MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and on today's show, we're talking about youth. So far, we've heard about youth who inspire their dad to write a book, youth who've lost their place to play and...
MS. ALEXANDRIA WOOD
Watch out, there's a sousaphone on the floor.
In this next story...
All right, so quick, quick, rehearsal shoes. Put your stuff away.
We'll hear about youth who are in a play.
All right, kids. What are we doing from 4:00 to 6:00?
Staging. From page 107 onward?
Yes. So like Wells Fargo Wagon?
I think it's the end. The play's only 116 pages long.
All you musical theater buffs out there have probably guessed the play in question is "The Music Man," opening this weekend at Arena Stage in Southwest D.C. And the woman corralling our young actors into rehearsal...
All right, go, go.
...is Alexandria Wood.
And I am the young actor coordinator for Arena Stage and "The Music Man" right now.
How long have you been doing that at Arena?
Since March, maybe late February of this year.
Before "The Music Man," Wood worked on Eugene O'Neal's "Ah, Wilderness."
But my first wrangling job was with "A Christmas Carol."
The annual production at Ford's Theater.
And I had 13 kids in that.
In "The Music Man" she has five and that word she just used...
...is actually a technical term. Actors Equity is the labor union representing actors and stage managers and in production contracts, it uses wrangler and child guardian to refer to the folks who supervise actors under age 16. Though, while researching this story, I found theater folks employ all sorts of names for the job.
Shepherd, child welfare goddess, cheerleader, part guidance counselor, part best friend.
Those are all pretty accurate. We're basically a little bit of a person assistant, little bit of a stage manager just for the kids. So the amount of patience involved definitely makes one a goddess, I think.
And that goddess is responsible for a whole lot of stuff, from teaching proper theater etiquette.
When to be quiet, when to pay attention, how to walk around a rehearsal room in the most constructive manner, least disruptive manner.
To filling down time with school work or games.
We play a lot of cards, a lot of Speed, which I haven't played since I was 10.
To practicing lines and dance steps.
You know, I don't necessarily have to be able to dance on stage with everybody else, but I need to know what the steps are so that if our choreographer and dance captain are busy and the kids are needing to spend energy, we can do a dance step and I can make sure that they're all doing it right.
Wood also collects the kids for rehearsal. On a sunny Friday afternoon, I join her at Arena's Stage door.
All right, so who are we waiting for?
We are waiting for Mia and Heidi and Jamie, our three girls.
Where are they coming from?
School. And one of them goes to school in Virginia and one goes to school in Maryland and one goes to school here in D.C.
Mia Goodman plays Susie Squires, Heidi Kaplan plays Amaryllis, Jamie Goodson plays Gracie Shinn and when they arrive with their mothers, the girls seemed thrilled to see Wood.
MS. HEIDI KAPLAN
She's awesome you said?
MS. JAMIE GOODSON
MS. MIA GOODMAN
But the mothers seem pretty jazzed, too. Here's Heidi's mom, Kirsten.
MS. KIRSTEN KAPLAN
Without the child wrangler, this could never happen because the parents would never be able to just leave their children, you know, so honestly to us, she's the most important person here.
A big part of what sets parents' minds at ease is how much Wood is dedicated to safety and health. Not only is she certified in First Aid, but she keeps track of stuff like medications and allergies.
I've had a couple of kids that have Epipens and so I know where those are. I keep them with me. I haven't had to use them yet so that's good.
But Alexandria Wood, of course, deals with more than just physical health. Given some of those nicknames for her gig, cheerleader, part guidance counselor, part best friend.
Those are all pretty accurate.
She's also key in the mental health department.
Because remember, these kids are basically working a full-time job in a primarily grown up industry.
So I've already had to have the conversation at least once or twice in each cast so far of, you know, I know this is stressful. I know this is hard, but this is an opportunity and you're so lucky to be here. And if you remember all of the parts that you love, then they totally outweigh the parts that aren't so fun.
MS. MOLLY SMITH
All right. Let's go from the first moment with Harold.
And as "Music Man" director, Molly Smith, rehearses the end of the show with our young actors...
MR. BURKE MOSES
Think, man, think.
You can tell they're having plenty of fun.
Thanks in no small part to a downright fun American musical and, yes, a wrangling, cheerleading shepherd with a knack for organization and safety and an abundance of goddess-like patience.
"The Music Man" runs through June 22nd at Arena Stage. For ticket information and to see photos of the show's young actors, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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