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Meet Arena Stage's 'Youth Wrangler'

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Burke Moses as Harold Hill and Ian Berlin as Winthrop Paroo in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater's production of The Music Man May 11-July 22, 2012.
Scott Suchman
Burke Moses as Harold Hill and Ian Berlin as Winthrop Paroo in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater's production of The Music Man May 11-July 22, 2012.

"Shepherd." "Child Welfare Goddess." "Cheerleader." "Part Guidance Counselor, Part Best Friend." These are just some of the nicknames for what Alexandria Wood does for a living.

As the "Young Actor Coordinator" for Arena Stage, Wood is responsible for supervising actors under age 16, per the Actors' Equity production contract.

"We're basically a little bit of a personal assistant, a little bit of a stage manager just for the kids," Wood explains. "So the amount of patience involved definitely makes one a goddess, I think!"

And that "goddess" is responsible for many things. As Arena rehearses The Music Man, set to open May 11, Wood has been teaching the children proper theater etiquette, which includes when to be quiet, when to pay attention, and how to walk around a rehearsal room in the most constructive and least disruptive manner. Wood also fills the young actors' downtime with schoolwork or games.

"We've played a lot of cards," she says. "A lot of speed, which I haven't played since I was ten!"

She also helps the kids practice lines and dance steps.

"I don't necessarily have to be able to dance on stage with everybody else," she explains, "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 some energy, we can do a dance step, and I can make sure they're all doing it right."

Wood also collects the kids for rehearsal. On a sunny Friday afternoon, she waits at Arena's stage door for Mia Goodman (who plays Susie Squires), Heidi Kaplan (Amaryllis) and Jamie Goodson (Gracie Shinn). When they arrive with their mothers, the girls seem thrilled to see Wood. Goodman says Wood is "awesome."

"Yeah," Kaplan agrees. "She's spectacular!"

And the mothers seem pretty jazzed, too. Kaplan's mom, Kirsten, says Wood is indispensable.

"Without the child wrangler this could never happen," she says, "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 Woods' dedication to safety and health. Not only is she certified in first aid, but she also keeps track of things like medications and allergies.

"I've had a couple kids that have had epi-pens," Wood says. "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 Wood, of course, deals with more than just physical health. She's also key in the mental health department, as she works with young people who are basically working a full-time job in a mainly grown-up industry.

"I've already had to have the conversation at least once or twice in each cast of: '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 the parts that you love, they outweigh the parts that aren't so fun,'" Wood says.

And as The Music Man's young actors gear up for the May 11 opening, it's clear they're having plenty of fun, thanks in no small part to a downright fun American musical, and a wrangling, cheerleading shepherd with a knack for organization and safety... and an abundance of goddess-like patience.

The Music Man runs through June 22 at Arena Stage.

[Music: "Minuet in G" by Randy Waldman Trio from Wigged Out]

Photos: Arena Stage's "Youth Wrangler"

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