Auditioning the Parents?

Geralyn Flood
Geralyn Flood Casting, Los Angeles; 'Big Time Rush,' 'Good Luck Charlie,' 'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past'

That's a tough question to answer. I think the quick answer is no—and yes.

When I bring a child in for an audition, it's all about the work that they do in the room with me. Are they actively listening while they're doing the scene? Do they take direction well? Are they natural and not locked into making the same gestures each time they say a specific line? And, at the root of all of this, do they actually want to be an actor? I try, in the brief time I have a child in the room, to find out a little about them and their personality and how or why they got into acting. Finding out who they are helps me see if they're right for the role and if they understand what's going on in the scene.

That being said, somewhere I do note what the parents are like before and after the audition. The parents who are reading a book or knitting or doing their own work while their child is in the room are the ones, to me, who seem to understand that this is about their child doing something they love and that it's not about them. The parents who practice the lines repeatedly with their children up until the moment they're going into the room, or who start grilling them about the audition the minute they walk out, do register with me. But at the end of the day, it's the actor who had the strongest read that books the job.

Now, if a young actor books a role and I hear stories from set that the parent was demanding and potentially slowed down production because of their behavior, it does make me think twice before I would bring that actor in again.

The best advice I can give a parent is to treat acting just like all the other afterschool activities your child may have. They should come prepared and ready, just like they would for their piano or guitar lesson or recital, and they should be doing it because they get pleasure from performing.

Lisa Hamil
Hamil Casting, Los Angeles; 'Right Next Door,' 'Oka Amerikee,' 'Murder in the Dark,' 'Junkyard Dog'

The short answer is "Absolutely." The long answer is more complicated. Parents can't help a child actor get a job, but they can lose the job for the child. When it comes to narrowing down the final choices on a role, the producers will invariably choose the children with the easiest parents to work with. Making a film or television project is hard enough. You want to stack the deck with friendly, professional, and reliable people who are not difficult to spend long hours with.

My job as a casting director is to find the best actor for the role. Period. The producer's role, which I also sometimes take on, is to make sure everything on the set runs smoothly. That starts with hiring the right crew, which a child's parent or guardian is considered to be an unpaid member of.

The younger the child, the more important the parent is. I am currently casting the independent feature "Right Next Door," where the lead characters are all between the ages of 6 and 18. For the 6-year-old role, we're bringing in children between the ages of 5 and 8. We allow their parents to join them in the audition room.

The first thing I ask parents is, "Have you read the script?" The answer to this question should always be yes, even if they just flipped through it. This shows me two important things: They are invested in both their child's career and their child's general welfare. Parents who are not familiar with the material should not bring their children to an audition.

The second thing I observe is if the children treat their parents respectfully. Do they listen to them? If not, it raises a red flag. If the kids are talking back to their parents in a waiting room, how will these young actors behave on a set, where the stress level is a hundred times greater?

Last but most important, I ask the child at the end of their read, "Do you like acting?" In truth, I probably already know. I can tell which children want to be there and which do not within the first few minutes. The children will always say yes, but if they glance at their parents for unspoken approval first, the true answer is probably no.

With teenage actors, parents play less of a role. Young adults everywhere work. Other than artistically, the major difference between working a more traditional afterschool job and working on a set is that their guardian joins them. Once the parents have approved the material and feel comfortable that their child is safe, they stay mostly in the background.

In our business, more than most, time actually is money. And no matter the budget level of a project, it is never a high enough amount. I'm sure even James Cameron felt he didn't have enough to make "Avatar." Having any difficulty on the set, even if it's someone showing up 15 minutes late, costs the production financially, which is why, when it comes to narrowing down the top choices, more likely than not, the genial and responsible parent will be a deciding factor.

Nora Brennan
Nora Brennan Casting, New York; 'Billy Elliot: The Musical'

We have been very fortunate at "Billy Elliot" in that the overwhelming majority of our kids and parents have been absolutely fantastic. The kids work so hard and are so committed to doing their very best in the show. The parents have to be committed as well, because the parents are responsible for transporting their child to and from rehearsal and performances every day, as well as making sure that the child is rested and not overtaxed. And of course, if the company is touring, then usually a parent is required to go on the road to travel with their child. This is a huge sacrifice for a parent, who may have other children or have to leave a job. But most times they're willing because they realize this is a great opportunity for their child.

In general, we are auditioning the child. The child is the one who will be in rehearsal and in the show. But in talking with the parents, we take notice if a parent seems to be unsupportive of the child being in the show. That may become difficult if the parent doesn't want the child to participate. This circumstance rarely happens. Most times these parents have been driving their children to dance classes and competitions and lessons for years. So they're usually very excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for their child.

Dave Clemmons
Clemmons/Dewing Casting, New York; 'Wonderland,' tours of 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'South Pacific,' and 'Legally Blonde'

Yes. In many ways, yes. You try to get to know the parents, so you know what you're getting into, either through the general manager talking with them or through our experience with them. You try to get a sense, certainly, of what they're going to be like to deal with. But I can't say that the parents would necessarily influence the artistic decision on the kids. It's like, "Okay, we're going to hire this kid, but the kid's mother is a piece of work, so we've got to watch out for this one."

Everybody just wants to know what they're getting into. Is this parent a handful? Are you getting into a high-maintenance parent, somebody who's going to be a pain in the butt? Is it someone we're going to have to hear complaints from all the time, or are they great on the road and they're going to be great to have around? So in a sense, we audition the parents, yeah, but more to just know what comes with the kid if we decide to hire them.
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Melinda Loewenstein
Prior to joining the Backstage team, Melinda worked for Baseline StudioSystem tracking TV development. When she's not working, she enjoys cuddling with her cats while obsessively watching every television show to ever air.
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