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The really young and restless hit Broadway

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Andrea Bowen has quite a rsum. This Broadway actress is starring in "The Sound of Music." Before that, she played two roles in "Les Miserables." She also has appeared in two other major theater productions and sung on a cast recording as well.

Andrea is only nine years old.

The number of shows that feature talented youngsters, like this Columbus, Ohio, native, is growing. And so is their audience. Last year, the League of American Theatres and Producers reported that the fastest-growing segment of the theater audience is below-18-year-olds, a demographic that doubled to 1.1 million in 1997. The trade group credits this rise to kid-friendly shows.

With the increase of child actors, theater personnel are facing challenges such as child-labor laws and providing schooling. (The actors' union sets guidelines for entertainers of all ages.)

To ensure that their budding thespians have a normal childhood, many stage parents opt to send them to public schools rather than special schools for young performers. On Broadway, where most shows are at night or over the weekend, attending school is feasible, though the actors may miss some extracurricular activities. Tutors step in when a show goes on tour.

The children generally are paid to scale, a figure set by Actors' Equity at $1,135 per week. In many cases, the money goes straight into a college fund. But considering that Broadway has become a billion-dollar business, that's really not a lot of money.

Bobby Wilson, a children's guardian, or "wrangler" in theaterspeak, is enjoying the increased popularity of underage entertainers.

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