A Day in the Life with Jill Zygo, Child Wrangler at ONCE

Patience and stamina are two words I would use when describing any professional guardian (also known as a child wrangler), including Jill Zygo, a substitute guardian at Tony Award-winning musical Once, who was kind enough to let me follow her around for a day!

We started off the day by grabbing delicious hot chocolates at Café Bene in midtown. Even though it was just a short walk away from Times Square, you would never guess by the cozy and relaxed interior. As we nestled into a book shelved area, I started asking questions to familiarize myself with what exactly a child guardian does. Jill explained that the practice has really evolved over recent years, starting with Billy Elliot, the 2009 Tony Award winning musical. Billy Elliot also had a record-breaking number of children in the cast, which led to 7 guardians backstage! This surplus of guardians got Jill and others thinking, “Everyone else has a union, why don’t we?” Hence, the guardians’ union was formed and is part of the Local 764, the Theatrical Wardrobe Union. Starting a union ensures fair wages and conditions for the previously underrepresented group of workers.

So, what exactly does Jill’s job description entail? A guardian is in charge of all things kids, whether it is emotional or physical safety and support. The stage manager and crew are not responsible for child cast members at all, but rather focus on all things stage. This leaves the guardian in charge of everything from knowing the Equity rules for child performers, to making sure the kids are onstage when they need to be, to entertaining them while they’re not on stage.

Since Jill is a substitute guardian and wasn’t backstage on this particular day, it left us some time to have fun! After finishing up coffee we went to go get pedicures.

After we chose our colors and settled in, I started to ask more personal questions, like how Jill got her start working on Broadway. She explained that after she joined Actors’ Equity four years ago, she moved to the city. In between jobs she started nannying, which was not surprising considering her lifelong love of working with kids. Then, her husband J. Michael Zygo’s landed a role in Once. Jill was asked to substitute as the child wrangler a few times, and she realized she really enjoyed this experience, which led Jill on the path to creating and joining the union. She’s been involved with theater her whole life and also loves kids, so a job like this is kind of the best of both worlds.

Once our toes had dried, we embarked on our next adventure and walked back to the heart of the theater district. Jill wanted to take me backstage at Once, and what kind of theater fan would I be if I said no?

Jill and her husband, J. Michael, who is currently performing in ONCE on Broadway.

Backstage we ran into some familiar faces, including Jill’s husband along with the stars of the show, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti! Jill used our time on the stage to talk about the differences between subbing for Once and Annie, where she also contributes her talents. Once only has one child onstage, and Annie has much more. This is something that obviously affects a guardian, seeing as how they are responsible for the kids onstage and off.

After leaving Once, Jill took us to the Annie stage door to meet the girls! On the way over, she shared some interesting facts with us. Did you know that parents are not allowed past the stage door? Or, how about that there’s a tutoring room right in the theater? I sure didn’t until Jill told me!

 

She also provided some tips for those guardians in training, including what she always has in her apron backstage. The must haves include: tissues, band-aids, notepad, pen, pencil, cellphone, Ricolas and something called Bleed Freeze, used to stop bloody noses instantly!

Jill was greeted by screams of adoration at the stage door as the cast ran over to great her. It was really inspiring to see the connections she’s already made with the girls.  After hugs were exchanged, she introduced me to everyone, including Katie Finneran! That was really exciting, especially for my mom, who’s a big fan of hers.

At this point, the day had started to come to a close. As Jill and I said our goodbyes, we promised to stay in touch. On the car ride home, all I could think about was how great my day had been and how many awesome things I was able to do, all by following around a guardian for a day! I hadn’t realized the extent to which child guardians are a necessity to the Broadway community. I’m so thankful to one in particular for the eye-opening experience of letting me live in her shoes for a day!

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  1. Creative Futures | Personalized Careers says:

    […] Jillian Zygo went to SUNY Geneseo for Musical Theatre and graduated in 2005. After working professionally for 5 years, travelling the country in Broadway National tours, Zygo settled in NYC, Times Square to be exact. Zygo’s husband Michael continued to book theatrical work and settled into the life of a Broadway Actor while Jillian began to take babysitting gigs to pay the bills. Starting to sub as a wrangler at Broadway houses, Zygo found herself in the middle of a promising career change and with the opportunity to really make a different. […]



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