—with the knowledge they need for their children to have the best chance of being cast and of retaining a part if they are lucky enough to be offered one. It also lets parents know in advance precisely what they are letting themselves in for, as having a child in a major production is a big commitment for both child and parent, especially when it comes to getting them to and from rehearsals and performances on time.
Parents, in fact, are the main cause of difficulties with child casting, it appears from this book, and a wider dissemination of the information it contains should make the job of Hawes and others like her much easier. While most parents behave perfectly reasonably, there are those who complain about their child not being auditioned when they clearly don't conform to the required height, age or sex, or who suddenly "remember" a holiday they booked after they have been offered a part, or who are late collecting their child after a performance, leaving the chaperone hanging around in an empty theatre late at night. Parents can be responsible for children not being cast or losing the job if they become too difficult to deal with, often to their child's acute embarrassment; if you see "MFH" ("Mother From Hell") being scrawled on an audition form, the child has little chance of getting the part however good they are.
But for those parents who are responsive to some good advice, Hawes takes them through the whole process from the audition, the complicated legal requirements once a child is cast and the rehearsal and performance phase, with lots of details about education, the number of hours children (i.e. anyone under 16 years) are allowed to rehearse or perform and what parents are going to have commit to doing themselves if their child is given a part. Of course she also celebrates the benefits that she believes there are to the children and the great enjoyment they derive from being part of a major production.
In fact reading this book is probably the next best thing to having a parent in the business—possibly better in some respects as there are so many requirements for child actors that don't apply to adult actors.
Even for anyone who doesn't have a child who is—or wants to be—an actor, it certainly gives the reader an appreciation for those unsung heroes of the theatre production: the chaperones. If you think that they are just glorified babysitters, read this book and see just how demanding and difficult a job this is. Many West End shows simply could not operate without them.
Reviewer: David Chadderton