The Business of Children in Disney’s Theater

  • Ken Cerniglia
  • Lisa Mitchell
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


In Disney’s 2012 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Newsies, the young reporter Katherine seizes the opportunity to break out of the society pages by risking her job to cover the nascent newsboys’ strike. During her first-act solo turn, Katherine sits alone at her typewriter: “Give those kids and me the brand new century and watch what happens.”1 Set in 1899 and based on the true story of a high-profile children’s strike that set the stage for labor reform in the coming decades,2 Newsies taps into tropes of youth potential that have been reliable fuel for the entertainment business ever since. Whether professional performers, theatergoers, participants in school plays, or beneficiaries of philanthropic outreach efforts, children lie at the heart of Disney’s theatrical mission.


Company Manager Teaching Artist Professional Child Labor Reform Professional Theater 
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  1. 2.
    The strike was sparked by the largest newspapers—Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal—refusing to lower their wholesale price to the newsboys from 60 cents per hundred back to 50 cents per hundred after the increased circulation during the Spanish-American War of 1898 had long faded. These events were registered by Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who would become President of the United States in a few short years, and Lewis Hine, an educator who would go on to photograph children for the National Child Labor Committee. (Jacob Riis, a Danish immigrant who became a friend of Roosevelt, had published a famous photo-account of urban poverty in How the Other Half Lives in 1890.) For more information on child labor and early twentieth-century reforms, see David Nasaw’s Children of the City: At Work and at Play (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Henry Hodges and Margaret Engel, How to Act Like a Kid: Backstage Secrets of a Young Performer (New York: Disney Editions, 2013), xiv.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Hodges and Engel, How to Act Like a Kid, ix. Thomas Schumacher is the author (with Jeff Kurtti) of How Does the Show Go On?: An Introduction to Theatre (New York: Disney Editions, 2007).Google Scholar
  4. 33.
    Doug Israel, “Staying in School, Arts Education and New York City High School Graduation Rates” (New York: The Center for Arts Education, 2009), 3.Google Scholar
  5. 34.
    Edward B. Fiske, ed., Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning (Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership, 1999), 8.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    Lisa Mitchell, “Self-Efficacy and Theatre Production in Urban Elementary Schools” (MS thesis, The City College of New York, 2011).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ken Cerniglia
  • Lisa Mitchell

There are no affiliations available

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