I love to feel the passion my students have for acting. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and identity that leaves them confident to reach for new challenges. As both a teacher and mom, that is exactly what I want for my kids. Surprisingly, for many casting directors, passion and confidence are more or less prerequisites and not what actually sells them on a young actor.
Last month I held an audition workshop with a guest casting director. A parent asked a question that I hear over and over: “What is the one thing you look for when casting a young performer?” There are so many factors to consider here; age, type, hair color, height, weight, personality, charisma, preparedness, and talent are just a few of the many criteria assessed. The answer this casting director gave was real. “We are looking for real kids who are just kids.”
What can a parent or young actor do with an answer like that? Look at the commitment behind all the productions, commercial work, and classes in which they have participated. They have real skills on stage and on camera that come from hard work and passion. They can listen, take direction, and maintain consistency—skills coveted in the industry. What could be more real than that?
The answer lies in the young actors who love and thrive in the business, but aren't defined by it. They are children with a passion for performance that blends with ordinary talents, interests, and friendships nurtured outside the industry. These young actors stand out in their auditions because their talent feels genuine and unaffected. Casting directors and audiences relate to the perspective that they inherently bring with them to their auditions.
Here are a few tips to keep your children grounded and real in a very adult business that doesn't always reward the childlike qualities in your child:
1. Fight specialization. Though it takes real skills to perform at a high level, don’t specialize in acting to the point of pushing all other activities aside. Find a balance that leaves room for religious school, sports, the elementary school yearbook committee, or whatever non-performance related activities your family and child values. These activities create opportunities for serious actors to form a broad range of relationships and skills that give them the life experience to succeed both on and off the set.
2. Maintain friendships. "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold." This well worn song says it all when it comes to show business, especially for children. Show business can inflate and delete an ego like none else. Old friendships are the antidote, and in a business that is famous for last minute callbacks and rehearsals that run long past scheduled, they don't always last. Be sure to make them a priority for your young actor.
3. Volunteer. Nothing develops humility and respect more than giving service to others. A little goes a long way so even the busy working actor can fit volunteer opportunities into a harried schedule.
4. Let your child drive. I'm talking career, not car. (That will come soon enough.) There may be times when a friend's birthday party to a really cool water park conflicts with an audition. These are great opportunities to prioritize and form agreements. If it's a callback, young actors need to know that they must go because they gave their word to follow through when they initially auditioned. On the other hand, it might be better to pass on an open call rather than disappoint a good friend. Talk with your kids to give them a strong voice in their own careers.
Although young actors must be skilled and proficient in their performance, what often gets a casting director's attention is the interesting, natural, genuine quality that emanates from them. Give your child the training to pursue acting accompanied by a balanced childhood and you give them the tools to thrive in the business and in all aspect of their lives.
I’d love to hear from you with what has worked to nurture your child's talents while keeping them grounded and real.
Master your craft, empower yourself and enjoy the journey.
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. For 10 years, she was an associate with Fox Albert Management, one of the leading talent management companies in New York, where she managed such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), and Judy Reyes (NBC’s “Scrubs”). Denise has coached hundreds of children and young adults appearing regularly on Broadway, and in television and film, as well as educating parents on the business of show business.