Did you know that your behavior influences your child actor’s opportunities?
In my more than 30 years of teaching, coaching, and directing child and teen actors, I’ve seen parents who unknowingly sabotage their child’s ability to get parts. Those parents weren’t intentionally harming their child’s career. They just lacked insider information about what directors and casting directors are looking for when they screen young actors.
My long-time colleague Matt Lenz is a theater director based in New York who has worked with child actors on Broadway, in touring productions, and in regional theater. Most notably, Matt directed the national tour of “A Christmas Story.” He has also worked on “Billy Elliot,” “Hairspray,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Sound of Music,” all shows with multiple child and teen cast members. I spoke with Matt recently and asked him to give me the scoop on what he looks for in child actors and their parents.
Matt and I both agree that working with young actors is different than working with adults. “I can’t believe how skilled and intuitive some young actors can be,” said Matt. He always chats with young talent and gauges their ease, ability to be in the moment, and how they can relate to adults. “It can be a hard test for a child to connect with adults and not be overly precocious,” Matt shared. He finds that a child who can be natural and authentic will be most successful.
Over-coaching your child is the biggest mistake you can make. “It is hard to break some kids who are over-prepped and over-rehearsed,” says Matt. “It is helpful when kids come into rehearsal with their lines memorized but not OK when I see kids make gestures that their parents coached them to do.” Directors like Matt can readily spot young talent who come to an audition highly coached.
Caution to parents: Please don’t coach your child if you don’t know what you are doing. It won’t help them in the audition room or during a performance. (I’ve written about the dangers of over-coaching previously.)
Directors like Matt cast young talent with enthusiasm and a strong desire to act. They also want a child who can stay focused and in the moment as well as connect honestly with the character. Too much pushing for perfection by parents can stress a child and harm their enthusiasm and joy for acting.
As for newcomers, I asked Matt if a lack of experience would prevent a child from being cast. He replied, “Absolutely not. Everyone has to start somewhere.” If your child is inexperienced and cast in a role, directors will often cast a more experienced actor as a cover or understudy.
Many of us who work with children have also worked with “parents from hell,” well-meaning people who are pushy, demanding, or unrealistic about their child’s skills or fit for certain parts. It is a difficult situation for everyone. Be aware that creative teams evaluate parents during auditions as well as the youth. If you are difficult, you may very well cost your child the part he or she so desperately wants.
Instead, be open to conversations and working with directors to create the best possible experience for your child as well as the show. Parents need to accept direction too! If you can demonstrate a sense of humor, a flexible approach, and a willingness to take suggestions, you will be the kind of a parent directors love to work with.
Be aware that when your child or teen is cast in a production, it requires a commitment from the entire family. There are long hours of rehearsals, travel, and coordination with school and other activities. Your child may need to give up sports or time with friends to honor their commitment to the production. Parents who are good role models can help their young actor as well as their entire family cope with the challenges and changes that will occur during a show.
Your child has a dream of being in the spotlight and soaking in the applause after a successful performance. By using the tips mentioned above you can help make that dream come true.