In my career of producing Children's Theater, I have worked in all of these arenas. The professional and community theater companies I have worked for usually only liked doing productions using kids from ages 12-17. The kids can read, study on their own, have already been developing their talents, and can usually produce a polished performance worthy of presenting to a "distinguishing" audience. And yet, a large proportion of young children ages 5-11 would like to participate. Let's face it, many people are not delighted by watching young children doing "the best they can, bless their hearts."
Picking an appropriate show is always difficult. The director must take into consideration the type of story and how it will appeal to both the actors and the audience. Young children love colorful, fanciful stories, many that are based on famous children's literature. Older kids may be interested in broader and sometimes darker subject matter. For a community or professional company, careful attention must be paid to what type of production will draw in a crowd. They have to think about profit. Schools may have different criteria, and may pick more age appropriate pieces geared to their student population.
I began writing shows for that younger, underserved population many years ago. The children ages 5-12 seem to have fewer good pieces geared specifically for them. It has been a joy to develop shows that have broad appeal, engage the children, and play well to an audience of more than just parents and grandparents. Some of the most fun to produce for this age range have been "The Tale of Chicken Licken," "Momotaro," "The Adventures of Dick Whittington," and "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse."
It's always fun to share comments from audience members:
"I just loved the songs and dances in "The Tale of Chicken Licken." The show was so professional. The costumes were adorable. Loved the Bluebirds 1940's hairdo's. We could understand every word! It was such a fun show!"
"My husband's parents have gone to many a grandchild's performances, but they told me that "Momotaro" was so much better than anything they had ever seen their grandkids in -- BY FAR! It was a 1/2 hour performance that just flew by! Thanks again for such a wonderful experience for our children."
"We have been to so many children's theater shows and usually we don't expect much. The acting is never very good and the songs are usually pretty dumb. But the music in this show ("The Adventures of Dick Whittington") was great! The songs were so catchy, we had no trouble trying to sing along when cued. We enjoyed how professional the production was. Our kids were thrilled to be a part of it. Looking forward to next summer."
"The Country Mouse and the City Mouse" show was so fun! I loved how there were meaningful parts for so many kids and everyone was busy for the entire show. No one could tell if there was a main starring role because there were so many featured parts. We loved the songs, too! They could have been straight out of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."