In a stack of resumes, there are a handful of certain recurring words. Wrangler is not one of them. Maybe because cowboys never found a way to fuse their experience in the Great American West with corporate infrastructure or maybe because lassos have simply lost their practicality in an urban world. Either way, I am one of the few people who can claim this title. No, I am not a cowboy- I am a Child Wrangler at San Francisco Opera. What does that mean exactly? It means I guide child performers on and off stage throughout rehearsals and performances at the opera. I have been in this position for the past four seasons and have been held responsible for as few as four and as many as 40 children ranging from age 6 to 17. Some are seasoned veterans of the stage and some are complete novices. My job is to ensure their safety while they are in the building and, mostly, try to keep them focused, safe, and professional. Sometimes this is an easy task and sometimes, a nearly impossible one.
Backstage at the opera there are scores of people moving to complete tasks vital to the show’s success. Each person is following specific instructions and paths of travel so as to remain clear of other people, sets, props, etc.on the stage. It is crucial for everyone to move quickly and remain aware of their surroundings.This is as true for the children and me as it is for everyone else. Part of my job is to ensure that child performers are moving in the exact path and position that allows them to remain as safe as possible. Sometimes this requires crossing behind, underneath, or even across the stage during a performance. Whatever the situation, the standard of professional etiquette remains the same for adults and children alike and those who work in this environment are better for having had the experience.
The invaluable benefit of watching young people in the arts grow as they work with world-class professionals serves as a reminder to singers, like myself, about the journey of a musician as they develop a childhood interest into a profession. Being present during an opera production from its early construction to the final curtain allows musicians of any age to become accustomed to professional standards that can, in turn, be applied in any setting. It is a preparatory experience for any aspiring artist and one I would strongly endorse. [Photo: Etienne Julius Valdez, Joshua Reinier, and John "Jack" Walsh appear as the Three Spirit Boys in The Magic Flute. Credit: Cory Weaver.]