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  • Parents Give Their Best Advice

    This is the last in a three-part series based on conversations and surveys I've had with other parents of child actors about their experiences and lessons learned. The series has been published over the past week on the DC Metro Theatre Arts website and is cross-posted to the blog here.

    Over the past two columns, I have written about what other parents have to say about raising a child in show business. We’ve looked at challenges they face and what they wished they had known.

    In this final segment, I asked them for their best advice for other parents. Not surprisingly, some of the answers overlap from the previous two columns, but it really comes down to three things:

    • Make sure this is right for your family and your child.

    • It is a business.

    • Be prepared to audition and get as much training as you can.

    Here is what my cadre of parents advised:

    • “Only pursue this if it is truly what your child wants and not what you want for your child.  There is a huge difference and parents know this.  It is great when they love it and horrible to see when they do not.”

    • “As you get deeper along, remember, they don’t call it ‘show light bulb’ or ‘show airplane,’ but rather show ‘business.’  It is a business and a very competitive and harsh (at times) one.  Don’t ever think or be lulled to think otherwise.”

    • “Try not to put your life on hold, although this could be tricky. Try to fit show business into your life. Don’t stop your life for show biz. Have your child experience all kinds of things. Don’t make them a singing, dancing, acting machine. If they truly love to do this, a lot of it will be natural for them with a little training on the side. But every child is different and every family unique.”

    • “Learn how to Skype.”

    • “Make sure this is right for your family. Yes, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that many people dream of and work all their lives to accomplish — but you need to know what it would cost your family emotionally and financially. Your child will not have a typical childhood and might regret that. The time spent away from the rest of family will also have an impact. We made sure that one parent was in the city, and one at home … but it made the time for us as husband and wife hard to come by.”

    • “Everyone who is interested should pursue this but don’t expect anything. Be prepared to spend a lot of time auditioning and also a lot of money training. Get as much training as possible and be thoroughly prepared for each audition. Get terrific headshots and update them as needed. Be ready to go to every audition you are sent on (unless you feel the content is not appropriate) If you say ‘no’ too many times to agents they will forget about you. Pursue non-professional work to gain experience.”

    • “My advice to parents is to always remember to ask yourself, truly, ‘Are you doing this because your kid wants it or because you want it?’ If you answered yes to the second half of the question, you need to look inside and fulfill your own dreams.”

    • “Be involved, supportive, helpful and aware but allow your kid to be who they are not who you want them to be. Children want your approval more than anything; they will do anything for it. So give them lots of acceptance and love and know that we each have our own path to follow in this life. It is our job as parents to encourage them to find their own way and let them know they are loved no matter what they choose.”

    • “Don’t push a kid into it, but if they want to perform then try to make it happen. It’s grueling fun!”

    • “Listen to your children, and don’t push them.  Love them and cheer wildly for them whether they play customer number 10 in their elementary school play or Annie in Annie on Broadway!”

    • “Remember that you are responsible for instilling values in him or her.  Those values will serve them in life far more than any role they get while they are a child actor.  Your job is to raise a person, not an actor.  Let the professionals teach them to be good on stage, and you teach them to be good in life.  Applaud them for their achievements as a person, not just as an actor.”

    That’s sound advice all around. Thanks to my fellow parents for sharing it…

    ••••••

    To see the previous posts, click here and here. For more Stage Dad columns and related writing, go here.

  • What Parents Wish They Had Known

    This is the second in a three-part series based on conversations and surveys I've had with other parents of child actors about their experiences and lessons learned. The series is being published over the next week on the DC Metro Theatre Arts website and cross-posted to the blog here.

    One of my favorite television shows is Friday Night Lights, a beautifully written, small-scale drama that focuses on a small Texas town and its obsession with high school football. The show’s overarching theme is “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose” – a motto that all parents should adopt when they have a child who wants to perform professionally.

    That’s easier said than done, because entering with your child into the professional world of acting and performing is an ongoing test. Schedules get blown up, sibling rivalry can be on steroids, and you often will find yourself asking more questions in a never-ending quest for answers.

    We’ve faced those challenges as parents of a performer, and in talking to others in similar situations, I found a wealth of great advice – and a few warnings. Here are excerpts from my e-mail interviews with more than 20 parents, this time centering on the question: What do you wish you had known before you pursued this as a family?

    “There is so much I did not know,” one parent said. “I guess maybe it would have helped to really understand the demanding schedule these kids have, but truthfully you can’t really understand it until you live it.”

    Unless you land that million-to-one role, make sure you prepare your child for a lot of grunt work along the way. “We learned that much was involved before acting in movies,” said one parent, “including ‘learning to act’ – classes, practice, etc. – local training, local theatre, finding an agent, beginning the work. A wise coach taught us that an actor’s job is going on auditions.”

    Parents say you have to be prepared – at least as much as you can be – for lengthy separations. The cost of relocating to New York or Los Angeles is likely more than you expect, especially if there are periods of unemployment.

    “I wish I had known more about the business end and the rights and costs associated with being in a union,” one parent said. “We learned the hard way that after everyone took their percentage, we were not left with enough money to cover the cost of travel, tolls, parking and food.”

    One parent regrets not spotting his daughter’s desire to perform sooner and doing something about it. “I wish that we had acted sooner, that we had taken her to have her talents evaluated before we did,” he said. “It would have allowed us to plan more.”

    Child actors are faced with a short window of time, something I’ve discussed in previous columns. Once you reach puberty, get too tall, or your voice changes, the chances of you being hired until you reach 18 become few. In most cases, small or young-looking adult actors can be hired to play teens.

    “It’s a lot of work and time involved. When our daughter was asked to go on tour we decided not to because my husband and I had commitments here, another daughter still living at home and homeschooling, so that wasn’t an option,” said one parent, who also was a child performer. “Then our daughter became too tall, so her options for Broadway were cut very short.”

    With our son, one of the most difficult things has been the long periods of separation. For the first year, my wife and I split our time going back and forth to New York, but we had to hire a full-time guardian when he went out on tour.

    “I wish I knew how hard it was to be separated,” one parent said. “But that may have stopped me from pursuing this, so I’m glad I didn’t know.”

    Parenting, under perceived normal circumstances, often leaves you with more questions than answers. Are we doing what’s right for our child and for the rest of our family?

    “Like everything in life, choices must be made,” one parent told me. “Do we want to move? Do we want to split up our family?  What about the other kids, spouse, friends, community? For each choice (action), there is a consequence (reaction).  We have learned our personal preferences along the journey and so far they have worked well for us and our child.”

    And most important, the parents said, remember that you’re helping your child achieve their dream, not living out yours.

    “I had been a performer,” said one parent. “I knew somewhat what we would be getting into and I try to never push her into anything she doesn’t want to do. It’s not fair to her.”

    Coming Next: Parents give their best advice.

    ••••••

    To see the previous post, click here. For more Stage Dad columns and related writing, go here. 

  • Fathers, Dads, Etc.

    This special “Father’s Day” essay is brought to you by the Department of Unsolicited Advice…

    Parenting is not a math problem. There are no definite right and wrong answers. In many respects, it’s a matter of taking your best guess at a moment in time and going with that, all the while knowing you might have to change course at some point along the way.

    I’ve been fortunate to have several father figures in my life, even if I didn’t make the connection at the time. Although none was more important than the man I called “Dad” for my first 42 years on earth, these people helped fill in the personal and professional gaps that have made me who I am today.

    Village clichés aside, I learned early in life that “family” has an elastic definition, one not confined to biology or genetics. My parents deeply loved each other and their children, but they also recognized they did not have all the answers. I’m so glad they didn’t try to pretend that they did.

    And despite having such good role models, I spent much of my first 30+ years terrified of actually being a parent, admiring those who did it well and feeling I could never measure up. As a result, much of my self-esteem centered on professional successes and less on personal ones, even after Jill and I got together and my four kids were born.

    It was only after my dad died that I realized my time on this earth was finite, and that my chances to have a direct impact on the upbringing of my kids was fleeting. I also saw the chance to be that male person that others could turn to, and tried to spend time listening and offering realistic, heartfelt advice and support where I could.

    Now, Father’s Day comes down to this for me:

    • Don’t forget to take a moment to realize that a young person is never too old for a hug, and that simple kindness is greatly underrated. 
    • Don’t be afraid to take responsibility for your actions and mistakes. An apology is not a mark of failure, but of maturity.
    • Don’t forget what brought you to this point, or those who brought you there.
    • Don’t be afraid to call out someone when necessary. 
    • Don’t forget to be thankful, even when the day/week/month/year/decade sucks.
    • Don’t be afraid to embrace uncertainty. It's where creativity begins.

    Most of all, remember that your life’s work is never done, even after you’re long gone. Whether you know it or not, your influence — good and bad — will be felt for generations to come. ‪#‎HappyFathersDay‬

  • Stage Dad: What I Wish I Had Known...

    Occasionally, I get questions from others whose children are interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts. Usually, they want to know how to pursue an agent or manager, and what they should expect.

    Often I point them to the BizParentz Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that provides “education, advocacy, and charitable support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry.” The foundation has a wealth of information about child labor laws and regulations as well solid, common sense advice for parents.

    But in conversation, I also have developed a list that I’ve titled, “What I wish I had known…”

    Here it is:

    Simple facts of your new life

    This is a job. Just because your child has a manager and/or an agent, their success will not mean less work for you as a parent. If anything, it will mean more. They will not drive/fly/walk/train your child to an audition/callback/rehearsal/show. You are responsible for that.

    “Entertainment” is first and foremost a business. Your child may be pursuing this because they love to entertain, but the goal for the producers/production companies ultimately is profitability and sustainability. You could be working on the best project in the world today and be on the unemployment line tomorrow. Be prepared to prepare your child for that inevitability.

    Training is a costly — and necessary — proposition. Kids who perform professionally are expected to be able to sing, dance, and act. Not being able to do so is to their disadvantage, and that becomes readily apparent the minute they walk into an audition. So start looking for people who can help you, and be prepared to pay. (Advantage: Training is a tax write off in most cases.)

    Auditions

    Auditions are tough, no matter how prepared you are. Look at how your child handles difficult, stressful, and/or trying situations. Do they hate auditions? Are they making progress from one to the next? Are they more comfortable? Do they feel like they’ve learned anything new?

    Reality Check #1: Be prepared for disappointment. Know going in that auditions are a crapshoot. Chances are that you won’t get the part nine times out of 10, but all it takes is one.

    Audition spaces are not as fancy as they look. If you think auditions and rehearsals are held at beautiful, spacious Park Avenue studios, think again. Don’t let the appearance of the place you are going deceive you; professional shows have been cast or rehearsed in spaces that ordinarily would be classified as dumps. That said, be sure to be on the lookout for troubling signs that your child is not safe or in good hands.

    On time means early, even if you have to wait. Chances are pretty good that arriving 15 minutes early means you will have to wait 45 minutes to be called, but it may not. Someone scheduled before you might not show up, and you need to be prepared.

    Reality Check #2: You will drive three hours for five minutes with someone who may or may not give you the time of day. That’s one of your biggest adjustments, given the amount of prep time your child must put into a project.

    Arm your child with the tools necessary to be successful. This means headshots, shoes, sheet music, notebooks, water, etc. They need to be prepared for every possible scenario, without being overwhelmed. For parents, wear comfortable clothes and bring a book/e-reader/hobby of choice. You never know when you’ll be stuck for two hours with nothing to do.

    Don’t court distractions. It is natural for young performers, especially novice, nervous ones in a room with other, equally talented kids, to want to show off their skills. Save your best for the audition instead. This goes for parents, too. Don’t spend your time talking about your child’s talents, no matter how multiple and varied they might be. 

    Reality Check #3: You likely won’t get feedback. Even though you’re dying to know what your child could/should have done better, chances are that you’ll hear nothing. Casting directors, in most cases, simply don’t have or take the time.

    That’s my list, but I’ve saved the most important for last: Have fun. 

    You have a rare opportunity to do something that could end up being amazing (or not). Yes, it’s a rollercoaster, but it has a tremendous upside, so enjoy the ride.