Self Care

Winter Self-Care for Child + Teen Actors

I don’t shake hands with my students. It’s not that I am rude, I just don’t have to time to get sick. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, and my students to show up for work every day and do the best job I can. This time of year, germs are flying—stomach bugs, colds, flu, even winter allergies can get the best of us.

As young actors, you work hard memorizing lines and putting in hours working with coaches or vocal teachers to nail scenes and songs. Kudos to you for preparing and doing your homework! But what if audition day arrives and you wake up sick? All that hard work goes down the drain.

Winter is also the time students are busy preparing to audition for high school and college theater programs. Last year, I helped a student all year on his monologues and songs in preparation for the Unified college theater auditions where many programs come together in one location so that students can audition for several universities in one shot. He was a triple threat, skilled in acting, voice, and dance and was, in my opinion, a big contender for a top musical theater program. Unfortunately, the weekend of his Unified auditions he woke up with laryngitis and couldn’t sing. He was accepted to an excellent theater program in acting, but not offered one for musical theater.

This business is not always forgiving and you don’t get do-overs often. As actors, our bodies and voices are our instruments, so here are some steps you can take to stay healthy so you’ll be at your best when opportunity knocks.

Get plenty of sleep. 
Studies show that children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours and most teens need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deficiency affects memory, attention, and mood…all things required to perform at one’s best. Get enough rest and you’ll be re-charged to show up fully in a business that is highly competitive. If you’re not all there, someone else will be.

Eat well.
Stick to a sensible diet. I know this is easier said than done but sugar and high carbs can cause mood swings and lethargy. Substitute protein bars for candy bars if you need a quick pick me up. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water as well, and you will be like a well-oiled machine.

Embrace vitamins and remedies. 
If you are eating a balanced diet, you may not need supplements. However, a gummy vitamin each day can’t hurt (just check with your parents first). During cold season I use Airborne Cold Eeze, and echinacea, an herb that encourages the immune system and reduces many of the symptoms of colds, flu, and some other illnesses.

Be mindful and grateful.
I know parents sound like a broken record, but do what they say. It works. Wash your hands often. Don’t smoke or drink. Stop yelling. Say please and thank you. Gratitude is the answer to happiness. Be a happy actor and people will want to work with you.

When to Get Braces for a Young Actor

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An eleven-year-old and her parents came to me seeking advice on getting representation. The adorable tween sang like an angel, had a read that blew me away, and was extremely marketable. As I finished talking to her parents, I let them know that there were many agents or managers who would sign their child in an instant. Then they laid it on me, “By the way, Sophie’s braces are coming on next week.”

Adolescence is indeed a tricky time for any child—let alone a child actor. Braces can definitely put things to a halt in our business, so paying attention to timing is important.

There may be no perfect time to begin orthodontic treatment, but here are a few helpful tips as you begin your investigation.

When is the best time to begin the process?
I spoke with orthodontist, Dr. Gerald E. Gardner, DDS, M.S. in Yorktown Heights, New York to get his advice on this one. “The best time to be evaluated for orthodontic treatment is between the ages of 9 and 11. One thing to remember is some children at the age of 9 can have a mouth of an 11-year-old, and some 11-year-olds can have a mouth of a 9-year-old. A trained orthodontist can evaluate the child in that time period to decide the best time to start treatment.” If your child is working or auditioning regularly at this age, you may want to consult with your orthodontist and see if holding off a few years is acceptable. That would bring your child to the awkward teen years when work tends to slow down anyway.

What about Invisalign?
Dr. Gardner concurs with me on this one. In the eyes of a certified orthodontist, Invisalign has limitations in its use and generally does not produce the same results as traditional braces. So, although you can remove them for auditions, they may not correct the teeth. After spending all of that money, your child may wind up needing metal braces after all.

Can’t I just have them removed for an audition or job?
Think about this one carefully before acting on it. According to Dr. Gardner, “Removal of braces for auditions can add an additional cost when braces have to be replaced. It can also extend the treatment time.” However, it may be worth it to you if it means getting a big role, so talk it over with your family and agent or manager.

What areas can my child work in with braces?
Occasionally, children with braces are needed for an on-camera television commercial. More often than not, however, braces will be a deterrent. Voiceover work on the other hand is not a problem for a child with braces unless the equipment in the mouth creates a speech problem. Many children will opt for clear braces and are able to work on stage since their mouth will not be seen from a distance. Depending on the time period and role type, there may also be some film and TV roles that will work for a child with braces.

Braces are a normal part of life for many children and teens, and they are just one of many things that you will need to consider as you and your child plan out his showbiz career. Plan wisely and don’t hesitate to discuss this with your agent or manager, but don’t let it discourage you either. Your child is growing up, and, with a little luck and hard work, will have many years ahead to land some fabulous roles and shine on stage—all with beautifully straight teeth.

What experiences have you had in this area? If you are the parent of a young actor who is destined to wear braces, what advice have you received? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below!

7 Gifts to Give Your Young Actor This Holiday Season

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The holiday music is already playing in my favorite coffee shop, so it must be the time of year for all good actors to make their wish lists. Here’s a list that will keep you out of the Black Friday crowds, and still make the holiday gift you give to a young actor a memorable one. 

1. Theater tickets. It never fails to make me smile when my students excitedly tell me about the magic of the theater from the perspective of an audience member. Actors who have experienced this connection are more likely to embrace it in their own performances. It also provides young actors with essential examples of good acting, and inspires their passion for performance. 

2. Career check-up. Students who are actively developing their skills in classes and performance often benefit from an independent evaluation. I routinely work with young performers into their mid twenties to assess their talents and marketability. An industry professional can make career and training suggestions to help a young actor meet his goals, whether they be professional, collegiate, or for personal achievement. 

3. Board games. Guesstures is a charades game from Parker Brothers that my students and their families enjoy playing. So much of acting is about learning to communicate non-verbal meaning in support of the words in a script. This fast paced, almost frenetic version of the typical take on charades prevents the game from getting dull, keeps the entire family laughing, and is great practice for non-verbal communication. It’s good as a party game for adults too! I also recommend the game Kids on Stage, another take on charades for the budding actor ages 3-6. 

4. Lessons and Classes. Most young actors participate in classes. Despite this, however, many students still have inadequate training. If your child has been focusing on musical theater, it may be time to take an on-camera workshop to expand their range and marketability. In addition, many young students begin with a passion for acting, but soon discover that dance and voice are important components to their ongoing progress. Even if your young actor is not naturally blessed with triple threat talent, I suggest you encourage them to expand their range in this way as well. 

5. Entertainer’s Secret. My students and colleagues rave about this product. Without making any medical claims or promises (I’m not a doctor; please check with yours before use), it has provided relief to many of my singers and actors with hoarseness from overuse. It’s a must-have item for your actor’s first-aid kit. It even comes in a travel size for when you are on the road! 

6. Plays and Books. I encourage all my teen and young adult actors to read plays. I recommend important modern playwrights for their accessibility. Some of my favorites include Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “I Ought to be in Pictures,” “The Gingerbread Lady,” “The Good Doctor,” and “Lost in Yonkers.” These plays all feature young characters that bear studying. I also recommend “Be Aggressive” by Annie Weisman, “Our Town” and “The Matchmaker” by Thorton Wilder, “Women and Wallace” by Jonathan Marc Sherman, “Courtship” by Horton Foote and, the classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. If your young actor is interested in monologues for audition purposes, avoid compendiums of generic monologues solely created for the audition. I generally find these collections to be vague and trite. Stick with good literature and you can’t go wrong.

7. GripTight GorillaPod. I love mine and I know your actor will love theirs! It is a miniature tripod with flexible legs that wrap around just about anything to create a stable, portable stand for your smart phone, iPhone, iTouch, or other camera and/or video recording device. This is a must purchase for self-taping auditions. 

Enjoy the holiday season! I hope your young actor is thrilled with these gifts and your family is blessed with a happy, healthy and safe holiday.