WANTED: Parent of working child actor. Must be on call 24/7, be willing to commute four hours a day or rent an apartment costing $2500-$5000 per month, parent other children from a distance and teach spouse how to do laundry and cook while you are away.
Did you mean to apply for this job? Despite all the ways a parent supports a young actor’s dream, few parents are actually prepared for the enormous commitment of a tour, Broadway show, film, or television series. The experience often comes with many delightful and difficult moments. It can be a wonderful investment of time, but financially draining. It is exhilarating to see a child blossom, but isolating to be apart from family and friends. It may create a lifetime of precious memories, but leave a parent physically exhausted.
The key to success for both the parent and young actor is to prepare for the challenges, remain flexible and creative when solving problems, and stay organized. Here are some tips to make your experience as the parent of a working child actor a happy and successful one.
1. Do your research. Know what you are getting into by speaking to the parents of other child actors in the show. Every production has its unique challenges. For example, some production companies provide tutoring while others don’t. Make of list of all the organizational, financial, and emotional challenges you are likely to encounter. This includes issues around marriage, raising other children, finances, housing, and employment to name a few. For example, one parent I know copes with the close quarters of hotel rooms by booking suites. Another parent negotiated tutoring for her other child whom she also takes on the road.
2. Family conference. The life of a working child actor will affect every member of the family. Have a family discussion before accepting any offer. It is likely that siblings will have to be more independent, spouses will work harder and endure loneliness, and details of home life may go unattended. Be specific with new responsibilities. Make sure everyone is on the same page and willing to accept the changes that go along with supporting a working actor.
3. Be realistic. Once on the road or in a production, be flexible. You can’t plan for everything. Some things will cost more, take more time, or go undone. An extra plane ticket for a sibling who misses an on-the-road parent is often the cost of supporting a young actor’s work.
4. Be organized. Driving long hours, eating on the run, and sleep deprivation are often part of the job. Your daily routine of staying healthy—including cooking healthful meals and exercising—will now be compromised unless you are organized. Keep a daily schedule to ensure you remain focused. Do research to plan for the next stop on a tour. Knowing that the grocery store is only a block from your hotel can make all the difference when you are checking-in late and have to prepare for the next day.
5. Keep your marriage healthy. Nothing beats sitting with your spouse and watching your child happily perform on stage. However, there will be times when you and your partner will be separated for long periods. Make your marriage a priority. Be prepared for unanticipated stresses that come from employment, child rearing, and separation. It is often very helpful to have a trusted family member take over the chaperoning duties for a bit while parents get together to recharge their relationship.
6. Early empty nest syndrome. Closed rehearsals are one of the hardest parts of parenting a working child actor. It’s a bit like the first day of kindergarten. Children leave for work early in the day and don’t return home until quite late in the evening. There is generally no parental involvement during this time even with regard to schooling. It’s important to listen carefully to your child for signs of stress and develop a trusting relationship with key members of the production such as the child wrangler and tutors. The parents of other child actors are also a good resource to help chart these difficult waters.
7. Watch your pocket book. Your child is now working in the business world! Be prepared to learn about the tax implications of that and the record keeping required to track expenses. Also, manage your per diem payment for expenses wisely. With proper planning, many families are able to cover unanticipated costs like travel.
Parenting a working child actor is tough and yet, most parents would agree that the performing experience is the single best thing they ever did for both their child and themselves. As one mother of a young Broadway starlet put it, “Despite all the downfalls, the joy of seeing my child on stage makes it all worth it. It is a once in a lifetime experience I would never trade.”