I am not overly fond of working with large numbers young children in shows. They are very energetic, often without much supervision, and sometimes they just can be totally out of control. They are usually good once they hit the stage, but off stage they're a trial. Perhaps its different with "professional" shows, but in community theater (my bailiwick) that's how it is. There are a few musicals that I've done that are good shows for adults but they have a fair number of kids, e.g., "Oliver", "Annie", and "The Sound of Music". Despite my preference not to work with kids, I have been in each of those shows. The kids are intrinsic to the story, so you either deal with them or you don't do the show. Simple!
But every now and then there is an experience with a child that doesn't quite fit the mold. I was doing "The Sound of Music", playing the role of the Frau Schultz (the housekeeper), she is only in the 2nd act so I just hung out back stage for the 1st act.
Captain Von Trapp's children range from 16 years old down to about 6. The role of the youngest child was being played by a darling little red-haired girl, slightly small for her age, who had never been on stage before. She was a real cutie, had a nice little voice, and learned her lines and blocking fairly easily. She was the kind of child that would make the audience say "awww" as soon as she walked on stage.
Opening night arrived and all the kids were excited but didn't appear to be particularly nervous, including the little red-head. She entered on her cue, remembered her lines and her blocking, and was fully engaged in the scene. The first song the kids were involved in is "My Favorite Things", which Maria sings to the children to distract them from a thunderstorm outside.
The scene takes place in Maria's bedroom, with the kids seated around and on the bed. The little red-head was to sit cross-legged on the floor next to the bed, which she did, listening to Maria sing. When the song was over, kids were supposed to jump up and exit to stage right, which they did....except for the little red-haired girl. She just sat there. Maria had a bit of business to do before the stage went dark for the next scene, but the kids were supposed to be gone. The stage manager in the wings and the little one's mother were desperately trying to get her to come off the stage, but she just shook her head and sat there. No one could figure out what was going on and the director was beginning to panic.
We were extremely fortunate that "Maria" was not only a seasoned performer, she was a kindergarten teacher in her real life, so an extra little girl on stage didn't throw her very much. Keeping totally in character, she went over and knelt down next to the little redhead. We could see they were having a whispered conversation, and we could see tears rolling down the little one's cheeks. After a bit, Maria scooped her up in her arms, the little girl laid her head on Maria's shoulder as Maria carried her off. The scene went to black.
Maria set her down off stage, the little girl ran to her mother and they disappeared toward the dressing room with the director. It was time for a scene change on stage, so the working blue lights came up, giving off just enough light for everyone to see the big wet spot on stage. You could hear the audience murmuring sympathetically.
Oh no, the poor little thing! She had an accident on stage and didn't know what to do about it. But, from a theatrical point of view, she hit it dead on! She kept in character, she tried to keep anyone from knowing, and she tried to do what was best for the show!
Of course, it was an enormous topic of conversation back stage, but there wasn't a mother among us, whose heart didn't break just a little bit for the little cutie. We were afraid that she wouldn't be willing to go back on stage after that. That kind of thing could scar a kid for life! But we underestimated her, that little cutie was a trouper! She went back on that night and every performance thereafter through the whole run.
However, before every performance from then on, the little redhead went around back stage and told absolutely everyone, sometimes more than once, from Maria to the leads, to the chorus to the stage hands and even to the musicians, "I'm fine, I've gone to the bathroom!"
I don't know if she did anymore shows, but I think she probably did. But I can guarantee you that she hits the bathroom just before the start of absolutely every show she ever does for the rest of her life!
Live theater! Isn't it great?