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First Stage is an Equity Theater for Young Audiences committed to age-appropriate casting. We cast a combination of Equity and non-Equity performers in all adult roles. Young performers are cast in all roles that call for young people. This is the strongest artistic choice that a children’s theater can make. We consistently hear that our use of young performers with proper training and direction creates a production that rings more true and honest, and audience members can connect with our productions more strongly. In addition, young people working alongside adult professionals not only enhance the play, but also benefit greatly in terms of their own personal development. First Stage Theater Academy – the teaching arm of First Stage – champions the philosophy that we teach life skills through stage skills. The Theater Academy strives to provide the best theater training possible while ensuring that the foremost goal of the program is to address each young person’s personal development.
The progression from training to active participation in productions with professional actors is a logical and healthy continuation of this process. The growth that takes place in these young people as actors and as individuals during the rehearsal process is nothing short of amazing. Young performers and parents tell us time and time again how much the experience means to them and how richer their lives are because of it.
The most significant challenge facing us when we choose to cast age appropriately is that we have to cast two sets of young performers. Because we perform for school groups Tuesday through Friday, we have casts of young performers alternating performance days throughout the run. In the end each child will miss 8 to 10 days of school over a 4 or 5-week period. Young performers rehearse every other day and occasionally both casts attend rehearsal together. Rehearsals take place after school and on weekends. As challenging as this may sound, the adult performers and the directors find the experience of working with young performers invigorating. Each young performer brings a unique part of his or herself to the role, which in turn will lead the adult actors and directors to new discoveries.
The participation of young performers also requires that we coordinate with parents/guardians and schools. We create car-pool systems, coordinate actor switches for specific conflicts, ensure that assigned homework is completed and tests rescheduled when needed. Through it all, the vast majority of our young performers will see their grades go up during the time they are involved with a First Stage production.
The challenges for both the young performers and for our theater company are well worth the difference it makes both in our productions artistically and in the benefits the young people receive through being a significant part of a professional theater production.