Anyone who has seen the “Little Rascals” perform Shakespeare might laugh out loud at the thought of the very young performer. Misunderstood lines, ill-fitting costumes, and cranky children transform Shakespearian drama into riotous scenes of unintended comedy. If the “Little Rascals” weren’t themselves actors, you might think the whole idea of very young actors was ridiculous!
In reality, it’s the opposite. Nothing is more natural for many preschool to early elementary school aged children than fueling the imagination with dress up, challenging the mind with lines to learn, and performing for adoring and encouraging adults. That leaves parents to wonder: How best can I encourage my child's talents and should I have my child work with a private coach?
If you have an outgoing young child with imagination and a passion to perform, here are three tips to nurture desire, build confidence, develop talent, and know when to seek the guidance of a professional.
1. Imitation for fun and learning. Imitating characters, both real and imaginary, promotes normal development and strengthens observation and imagination skills. It also helps deepen a child’s understanding of other people in stories and life. This age-appropriate way to relate to characters serves the budding young actor especially well when transformed into sustained improvisation and dramatic play. I recommend that play of this type be a staple of family activities and downtime to nurture young dramatic talent and desire.
2. Sing often, know when you need a pro. Encourage your child to sing with movement, play games that incorporate pitch, create emotional connections to all types of music, and learn musical concepts and vocabulary while playing. Parents can do this at home or in group classes. However, in the case of young children who already perform in numerous community productions and professional venues, it may be worthwhile to seek a professional consultation. Master vocal teacher, Badiene Magaziner, has seen children as young as 8 years old who already show signs of vocal damage. Though some vocal teachers will not work with students before puberty, Badiene believes, “It is crucial to have solid technique that builds the head voice and teaches [children] how to mix properly so that they can grow up to have long careers!”
3. Play games often, know when you need a pro. Think of games as the Swiss Army knife of training for young actors—through games, there is a tool to develop just about every acting skill. Structured family games such as “Kids on Stage,” group acting classes based on improvisation and imagination, and other less structured but imaginative play, should always make up the largest part of every young child actor’s training. However, private coaching may be appropriate for very young actors when they are actively auditioning or performing and beginning to work with scripts. Successful acting coaches for children create focus and structure while nurturing natural strengths and discouraging over-acting. I include parents in the coaching process for very young children so that we work as a team to create a positive and healthy experience.
I do not push formal training on very young actors. Many children, even those in the business, thrive without any coaching whatsoever. My philosophy leans toward allowing young children to let their natural abilities and personalities shine.
Where I often make the most difference is with the parents of the very young performer. Acting can be both a wonderful and tough business. If you are considering professional acting for your preschooler or early elementary-aged child, remember to encourage play and keep it fun, while also finding trusted resources to turn to.
Master your craft, empower yourself, enjoy the journey.
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