It’s a thrill getting the phone call from your agent or manager saying the words you’ve been waiting to hear: “Pack your bags. You’re going on tour.” You let your school know you’ll be absent for 6-12 months and you bid goodbye to your friends and family as you embark on the dream of a lifetime.
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.”
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!
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.
How many times have you pulled your child out of school early for an audition? Does your teenager miss the first few classes in the morning because of a late night at the theater? Going to school, attending auditions, and working can be a heavy burden for anyone – especially a child or teenager. Here are some tips to help you as parents and guardians manage the scheduling demands of your busy young performer.
1. Make sure your child gets enough rest. Not only can sleep deprivation lead to poor school performance, it can also compromise your child’s immune system, resulting in allergies or other sickness. If your child starts missing school due to illness, playing “catch up” will just add more stress.
2. Ensure your child is eating a healthy balanced diet. Yes, this is easier said than done. I have kids of my own, and they like sweets. When they are filled with sugar and carbs, they will be lethargic, moody, and not at the top of their game. The next time your child needs a pick-me-up, substitute a protein bar for that Snickers bar.
3. Keep good communication with the school and teachers. Consulting with the school in advance is absolutely a key element to creating a supportive school environment and helping your child stay on top of his or her academics. When children miss class in public school, they are marked absent. They are only allowed a certain number of absences per semester, and "working" absences are not always considered "excused." Consulting with the principal or district supervisor, especially on long, on-going shoots (TV series, movies, etc.), may help you keep the truant officer away from your door.
4. Make sure your child is attending a school that is supportive of their job. I frequently get asked by parents, ”Which school would support my child best?” I decided to ask Alan Simon, president of School for Young Performers and On Location Education, the nation’s premier tutoring service for child performers, to answer this question as he knows a thing or two about school and its demands on young actors.
"Schools that are supportive of the working actor's lifestyle come in many forms. In addition to the School for Young Performers, there is the Professional Children's School. Both of these are examples of private schools that can accommodate a family's needs. Some families prefer to home-school through a variety of programs, some independent, some religious, some affiliated with universities and other institutions of learning. Additionally, there are also many public 'magnet' programs that support drama majors and working performers. Whatever you choose, make sure that your school of record will sign your child's work permit. Completion of satisfactory educational performance must be attested to by a recognized public, private, or home-schooling program in order for your child to legally work in at least forty of the fifty states."
5. Develop a good routine. Sticking to a regular schedule and routine can also help balance the work and school load. The problem is that show business does NOT follow a schedule. For the working child actor, there are hold days, re-shoots, matinee performances, unexpected overruns, etc. Explaining the business of show business to the school takes some doing. They understand scheduling conflicts such as sanctioned sports trips and children with illnesses and broken limbs. The schedule of a “working child”? Not so much. They will have to learn to "roll with it" as much as the family does. When exploring your school options, consider how supportive the school can be before settling on one.
Although my own children are not in show business, I know what it takes to manage their busy schedules. In order to be the best parent I can be I need to practice self-care as well. As the parent of a child actor, I recommend you follow my advice here not only for your child, but also for yourself. Get enough sleep, eat well, plan your schedule, and don’t forget to throw a little fun in too!
Here’s some encouraging news for 2018: You no longer have to worry about whether you’re talented enough or if you can really “do it.” You can sleep peacefully knowing you don’t have to compare yourself to others in your class or play. You can stop trying to please teachers and impress directors.
Pretty bold statements, sure, but with a combined 60 years of experience working with young actors, we’re excited to let you in on a teen actor training revolution taking place. Acting is supposed to be thrilling not just for the audience but for the actor as well. But how can you, the actor, have any fun or enjoyment if you’re constantly worried about being good enough? You can’t. This is a problem that stems from actor training that’s rooted in results. Your director says to “smile bigger here” or “be angrier now.” You’re told to produce these results and because you don’t have a different way of working and you very much want to give your director those results, you fake it.
But “faking it” isn’t acting, despite what a lot of people think. We can’t tell you how many students have come to us and shared that they thought acting was basically just being a good faker. And this, dear friends, is the root of the problem. Instead of faking it, you need a clear, simple, human way of approaching your craft. And here’s how to do it.
Acting is actually very simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes consistent hard work, but it’s not complicated! You can begin right now by looking at the character as an actual human being. Just like you, the character has hopes and desires, struggles and challenges, great accomplishments and painful failures, moments of joy and deep suffering. Just like us. This is the human story, the basis of every script you will ever read. Remember that you do have something in common with every character and the connection doesn’t have to be a complicated one.
The minute you read a script, grab a notebook and write down how the character moves you, how you relate to what makes them feel good and what makes them suffer. These are the keys. Can you find connections with how you see the world? This will immediately help you understand the character’s point of view, which is where you should start when stepping into their shoes.
Every play and every movie is a story about human beings, no matter the style or the period. And you know what? This is something you know how to do since you do it every single day. In our series of articles here, we will bring together everything you know about being human and everything you discover about the characters in the script. You’re going to see that what we believe about you is true:
1. You are amazing and brilliant.
2. You are gifted and powerful and unique. We don’t care what others may have said and we don’t care what you may have told yourself.
3. We know you have everything you need to be a great actor.
We also know that you are driven by a great desire to express your true self, to make a big difference in this crazy world. We believe you can do this—you just need the right tools. And that is our desire, to give you those tools. We’re on a very personal mission to help you fulfill your gifts and realize your destiny. So join us in the teen acting revolution this year and become the future of the craft.
Few actors are lucky enough to support themselves solely by acting. Whether it’s a day job or a new career, your acting skills and training will help you become successful in any profession. Here are 10 job-related skills the craft can teach you.
1. Closing the deal
In any business, whether it’s a sales job or owning a business, you’ll need to sell a product or service. Convincing someone of something is a valuable asset. In addition to your inner truth, let your buyers know you’re truly confident in your product by the way in which you speak and how you hold yourself physically, skills you learn in the acting classroom.
Advancing in your career without being trustworthy is hard. In my classes, we play a game where a person has to close their eyes and fall backward and trust they’ll be caught. It’s not as easy as it sounds; letting go can be scary. We often try to control the scene or outcome without trusting our instincts and being present in the moment. Developing trust in your self can take time, but it will help you in any career setting.
Putting yourself in another’s shoes is a crucial people skill. As you take on different parts, you will naturally become more empathic and understand others’ emotional experiences. Since our emotions play a prominent role in thought, decision making, and success, when you have empathy, you will stand out in the workplace and be a superstar, especially in careers where you work directly with clients or customers.
4. Active listening
Being a good listener is a fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills and the key to a healthy relationship. If you’re familiar with Meisner’s repetition exercise in which two actors repeatedly exchange the same two lines of dialogue, you know it takes a lot of practice. Active listening means fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just hearing the message of the speaker. In learning how to listen, you remain neutral and non-judgemental, both important when working with bosses and co-workers.
Who am I? What do I want? How do I get what I want? Where am I? When does the scene take place for me? These are all questions used to break down a scene and work on character development. Showing up authentically and being curious about what will happen next is key to success, not only in your acting but with your employees and customers.
You spend hours on set only to find out your scene is now being pushed to the next day. You deal with many personalities and egos, all while keeping your cool. Learning to maintain a level head in stressful circumstances is an asset in the workplace as your patience will be tested over and over again.
7. Critical thinking
Observing, interpreting, and analyzing are skills needed in the workplace. If you audition regularly, you know that thinking outside the box is crucial for gaining attention. Acting requires critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skill, all of which also enhances academic performance and are marketable strengths.
You don’t act in a vacuum—you rely on other actors to play with you. Acting also requires that you leave your ego outside the stage door. Want to get that promotion? Be a good team player. Employers hire people they like and believe will get along well with customers and co-workers.
9. Working well under pressure
Many job interviewers or college admissions staff ask how well you can work under pressure, a question actors can ace. Getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people, taking risks, and memorizing pages of dialogue give you lots of experience in managing stress.
10. Transferable skills
The lessons and skills learned in acting will transfer to any career path and enhance your professional success. The acting skills you master now—including communication, empathy, patience, problem-solving, and self-confidence—will help you succeed today and for the rest of your life, whether you decide to continue with acting or enter another profession. It’s all good!
For much of the entertainment industry, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a rare moment to slow down. Agencies close, phones stop ringing, and routine emails generally go unanswered until after the holiday.
As I am in London this holiday week, I am struck by the way Europeans slow down. Absolutely nothing is open on Christmas Day. Not even mass transit. On the following day, Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day of the season, some tube stations and many stores still remain closed. How different it is on our side of the pond where Black Friday now infringes on Thanksgiving Day itself.
I am taking my cue from the Brits and encouraging you to do the same. Take a moment this holiday season to shut out the shopping and slow down the rush. Connect with your family and friends and the values that matter most in your life. See this moment as an opportunity to reflect on the past year.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Have you made strides toward mastering your craft? Think about how your training has helped you grow and how it’s impacted your performance. Reflect on the feedback you received from trusted advisors and audiences to measure your progress. Consider what is missing in your acting toolbox and how you will achieve it.
2. Do you feel empowered? Take stock of your career goals and the steps you have taken to work in the industry. Determine if they are reasonably attainable and in line with the development of your craft. Examine your daily, weekly and monthly habits to evaluate whether your actions support and further your goals. Reflect on the guidance you receive from your mentors and representatives to determine if you are a good fit for each other, and whether they are enabling you to make purposeful and confident decisions.
3. Are you enjoying the journey? Question how you feel in the morning and before bed. Deliberate in what ways your attitude toward your craft and the business has changed in the past year. Review what you have been saying to your friends and colleagues about your professional accomplishments.
For me, Sidney Poitier said it best: “I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values.” In this simple, but powerful statement, Mr. Poitier reminds us that the expression of ourselves as authentic actors begins with an understanding of ourselves as human beings.
My wish for every actor is to use the self-awareness of this moment to move ever closer toward achieving your goals while remaining true to your values. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful new year!
Right now, the news and social media are full of reports about sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry. Last week, the teens in my acting classes were discussing the news and what they would do in uncomfortable situations. It can be a scary issue, both for young actors and their parents.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a real issue, primarily when people in power use their authority to prey on the young or less powerful. Predators can lurk in all settings so it’s wise for parents to help their children—male and female—know how to recognize and respond to unwanted advances.
When I was a new talent rep in my twenties, I had a parent of an important client who consistently made lewd and inappropriate comments. I told my boss, my husband, and even talked to the parent, but the abuse continued. My choices were to endure his bad behavior or fire his talented son. I didn’t want to lose my job, so I sacrificed my self-esteem and tried to ignore his behavior. That was more than twenty years ago when sexual abuse was not discussed, and few options for help existed.
Thankfully, children today have an environment where speaking up against abuse is encouraged. The Casting Society of America put out a public statement condemning harassment in all forms with the slogan, “If you see something, say something.” SAG- AFTRA urges members who experience or observe harassing or discriminatory behavior to call a 24-hour hotline at (844) 723-3773 or (323) 549-6644. Women in Film has a useful resource for female entertainment professionals.
It is essential for parents to teach and model healthy personal boundaries at home. Begin by explaining what sexual harassment and abuse are, especially these key points.
Sexual harassment and abuse can:
be physical, verbal, or emotional.
happen to boys and girls.
be committed by an adult or peer.
Teach your child to always come to you if they feel uncomfortable or harassed. Their bodies are their own and no one should touch them without consent.
If your child experiences harassment or sexual advances, they should go to someone in charge, such as the studio teacher/child welfare worker, director or assistant director, child wrangler or guardian, stage manager, or their agent or manager. Offer to help your child make this call and participate in any meetings. You can also ask to sit in on any private acting lessons or casting calls if your child feels uncomfortable.
Have a frank discussion with your young actor about the importance of self-respect and personal boundaries. Remind them that no role is more important than their safety. Teach them about manipulation and threats used to keep things secret so they can feel safe speaking up and reporting abusive behavior.
Watch for these red flags:
Your intuition telling you that something isn’t right.
An adult who seems too interested in your child, gives inappropriate gifts, or wants time alone with them.
Threats of blacklisting for lack of cooperation made to either you or your young actor.
Unwillingness to attend callbacks or acting classes without explanation or saying that they don’t want to talk about it.
Parents, take this opportunity to teach your young actors that they don’t need to compromise their boundaries to be successful in acting or any endeavor. It’s never a bad time to talk with your child about safety, boundaries, and how to report any unwanted behavior. Your goal is not to frighten your child, but to educate and pledge your support should they ever need help.
The things you teach your child today about sexual harassment and abuse can offer them protection for their entire lifetimes.
The other day, I was working with a young student on a role she was up for in a play. The scene required her to show empathy toward her sick grandfather and she was struggling with the scene—she couldn’t relate to the situation or identify with the character since she had never experienced the illness of someone close to her.
“Point of view,” or having an opinion, attitude, or judgment about a subject, is very important for an actor. It’s that opinion that makes every actor unique as it’s what informs the choices they make for their character.
But since young actors often don’t have as much life experience to draw from, developing one can be challenging. But before embodying a character’s opinion or attitude, they must have one of their own. They need to practice feeling things so that when they step into a character’s shoes, they can do the same for the character.
As my colleague Larry Silverberg points out in his book “The 7 Simple Truths of Acting for the Teen Actor,” it’s the actor’s job “to come to grips with the character’s point of view towards the other characters in the play, toward the circumstances he or she is involved in, and toward the world in which he or she lives. If getting onto intimate terms with our character’s point of view is our job, it is important that we first get onto intimate terms with our own point of view.”
Developing a personal point of view is a valuable skill that will not only help kids relate to the characters they play but also learn to be themselves. Many auditions start with an interview—from young children auditioning for roles to high schoolers auditioning for college programs—and having a clear point of view always helps child actors stand out.
When I work with students who struggle to find that point of view, I make it a point to ask questions about how they’re feeling about specific people, places, and events. I have them do journaling exercises to write about how they feel about things that bring them joy or sadness, the things that scare them, the things that make them mad. Anything to draw an opinion.
I also recommend free association exercises where I ask them to riff on a person, place, or thing. They usually start slow, but it’s remarkable to see them talk and talk and eventually, start to feel something. In these exercises, there’s no right or wrong but there is a choice being made. When acting, you can’t just read the lines—you have to have an opinion, make a choice, and make it your own.
Young actors are just starting to discover themselves and the world around them, and the knowledge that life is both difficult and joyous will enrich their minds, strengthen their acting, and set them up for greater success down the road.