Being an actor in a children’s play sounds like a dream job. James Gitsham, who plays The Gruffalo in this month’s KidsFest, told us what it’s like to entertain hundreds of kids.
What is the one thing guaranteed to get children to laugh?
Ha, ha. I’m not sure that kids are any different from adults in their diversity. In the same way that different adults find different things funny, so do kids. Almost always, if something is really funny for kids, their mums and dads will be laughing alongside them. There are some things that kids (and a lot of adults) will almost always laugh at if they’re done well. The best jokes and biggest laughs are usually from things generated by the storyline or the characters.
What’s the most surprising thing a child in one of your audiences has done?
When I first started, the thing that surprised me most was just how much they identified with the characters, and how they could really believe what they were seeing. Sometimes children will shout out advice to the characters, especially if they know the story. But it’s still very hard not to laugh yourself, when, during quiet bits of the show, you hear a five-year-old girl shouting advice to The Mouse who’s just been caught by The Gruffalo: “Kick him in the willy!”
What training do you need to act in children’s theatre?
The formal vocational training for children’s and adult theatre is the same and, in the UK, usually takes between two and three years. All of the performing arts require a high degree of technical ability. Natural talent in singing, dancing and acting is of course necessary, but to make a professional career some amount of formal training is almost always required.
What sort of personality traits do you need to have?
There are all sorts of skills that are useful for actors, but I don’t think there are any common personality traits. However, if you are going to perform well for children, I think you have to like them! A good work ethic is a necessity because, of all the forms of theatre, children’s theatre can be the most exhausting. Shows are usually high-energy, with lots of singing and dancing, and it’s common to perform 14 times a week. To do well, you need to be pretty down-to-earth and not take yourself too seriously.
Do you stick to just children’s theatre?
Most people who work in children’s theatre in the UK also work in adult theatre. The technical skills are the same. So whether you’re performing for adults or children, you still need to develop all the same vocal skills, resonance and articulation to be heard in big theatres. The biggest transition when working in adult theatre is getting used to having a lie-in every morning!
Room on the Broom 30 January – 10 February
The Gruffalo 16 – 27 January
Mr Benn 22 – 27 January
Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain 31 January – 9 February
Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans 3 – 10 February