Kids and Show Business / Does Your Child Have What It Takes?

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Denise Yearian
UPDATED
January 11, 2013
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Children who enjoy performing may be ready for regional and national entertainment opportunities that will help them break into the world of show business. But before branching out, parents should carefully consider the course and count the cost.

“Some kids are just born naturally to act,” says Susie Feinstein, children’s talent agent for the Clutts Agency in Dallas, which draws talent from all over North Texas. School plays and local plays are a great place to start, she adds, and drama clubs and classes can provide the training and feedback they’ll need. “A lot of kids take acting classes and see that this is something they really like.”

But beyond the satisfaction of being on stage, local exposure can help kids build character traits they’ll need in the industry. Mike Lemon, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and owner of a casting agency that works with talent on the national level, says “Getting kids involved in school plays, community theaters and acting classes locally builds talent, confidence and resilience. They can get comfortable with auditions and may even glean experience from nurturing people in the business.”

This was Daisy Zimmerman’s experience.

Starting Small
“Daisy was about 6 ½ when she first expressed an interest in the business,” says Suzi LaSota, mother of the now 8 year old. “We found out about an audition for The Sound of Music at a local dinner theater, and she wanted to go. Daisy was nervous but the producers made her feel comfortable, and she landed the role of Marta. Even more, she learned a lot working with kids in the cast who already had experience.”

If your child has done well on the local level, he may be ready for the regional realm.

Feinstein says there are several traits that indicate a child might be ready to try more exposure. “They love acting out scenes; they’re always doing little skits with their friends.” Many parents, she reports, say their kids will get excited seeing other kids on TV and express an intense interest in being in commercials.

But, she cautions strongly, the child has to want it. That’s why she always interviews children before their parents—“Just to feel out what they want.”

So what character traits does a child actor need? Well, as long as the parents assume the responsibility of shuffling kids to and from rehearsals on time and working on lines at home, the child must have a sense of discipline. “They [the children] know that this is a job; this is not just fun and games,” says Feinstein.

One indication your child might be ready to move to the next level, she says, is through positive feedback from acting classes and teachers. Another indication could just be the intensity of the child’s desire to perform. There’s no harm in starting something and seeing how far it goes if everyone is on board.

Branching Out
This is something the Chew family knows well.

“When Zac was about 9 years old his older sister Courtney—who has been a huge catalyst—encouraged him to audition for a show at a local children’s theater,” says mom Karen Chew, of her now 14-year-old son. “He did a few productions there then got into a show at a regional theater … His director was impressed with his abilities and encouraged him to find an agent. But I held off. I wanted to make sure this was what he wanted and wasn’t just trying to make others happy.”

Secure an Agent You Trust
When looking for a representative, get recommendations from people who are already working with agents or managers. Once you have a few names, call to see what the procedure is for submitting headshots and a resume. Follow up with phone calls and face-to-face interviews to see how comfortable you are with the agency. Ask for references and a list of jobs they have done. Most importantly though, shop around and meet with several agencies before you commit.

“It’s very important that [an agency] is franchised and part of a union,” cautions Feinstein. The Screen Actors Guild publishes a list of unionized and reputable agencies around town, and that, she says, is a great place to start. However, “No money should be exchanged,” at the start of a relationship with an agent or agency. When kids get paid for doing real work, that is when the agency makes its money, never simply for meeting with a family.

Another red flag? An agency with a photographer on-site. Feinsten says this is an attractive way for less reputable companies to make money quickly.

Evaluate the Costs for YOUR Family
“Between training, classes and being available for auditions, it’s a huge commitment,” says Suzi LaSota. “And when you get a show, there are rehearsals and performances. You may also have to help your child learn lines or go over choreography — that, in addition to school and homework. As a parent, you will have to be the catalyst to make sure it all gets done.”

For Chew, there’s a family factor. “They [agents] can call you the day before, and you have to be willing to drop everything and take your child to an audition [that could be inconvenient]. Then there’s the rest of the family. We have four kids and each have their own activities, so that’s part of the equation,” she says.

The Price of Fame
“They [kids] have to keep their grades up, and that may mean cutting back on recreation time,” says Lemon. “They also have to develop a professional mentality and handle the work with poise and patience.”

Both Daisy and Zac think it’s worth it. Daisy has auditioned for a theatrical show scheduled to tour Asia for one year. And Zac has done print work, had two major television network commercials air and auditioned for TV pilots, major theater casts and a major motion picture.

“Zac’s learned so much since he started, and we’ve made a lot of sacrifices. But it’s been an awesome experience,” says Chew. “As along as he’s enjoying it we’ll continue. When it stops being fun, we’re done.”

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.
SIDEBAR

The Kid's Got Talent!


Help groom your child’s natural gifts locally, and of course, watch for cues for her emotional and professional readiness before pursuing any serious work. You can find other theater and performing groups around North Texas; check our online calendar of events for more information and inspiration.

The Clutts Agency
Dallas, 214/761-1400

Dallas Children’s Theater
Dallas, 214/978-0110

KD Studio Actors Conservatory
Dallas, 469/364-9638

Kim Dawson Agency
Dallas, 214/638-2414

Septien Entertainment Group
Carrollton, 972/392-2810
SIDEBAR

9 Things to Consider


1. Emphasize academics. Your child should be doing well in school and make academics his priority.

2. Points to ponder. How will your child deal with success should that happen? Does he have a good self esteem so his view of himself doesn’t rise or fall with every audition?

3. Consider the cost. Training, classes, auditions, rehearsals and performances are a huge time commitment, as is time you may need to help your child learn lines or prepare in other ways.

4. Do not pursue getting your child into show business until he expresses a genuine interest, and you both explore the commitment.

5. Be committed to helping your child in the process while still separating your emotions from the business.

6. Find your focus. If your child doesn’t know if he wants to do stage, film, commercials or print work, remain open to all of these experiences until he finds his niche.

7. Practice professionalism. When a child is paid to do professional work, he needs to develop a professional mentality and handle it with poise and patience.

8. Help your child deal with audition rejections. Encourage him to see what he can learn from the experience and be willing to audition again.

9. Remember every class, audition, performance and/or show is an opportunity for growth and networking possibilities. Be open to all experiences.



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