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The Working Actor

Teacher Education, Partner Objection

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Teacher Education, Partner Objection
Dear Jackie:
This is in response to your column of Feb. 18, in which you gave advice about dealing with a lousy studio teacher. My question is this: Couldn't "Parent of Performer" have homeschooled the child? I realize that homeschooling isn't for everyone, but it seems like a good way for child actors to have consistent teachers. Homeschooling is becoming much more common in this country, and it seems like a good match for child actors and their parents.
—Homeschooler
via email

Dear Homeschooler:
It does seem like a logical fit. Many successful child performers don't spend much, if any, time inside a typical classroom, and homeschooling parents could give their children an uninterrupted education with one teacher, whether or not the children are working and regardless of the state they work in.

To clarify: California is the only state requiring that producers employ studio teachers who are also welfare workers. New York requires teachers for educational purposes only, without a welfare responsibility, and no other state has any such requirement. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists require studio teachers (for education, not welfare) on union jobs, but if your child is working nonunion outside New York or California, you aren't likely to meet an on-set teacher at all. In a case like the one explored in the Feb. 18 issue, in which the parent was gravely concerned about the qualifications and behavior of the assigned studio teacher but could find no simple way to rectify the situation, homeschooling seems like an intriguing option. Except that it often isn't.

The rub is that children do not have a general right to work. In order to accept jobs in the entertainment industry, children need to get a work permit granting them special permission—and an exception to the law. One of the laws governing entertainment-industry work permits for minors in California dictates that each child performer be taught and supervised by a studio teacher and welfare worker. The law, sponsored by SAG and AFTRA, is set up to protect children from unscrupulous producers or parents who see their children as commodities. It's a good law; unfortunately, it may not be quite with the times.

In a 2009 USA Today article headlined "Home Schooling Grows," Janice Lloyd wrote, "The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74 percent from when the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36 percent since 2003."

I doubt that anyone would suggest we repeal the law requiring on-set welfare workers to ensure children's safety and good working conditions—if anything, it should be made national—but with homeschooling increasing in popularity, perhaps parents of child actors will gain the right to determine the best way to educate their children, just like their counterparts outside the entertainment industry have.

Patrick Farenga, a homeschooling advocate, president of Holt Associates, and co-author of "Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling," wrote in an email: "As personalized educational alternatives to conventional school proliferate, such as distance-learning programs and homeschooling, it seems like studio teaching is still in the mid-20th century, where learning only happens during school hours under teacher supervision. Protecting the safety and welfare of children on film sets is a separate issue from educating them. Parents who enjoy being with their actor children and watching and helping them learn shouldn't be forced to educate their children in ways they don't want because of outdated work rules."

For more on California's child labor laws and entertainment work permits, go to the following page on the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement's website: www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/DLSE-CL.htm. In New York, go to this state Department of Labor page: www.labor.state.ny.us/workerprotection/laborstandards/workprot/minors.shtm.


Dear Jackie:
I am doing my second scene with the same partner in a scene study class. The first scene we did together was a complete and utter failure. When we worked together, I felt that my partner really screwed me on rehearsal time. I couldn't get my partner to even start rehearsing until two days before we had to put the scene up (we had a week), and the times that we did rehearse, I thought it just wasn't there. But my partner is one of those people who think they're extremely talented (which is not the case) and always, after only a few run-throughs, is like, "Okay, that was great. We got it. Bye!"

I'm not a rehearsal Nazi, but at the same time I know when a scene is garbage, and I don't like getting up in front of people and just embarrassing myself. And when I say "garbage," I mean not even close to presentable. The problem is I don't want to tell the teacher and create a bad vibe in my class (though I probably should). Any advice would be appreciated.
—Geoff
Los Angeles

Dear Geoff:
If your first attempt with this partner was as disastrous as you say, your teacher, if he or she is any good, should be able to tell there is a problem and step in to help. If not, then more than a new scene partner, you may need a new class.

If you want to stay in the class, by all means tell the teacher you would like to work with someone else. You don't need to make a public display or create a bad vibe, as you call it. Just speak to the teacher privately and tell him or her that you would like a chance to work with another actor. If asked why, you can explain that this partner and you have very different ideas about rehearsing, and you'd like to work with someone willing to put in more time. That should be enough of an explanation to get you paired with a different actor.

It's worth mentioning, however, that should you continue pursuing acting work, you are going to encounter all kinds of people. Many will be serious and hard-working, but others will stretch your patience. Some will insist you rehearse for days on end and kill all spontaneity in a scene, while others will avoid any serious work by claiming they need to "keep it fresh." Some will be just plain bad. Sometimes you'll be auditioning with casting assistants or interns who rush and stumble through every line. Even after landing a role, you may be asked to do your close-ups talking to a stand-in—or a C-stand. In other words, in the professional world, you have to forget about everyone else and worry about your own performance. You may as well start now.

On the other hand, you're paying for this class. Make sure it's worth the money. If it is, you have every right to—professionally and succinctly—ask for what you need.

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