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So… your kid wants to be an actor.
But not like a “I want to be the star in the school play” actor, your 8-year-old is demanding to be driven around town to try out for professional productions. If your Under 18 really wants to play with the pros, here is a survival guide for all stage parents– that will also save you from becoming the next Billy Ray Cyrus or Kris Jenner.
Be realistic about the expectations.
I spent a chunk of my own childhood doing 11 shows a week, running to school in between and teaching myself calculus after-hours. And that was when I was lucky enough to be involved in a production– and not sitting through a string of tough rejections. It’s a grueling schedule, and no one in the industry cuts any slack because they are a child. They need to be on time; they need to know their lines; they need to pay attention; they need to take notes well; they need to pick it up quickly. NO EXCEPTIONS. It’s the best and completely worth it, but it’s hard. Really hard.
Don’t forget to BE THEIR PARENT.
They will have enough adults treating them as adults and expecting the world from them. If they have a rough rehearsal or totally mess up an audition, just be compassionate and say, “I know, it’s hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. I’m proud of how hard you work” Etc. etc., other good parenting things you know better than I do.
Avoid “Stage Parents.”
My parents, Thank GOD, are not stage parents and never were. I was the one dragging them around to audition after audition and insisting that I get my senior picture in black and while, sans smiles because “that’s what serious actresses do.” Poor them. If the inspiration and drive to be a professional actor does not come from deep within your child, you are a stage parent. Stop. Put down the headshots, stop sewing the sequined tap skirt and move on.
Encourage your kid to stay involved at school!
In fact, tell them to do something OTHER than theatre. There has to be something else they find interesting. Oh, there isn’t? INCORRECT. Having a wide range of interests makes them better able to do their job as an actor. Tell them to go get their nerd on.
Watch their brag level.
Yeah yeah, so while their friends were in geometry bored to tears, your kid got to go downtown, hang out with awesome adults, laugh themselves silly backstage with their other best friends and run a talk back with a bunch of adoring school groups. I know, it’s AWESOME. However, if you want them to have friends at school (you do; they take homework notes) they should avoid being a braggy jerk. In show business, you are up one minute and down the next. There is really no point in ever thinking you or your kid is a big deal.
Your kid is not the lead? Great!
As a professional theatre kid, you have the opportunity to be in the room with professional theatre artists and watch how they work. THAT is the really cool thing about being a professional theatre kid. Tell them not to worry about being the star. Tell them to be committed to just learning. If they want to do artistic work their whole life, focus on strengthening their curiosity and discipline. That will take them much further than accolades.
Never, never, NEVER let someone tell them who they are.
If they want your child to change their hair or look for a role: totally cool! Tips on how to look and act professional at an audition or in rehearsal: sweet! If someone tells your child to lose weight or change their personal fashion that they enjoy while not in a professional setting, THEY ARE THE WORST. The line between actor and self is fuzzy, but even more so when you are under 18 and exploring style and who you are. Growing up is a time to become a well-rounded, full person. Not a child actor robot.
If they don’t love it any more, LET THEM STOP DOING IT.
They are a student. It is their JOB to learn and explore. If your child reaches a point when it becomes too intense or just not interesting, that’s great! They now have a rich pool of experience to take with them into other pursuits. Dreams change! Let them be open to it.
Always attend opening night with flowers.
One of the very best things about being a student actor is that you get to create a whole bunch of memories with your parents that you all get to share forever. The whole family gets to see the show and you feel like SUCH an adult when you get to bring your parents to the fancy opening night party and show them around backstage. It can be a really beautiful way to connect. Have fun exploring together!
Interested in getting your child or teen into commercial, TV, voiceover or film work? Join The Second City Training Center for a special informational “Kids in the Biz” panel TOMORROW, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19th 2013 on the audition process, getting prepared for the business (headshots, resumes, etc.), the reality of the business, landing an agent and getting your first gig. Featuring Jenny Wilson from Stewart Talent, Jennifer Rudnicke from PR Casting, Kerry Sheehan of The Second City, and other panelists. This program will cover information for toddlers through teens; teens are welcome to join their parents, but should be registered if attending.
Saturday, October 19, 2013, 4:00-5:30pm in the Second City e.t.c. Theater, Chicago. To register, click here.
Kate McGroarty grew up in Minneapolis, where she performed at the Children’s Theatre Company, The Youth Performance Company, and played a man in her high school’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. She is a graduate of the acting program at Northwestern University, the conservatory at The Second City Training Center and writes and performs in Chicago with “Shanna’s Mom” and “Spaceship Couch.”