Erin Schneider caught the acting bug when she was in third grade. Her teacher "made her" play the Big Bad Wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood."
"I loved it and never stopped," she said.
It is now Schneider's hope that other youngsters will "catch the bug" of live theater when she and the rest of the "Curious George Live" cast come to town.
Erin Schneider portrays Netti Pisghetti, second from left, in “Curious George Live!” George and his friends, including Chef Pisghetti, The Man With The Yellow Hat, Professor Wiseman and Doorman will monkey around at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 16-17.
"The thought that there is a kiddo out in the audience who is turning to their parents and saying, 'I want to do that' is amazing!" said Schneider, who portrays Netti Pisghetti, Chef Pisghetti's feisty wife, in the first-ever large-scale live production featuring everyone's favorite little monkey, Curious George.
"Curious George Live" will take the WesBanco Arena stage at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 and 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 17.
A mainstay of the Public Broadcasting System's PBS Kids children's programming, "Curious George" is based on the books by Margaret and H.A. Rey. The live show, produced by VEE Corp., which also produces "Sesame Street Live!", is a musical extravaganza in which George must assist Chef Pisghetti in clinching the international Golden Meatball title during a crazy contest in Rome, Italy.
"When George comes out, you'd swear it was Britney Spears or someone. They scream, they clap, they cry."
Erin Schneider, who plays Netti Pisghetti in "Curious George Live!"
Speaking from the cast's hotel quarters in Worcester, Mass., outside Boston on Wednesday, Schneider said the live show is a "full, Broadway-style musical theater experience."
"The songs have so many great messages about getting curious and finding joy and excitement in everything you do," Schneider said. The characters are larger than life, and the young actors who portray them do so with over-the-top gusto. "They're the most theatrical bunch of lunatics I ever had the chance to spend time with!" she said.
The actor playing the swinging and flipping George also played Elmo in "Sesame Street Live!", she said. Chef Pisghetti will delight the audience with his "overly dramatic" and "hilarious" ballad, "I Is So Sad." Schneider's favorite scene is the Golden Meatball Contest itself, featuring an "Iron Chef"-esque atmosphere hosted by the schmooz-oozing Frankie Sidecar, a new character created for this production.
Schneider's role as Netti is a great fit for her, she said. Her job is to keep Chef from going over the edge.
"She's this great kind of sassy, boisterous Italian woman, and I like to think I'm a sassy, boisterous Italian woman," Schneider said.
Schneider was thrilled to land the role. She performed in her hometown of Denver's Metro Players and for Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre before moving to New York City to follow her acting dream. Just a few months after graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, she was cast as Netti.
"It was great. It was a dream come true. I couldn't believe it," Schneider said of the offer. The performances began in September and will continue through June.
Despite living out of two suitcases and traveling hour after hour, month after month, by chartered bus, Schneider said it has been an amazing experience.
"Touring is great. I could do it forever. ... It's absolutely the best way to see the country." She and the cast planned to 'monkey around' in downtown Boston on Thursday.
"I have a picture of me in front of the St. Louis Arch and the Big Bean ('Cloud Gate' sculpture) in Chicago. It's been incredible. My favorite state so far has been Louisiana. We got to go into New Orleans. It was just beautiful -the architecture and Bourbon Street and the gardens. It was beautiful."
Schneider said she is looking forward to visiting Wheeling; they won't have much time to sightsee, however, arriving from Charlotte, N.C., the day before and heading to Bethlehem, Pa., the next day. She said they usually do between six and 10 shows a week.
It's a whirlwind, but Schneider said it's worth it to see the looks on the kids' faces in each new city.
"When George comes out, you'd swear it was Britney Spears or someone. They scream, they clap, they cry; it's wonderful! We get to see how excited they are to see live performers and live performances, which are not easy to bring into kids' lives anymore. ...
"I would like people to remember to support live theater. A culture is only as good as its art, and live theater is as good as it gets."