For more than 30 years, I’ve worked with young actors and found that many of them fall victim to the same simple mistakes. Talented children are regularly passed over in auditions because of bad habits that parents sometimes don’t even notice. If you’re on the lookout for these common mistakes and can fix them, you might find your child getting more attention in the audition room. Here are seven mistakes you can help your kid avoid.
With the recent media expose about wealthy parents who allegedly bribed and lied to purchase college admission for their children, my students and I have had many discussions about fairness, responsibility, and accountability. My students were angry. Kids are refreshingly honest and forthright. They know the difference between earning something and getting it in an underhanded way. They said “I work my butt off to get into a good school. I don’t want someone to get my spot just because their parents have more money than mine do.”
The interview is the time to personally interact and see if you and the agency or management company are the right fit for each other. It’s kind of like a first date. Sure, you may be nervous. You may be thinking, “If I am just plain old me, will I make enough of an impression?" Your best bet is to be prepared, but also be yourself. Look your best without trying too hard. Relax and have a good time. This is supposed to be fun, remember?
“Acting for Dummies” is the silliest name for a book on acting because acting is certainly NOT for dummies. It takes a real education to look natural in front of an audience or camera. As an acting coach, my teaching style consists of myriad techniques learned over the years from some very gifted teachers in the industry. This mix is also reflected in my reading list. Between my Kindle and my bedside table, I have perused and read far too many books to list in one article. However, I’d like to recommend six must-haves for aspiring and working actors alike.
Q: What is the proper etiquette when it comes to auditioning and working? What do my child and I need to be mindful of?
A: Here’s a great list of points to remember that will keep you prepared and looking professional:
Ask your agent what clothing is appropriate.
Don’t forget pictures, your resumé, and anything else you’ve been asked to bring.
Check in with whomever you need to.
Be mindful of other actors preparing for their auditions, but don’t socialize with them. Concentrate on you! (Without being rude of course.)
For callbacks, don’t change your child’s clothes/appearance. Why tamper with what worked?
ON THE JOB
Know the rules and regulations regarding the employment of minors. You’re responsible for your child’s safety and welfare!
Bring your child’s social security card, work permit, and identification number as well as any other required information or documentation.
Sign the contract before your child begins work. Speak to your agent if you have any questions/concerns about it.
Bring at least three hours of schoolwork if your child is being tutored on set.
Be professional and courteous.
If there is informational material available ahead of time, get it and be VERY familiar with it!
Know exactly where you have to be well before the appointment date. It never hurts to check it out beforehand, including parking options, etc.
Arrive at least 30 minutes early! You’ll be surprised to realize how much more relaxed you and your child will feel when you’re not rushing.
Only you and your child should attend the audition. Don’t bring other children, relatives, pets, etc.
Never leave your child unattended, but don’t get in the way of the set and its workers.
Speak up if you are concerned about anything. You can always speak to an agent or the union under whose jurisdiction you’re working.
My students tell me they act because they love stepping into a character’s shoes and making an audience laugh or cry. Acting makes them happy, fills them up and provides fun. I’m so glad they are not doing it for the fame or fortune, both of which are fleeting and may never happen. It’s hard work to make it as an actor and requires dedication, persistence, and fortitude. However, if your son or daughter isn’t having fun while acting, it may be time to make some changes.
Many kids start acting as a fun and fulfilling hobby but then realize it’s a profession. Showbusiness is fraught with anxiety, rejection and financial concerns. It can place a lot of stress on youth and families.
I teach a serious but fun course of study; I design classes and workshops for the disciplined young actor committed to their craft. However, I make sure to keep the element of fun in the class work. If acting isn’t fun, why bother? Why would anyone want to face the rigorous demands of an acting profession if they’re not enjoying the process?
Casting directors and directors are looking for actors who are engaged and find the fun, passion, and aliveness in what they’re doing. Audiences want to fall in love with the actors. When a young actor is missing the passion, he won’t be able to connect with or delight the audience. So how do you know when it’s not fun anymore? Here are some of the signs to recognize if your child is burning out and may require some action:
No desire to go to acting classes or workshops
Turning down auditions
Not memorizing lines or completing class assignments
A high level of stress
Little enthusiasm for anything related to acting
If your young actor is exhibiting any of these signs, it’s time for you to talk with them about how they feel about acting now. Ask if they’re having fun and want to continue or if they’d like to take a break and be a “regular kid” for a while.
It can be difficult for some parents to realize their young actor is burned out or ready to stop acting. You have invested time, money, and effort into their acting career, just as they have. However, loving parents realize that change is good for development and growth.
If your child isn’t having fun with acting any longer, celebrate together the good memories and skills gleaned from acting. Talk about the life lessons they learned and how those lessons can help them going forward. Support your child in taking a break from acting. Let her know she can decide to return when she’s ready or let it go to pursue another interest.
When the passion for acting is gone, it’s time to take a break. When you support your young actor in following their passion—whether it’s for acting or not—you are doing the very best possible parenting job, even if it’s not fun for you!
You’ve gone on so many commercial calls, but you are not booking the job. Take a look at my 12 simple commercial guideposts to see what may be missing so you can nail your next audition.
1. Energy. Pay attention to the sales clerk the next time you go to buy something. Would you rather make a purchase from someone who is enthusiastic or just “ho-hum” about their product? You want to make the sale in your audition, so turn it on!
2. Natural and Conversational. Read the copy as if you are talking to your best friend. Make sure you are sincere, honest, and believable. Now add energy and you’re two steps closer to landing the job.
3. Smile. This should go without saying, but smiling will take you a long way in this business. Allow your charisma and personality to shine through.
4. Color. Use your voice to paint a colorful picture. Use your adjectives to highlight what makes the product special.
5. Variety. Change it up. Find the highs and lows. Where can you be soft spoken? Louder? Secretive? Sexy? Get the idea?
6. Inflection. You can go up or down or stay the same. Pitching down can sometimes be a boring or negative choice. Try pitching up at your next audition to brighten your read.
7. Product Name. This is perhaps the most important thing you will say. Make sure it stands out and is clear and highlighted.
8. Warmth and Humor. The company may be hiring you to be the spokesperson for their product. Be likeable and genuine. Find a moment to bring some humor into your audition. Advertising sells to the consumer. What better way than with wit, charm, and a bit of fun.
9. Articulation. Diction, diction, and better diction. Practice with tongue twisters so you can warm up the muscle before you audition.
10. Turnaround. What is life like before the product is introduced and what is it like after? Be mindful of words such as "and," "because," "then," "but," "so," etc. This is where the change up occurs and can be demonstrated.
11. Focus. Where are you looking? Hopefully into the camera, if that is where you are directed. Memorize the first and last lines so you are looking up and are present. In the first line you reel them in and capture their attention. The last line is what you leave them with. Make an impression.
12. Have Fun. If you are not having fun, it may be time to go back to your day job!
The next time the commercials come on while you are watching your favorite TV show, don’t get up. Watch and see what tips from this list you can spot and how they make the message resonate for you.
In my experience, many people aren’t aware of the power their words can have. This is especially true for parents, and even more so for parents of young performers. As the caregiver and primary figure in a child’s life, a parent’s attitude and actions make a significant impact on a child actor’s confidence and success. As a mother myself, I’ve certainly said the wrong thing to my children many times because I thought I was helping.
As a mother myself, I also know you want the best for your child. But remember that while some things you say may seem helpful, they can be damaging. Below are five seemingly-helpful phrases it’s easy for you to offer your child actor but that should be avoided at all costs. If you’ve said them before, forgive yourself and remove them from your vocabulary for the future.
1. “Practice in front of a mirror.”
I’ve worked with hundreds of kids over the years and when a child tells me they were coached to practice in front of a mirror, it makes my skin crawl. In acting, you must know your lines and say them as if it’s the first time you’ve ever uttered them. Each time your child take the stage or the camera is ready to roll, he or she is experiencing something for the first time—so how does practicing in front of a mirror help? This practice only reinforces that your child is an actor who is rehearsing lines and mimicking facial expressions, an incredibly inorganic way to approach the material.
2. “You’ll get the next part.”
It hurts when a child doesn’t get something they wanted. To ease the pain, you may think you’re helping by telling your child this white lie. But telling them something you do not know to be true will hurt them more. If you say they’ll get the next part and it doesn’t happen, your child will learn to distrust you in the future. It’s hard to see your child face rejection but you can be a great mentor and role model during let downs by listening and helping them to stay optimistic about future opportunities. Your best approach is to help them find the good in every outcome.
3. “You look fat on camera.”
In an industry that puts so much emphasis on what someone looks like and with kids believing they have to be model-thin to be a star, this is one of the most dangerous things you can say to your child actor. Children are growing and developing for many years; their bodies will change throughout their lives, especially in adolescence. If you’ve noticed a change in your child’s body on camera, don’t address it directly. If you’re truly concerned, let your child’s doctor evaluate it.
4. “Look into the camera when taping with a reader.”
Casting directors are increasingly using video auditions to screen young actors these days. This can be beneficial as it reduces travel time and expense, making the first audition process more efficient for everyone. When self-taping, the actor needs to connect with the reader sitting and standing to the side of the camera so he only time the actor should be looking directly into the camera is when slating or if the instructions say to do so. Remember they’re not acting; they are making a connection with someone while trying to make something happen in the scene.
5. “You didn’t try hard enough.”
Your child may not have gotten the role because they were too tall, too short, didn’t have the right features, or simply wasn’t what the casting director wanted. It may have nothing to do with their effort. There is so much that’s out of one’s control in this business. If your child didn’t book the role, the worst thing you can say is, “You didn’t try hard enough.” Of course they did. Most of the time it’s not the best actor that gets cast, it’s the right actor.
You want to help your child and have them succeed but you may not always have the right answer when the moment is tense and your child is hurting. If you’re not sure what to say, say nothing except that you love them and are proud of their efforts, the most important message a parent can share with any child.
Many young actors are taught to play “tactics,” an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end. The word brings up images of generals sitting around a war room, strategically planning an attack on the enemy. And that’s exactly how most actors approach the “playing of an action.”
But we prefer to call actions or objectives “doings.” What’s the difference? With “doing,” you’re not pretending or faking something, you really do it, hence the name. This small tweak in approach will lead to great acting that is truly alive.
For example, you’re playing a character named Sally who just found out she’s failing math class. She needs to get the teacher to change her grade so as to not disappoint her parents. All too often, we’ll see the actor make a sad facial expression and sad sounds with her voice to make it seem like she is, in fact, sad about the grade. This is called indicating and it’s nothing more than a lie.
To really grip the audience and hit them where they live, the actor instead needs to actually experience and feel what the character is experiencing and feeling. She needs to be devastated. She needs to beg the actor playing her teacher, not just have her character beg another character. It’s a simple concept, but it’s not as easy to achieve.
Have you ever seen an actor onstage who is supposed to be hungry and eating but only pretends to eat, not actually putting the food in his or her mouth for fear of the food getting in the way of the audience appreciating the clever way he or she is delivering lines? If you’re supposed to be hungry and eating cereal, eat the cereal. Really do what you are doing.
How? Here’s an example from life that may help illustrate the point.
You come home from school and your sister is standing by the sink, crying. You rush over and hug her but she pushes you away and shouts, “Don’t!” What do you do next? Do you run right back and hug her again in the same way? Of course not. You’re a human being and you would adjust to the information you just received from her response. Maybe you remain silent for a moment. Maybe you gently whisper, “What happened today?” The only person who would rush right back over and throw their arms around her in the very same way would be the actor who had carefully and strategically rehearsed their “tactic.”
While you must always know what you’re doing or what your objective is, the how to do it is supplied by the other person. You must learn how to actually receive what the other actor is giving and then authentically respond to that behavior, moment by moment.
This takes a lot of practice and is only truly achieved through training with others. It requires taking risks and being willing to explore freely with your mind, body, and spirit. The objective must be accomplished with all of your behavior—the speaking of the words, your physical and emotional behavior, the way you listen and receive what the other actors are giving you.
It’s invigorating stuff and will transform the quality of your acting in the most brilliant way, making you what we call a “true actor.”
As the days get longer, temperatures rise and school demands end. It’s officially summer, most kids’ and teens’ favorite season, and a wonderful time to decompress, change up routines, pick up skills, form different relationships, and try new things.
Because young working actors carry the burden of both work and school during the academic year, summer is a valuable time to lighten up and actually be a kid, while at the same time developing new skills. Whether your child is enrolled in a theater or traditional camp, traveling, or working at home, summer affords endless possibilities for growth that can’t take place during the school year.
When I see my students in September, I marvel at how they have not only grown in inches but also in maturity. This summer, encourage your kids to get the most out of their time with these tips.
Become a camper.
I attended sleepaway camp from the age of seven. As an independent, active, social young girl, I was happiest at a camp that offered a host of activities. As I developed into a teen, summer camp became a place to blossom and form healthy relationships, some of which I still maintain today.
Listen and observe while traveling.
I love hearing of all the fascinating places my students visited over the summer. With the world as their classroom, encourage them to watch, listen, and learn. If your child wants to work on their dialect skills, consider planning a family trip to another country; the best way to learn a dialect is directly from the source.
If you’re traveling this summer, encourage your child to do a little homework by observing and listening. It can be fun and educational to speak with new people.
Delve deeply into the craft of acting.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Talent and passion are essential elements in an actor’s life. Training is the glue that holds them together.” During the school year, there is limited time to study intensely and consistently between school, rehearsals, and other commitments which makes summer a great time to take advantage of intense training in acting, singing, or dance.
Just like an athlete, your young performer needs to continually improve their skills. Intensive courses that require many hours that just aren’t feasible during the school year, making it an ideal endeavor come summer.
Volunteer and serve your community.
Sympathy and empathy can’t be taught in the classroom, but these qualities are critical to a being a good actor and a good human. Being charitable is a beautiful way for kids to give back and have fun. The most successful actors are those who demonstrate the ability to give and support others. A kind and giving person is attractive and always welcome in a cast.
Learn a new skill.
A person with diverse interests who is curious and invests time in acquiring new skills comes across as vital, intriguing, and attractive. Your child’s interests outside of acting can be as essential as learning how to act or sing. The best performers are interesting people first. Casting directors love to see the pieces that make up your child and keep them well-rounded.
Take a break.
Be a kid and have fun. Wash your hair in the rain, catch lightning bugs, go fishing, read a book, lie on the beach! Just as there is much to learn with structured time, learning how to be still is a skill in and of itself. To “just be” is a core concept in acting and requires practice. Encourage your child to carve out time to rest and relax. When they do, they’ll be ready for the fall audition season with plenty of energy and excitement.
Whatever you and your child choose this summer, make sure you include plenty of time to make great memories together.