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So Your Kid Wants to be a Star

You probably recognize him as Ramon on Barney & Friends. But his parents know he’s just a regular boy tossing the ball in the front yard with the same six friends since grade school. Except that when Bryce Cass isn’t doing normal kid things, he’s nurturing a budding acting/modeling career that takes him (along with his Mom) on a jet-setting lifestyle from Dallas to Los Angeles (and other cities in between).

Many parents dream of their child hitting it “big” just like Bryce. But, the reality is that many sacrifices go into cultivating paparazzi-worthy protégé. Local parents and professionals open up about the surprising emotions, expenses, expectations and commitments that go into the making of a child star.

From Modeling to Movies
Terry Cass heard the same thing over and over about her three sons: “They’re so cute and funny.” Finally she sent snapshots to several modeling agencies in town—not really expecting a reply. She got a call from all of them. Her boys began booking lots of print work in Dallas, but it was her middle son, Bryce, who really took a shine to the business.

Soon he branched off into classes with top acting coach Cathryn Sullivan and started landing numerous film roles, commercials and TV gigs such as Barney & Friends and Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? He is starring in a major movie coming out this month, Battle: Los Angeles.

Cass concedes there are trade-offs for the family and especially for Bryce. She gave up a gratifying career as a real estate agent to devote herself full time to turning Bryce’s hobby into a profession. She now assists Sullivan in her Lewisville studio and homeschools Bryce. The pair travels from their Dallas-area home frequently, often leaving her other two supportive sons and husband for long stretches of time.

“It takes five of us for Bryce to do this,” Cass stresses.

For athletic Bryce, he’s had to forgo team sports and often misses sleepovers and birthday parties. When he’s not filming, he’s taking acting classes.

At 13, he handles the pressure well because he possesses the necessary passion and commitment to his craft.

And that’s critical, says Tara Coet, youth division director and TV/film talent agent for the Kim Dawson Agency. In order to follow the star route, parents have to be absolutely sure their child loves acting, she emphasizes.

The truth is, the family will spend more money chasing a career than the child will earn, informs Coet, a former child actress herself.

Coet warns that it takes a very talented, well-trained actor seven to 11 years to make it in Tinseltown. 

“Most parents do not see the business side of things realistically,” she cautions. It’s tough to break in because networks and producers tend to go with either well-known actors or industry-known actors (who are not household names, but have proven themselves audition after audition, callback after callback, year after year).

The few kids who make it to stardom must operate in an adult world filled with agents and auditions versus friends and playdates, says Coet.

“Ask yourself to name 20 current child stars and I bet you can’t,” she challenges. “The odds are against most for reaching that level. If the child wants to be a star, they most likely will not be. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice and a passion that drives the child.

“Never be an actor unless you can do nothing else,” she urges.

Surviving Rejection
For 9-year-old Hailey Sole, there is nothing else she’d rather do. From the moment the fourth-grader stepped onto the stage, she has “owned it,” says Mom Donna Sole. Hailey got her start at local Amber Horn’s Casting Connection, where she met an agent from LA (who currently reps her).

“She thinks she’ll be famous, and I think she can do it,” says Sole.

Currently the pair resides in a Los Angeles apartment, while Dad works in Texas. They see each other every six to eight weeks (though they Skype nightly). “It’s hard on Hailey,” says Sole. “That’s the only thing that upsets her is being away from her Dad.”

Their days are tightly structured because Hailey is “always auditioning” for episodic TV, film and commercials. She has a recurring role on Private Practice and co-starred on the Ghost Whisperer. Sole tried homeschooling her daughter, but opted to enroll Hailey in a Christian private school in LA. “Education is number one to us,” says Sole. “If her grades aren’t good, she doesn’t get to act.”

That means there’s not a lot of downtime (and certainly no TV or video games). Each day after school, they focus on homework and martial arts for exercise—and, of course, auditioning. It’s not unusual for the duo to be on the road for four to six hours a day traversing the LA freeways to hit several auditions.

And, the grand majority of them might not ever pan out.

“We’ll go on 100 auditions and get 100 ‘no’s’ before we get a ‘yes,’” reveals Sole, who admits that the rejection gets to Hailey sometimes. “There have been many times my heart has sunk for my child,” she admits. “It can be very discouraging for adults, not to mention a child.”

So, they rely on their faith, moving on quickly after each audition. And, they lean on Hailey’s agent and manager, who encourage her that as long as she is doing the right things, the right role will come along.

It’s a full-time occupation for both daughter and mom, who left a sales post to help Hailey give acting a shot. “Who quits in this economy?” Sole notes wryly. But, she and her husband approach it just as if they are paying for any other extracurricular. “This is Hailey’s sport,” contends Sole.

And, like a sport, there are benefits to participating. “If your child is hardworking and meant to do this, it can be so much fun,” offers Coet, who is also “one of those moms” raising a child actress. “Your child can experience things and meet people so few kids ever get a chance to. As artists, they also get to pursue a dream and that is really empowering.” 

Even if they do not “make it,” most child actors grow up to be articulate and well adjusted (only a minute few make the gossip rags), says Coet. They walk away with an ability to relate to people of all ages, as well as an innate understanding of money, hard work and sacrifice.

Whose Dream Is It Anyway?
When all is said and done, parents need to remember that the fuel required to keep this dream going should come from the child, not the other way around. The star track might start off as a cool and interesting avenue to pursue—both for the child as well as his parents. And that’s perfectly fine. Parents should approach this as a fun thing to do, counsels Phyllis Bisch, LPC, licensed professional counselor. However, when mom and dad get swallowed by their desire of seeing their child succeed in the entertainment industry, things can quickly take a downward turn. Bisch says, “The danger is when parents get more wrapped up in it than the kid.” These kinds of overly assertive parents are ones to stay clear of. 

Dee Ann Vernon, modeling agent for Kim Dawson Agency Children’s Division, calls this band of pushy parents the “mommy mafia.” When they are in waiting rooms (which is where parents are relegated during auditions and shoots), they brag about how much their kids are working and try to pump other parents for information.

Vernon advises parents to take a book and not to participate in these conversations. “If no one talks to you, that’s a good thing,” she assures.

Rather than relying on the “moms in the hall,” Coet says parents should instead listen to other families who have been around for many years, as well as agents and coaches.
Cass co-founded showbizparentsresource.com to help alleviate the demands on families like hers by offering services that enable them to stay on top of the ever-changing needs of their young actor or model. She admits that she wishes she had a mentor to guide her when they embarked on this journey nine years ago.

Sole, who closely guards her daughter’s privacy—she doesn’t Twitter or blog—adds how important it is to have trustworthy friends outside of the business and to make sure little stars-in-the-making get a chance to be normal. That, in turn, helps them become more appealing in the acting world.

It’s OK to turn down a job or audition occasionally, says Vernon, especially when the child has a special event, such as a campout or important school party.

Vernon also coaches parents to be attuned to the child’s feelings. “If they do not enjoy it, please do not make them do this,” she stresses. “The most important thing to me is that the kids get to be kids.”

Showbiz parents need to follow the lead of the child and let them decide how far they want to go with their career, says Bisch. She also prescribes a healthy mix of education, family, friends, faith, nutrition and exercise along with their pursuit. “When you start taking a child out of school for days at a time they are going to struggle,” she offers. “You still have to teach balance.”

Agents say they can spot kids who truly love acting or modeling right away. “I can also tell when the kids lose interest, which is OK. Kids are allowed to change their minds on what they want to be when they grow up,” stresses Coet.

But, she adds, “It is often very hard for the parents to let their child stop acting.”

If your child does reach the point where she is in consideration for big film and TV shows, then surround yourself by a team that you can trust and grow with, advises Coet.

And let that team manage your child’s profession—instead of doing it yourself, urges Cass, who balks at the title “stage mom.”

“I want to just be Mom,” she insists.

What if it all went ‘poof’ tomorrow?

Sole says she’d have no problem heading back to their life in Texas. “It’s been an amazing journey and I have no regrets,” she confides. “When Hailey says it isn’t fun anymore, it’s time to go home.”
Cass adds that they’d happily pack it in, wiser for the experience. “The most important thing is that I still have my family,” she stresses. “That’s enough.”