Is your kid the class clown? Do they constantly perform for family members—or even their stuffed animals? Are they the first to sign up for a part in the school play? If so, you may be the proud parent of a future child star. But even if they have natural talent, becoming an actor isn’t easy. And it can be even more complicated for parents overseeing their child’s burgeoning acting career.
With the help of talent managers, casting directors, and other industry professionals who work closely with young performers, we created this in-depth guide to becoming a child actor. We’ll walk you through the basics, like how to find auditions for kids, as well as tackling thornier issues like preparing your child for rejection and breaking down the ways this decision could affect your family.
- Steps to becoming a child actor
- How to tell if your child should become an actor
- What is the best age to start acting?
- How to help a child actor break into the industry
- Training options for child actors
- Where to find auditions for child actors
- How to prepare a child actor for auditions
- What casting directors look for in child actors
- How to help your child actor deal with rejection
- Do child actors need an agent or manager?
- How to find an agent for your child actor
- The role parents play in a child actor's career
- How much does it cost to be a child actor?
- Educational options for child actors
- Pros and cons of being a child actor
- Confirm your child's genuine interest in acting. Simply wanting to be famous is a far cry from the reality of pursuing a career in acting. you'll want to be sure that your child has a genuine interest in the craft.
- Consider training options. While formal acting training isn't necessarily required, they can be a big help for child actors looking to learn the craft. Group classes, workshops, private coaching, and summer acting programs are all great options for kid actors hoping to break into the industry.
- Prepare your marketing materials. For a child actor to start submitting to auditions, they'll need headshots, an acting résumé (even without professional credits), and a a demo reel. Child actors should also have at least two short monologues memorized for audition purposes. As your child gains on-screen experience, they will also need to have a demo reel.
- Find auditions and submit to casting calls. Creating a profile on an online casting platform like Backstage is the best way to find auditions for your child actor. Once you've made a profile, you'll be able to submit to casting calls based on age range, location, and production type.
- Make a plan for your child's education. Building a child's acting career can be difficult to square with the realities of schooling, so be sure there's a plan in place, whether it's home-schooling, a professional children's school, or even on-set tutoring.
Can you become a child actor with no prior experience?
Yes, you can become a child actor with no experience. In fact, it’s a lot easier for kids with short résumés to get cast than for adult performers to. “There’s always room for a child actor to be discovered,” says Stein. “That’s why we love Hollywood. There’s a possibility of being cast in a lead role having never worked on a set when you’re a child actor, [which is] much less likely for the adults.”
That said, the more credits your child has under their belt, the better their chances of landing a major role. And while training is helpful for any actor, it’s particularly important for kids who are just getting started; so you may want to consider enrolling them in a class or a workshop.
It’s not uncommon for kids, at some point, to declare to their parents, “I want to be on TV!” But how can you tell if this is just a passing fancy or something deeper? There are a few telltale signs that your child’s interest is genuine, according to acting coach Denise Simon.
“They’re regularly performing around the house to real or imaginary audiences,” she says. “They’re talking about movies and plays and asking how they can star in them. When there is a play at school or in the community, they’re the first to volunteer for a big part. They sparkle onstage or in front of a classroom, perhaps even getting into trouble for being the class clown. If there is a spotlight anywhere nearby, your child wants to be in it.”
Here are four ways to tell if your kid is ready for a career in Hollywood, according to child acting coach Mae Ross, who founded 3-2-1 Acting Studios in Los Angeles.
- They’re generally well-behaved. They must be able to act professionally on set alongside adults and other child actors.
- They’re responsible. They’ll have to miss school sometimes for auditions and bookings, so it’s important that they can catch up on their classes and stay on top of homework.
- You have the time, patience, and energy to assist them. If you’re successful, you’ll be the main contact person for booking and audition information—and that’s a lot to keep track of.
- You and your child are ready for an adventure. A professional acting career is a journey, and it should be fun for both of you along the way.
At the end of the day, you know your kid better than anyone. Do they usually follow through with other new interests or hobbies? How easily do they adapt to change? Can they thrive under pressure in constantly evolving circumstances, or is a regular schedule important to them? How have they coped with hearing no in the past? Most importantly, have they demonstrated a love of acting above just about everything else?
“Like any business, show business has its challenges and requires commitment and dedication,” says Ross. “If your child truly loves to act, then the amount of work that [they need] to put into every audition and role won’t matter. [They’ll] be having fun!”
There’s no ideal age to start acting, but child actors can expect different casting opportunities depending on how old they are. According to Simon, actors between 8 and 11 are typically the most desirable for agents and managers since there are so many roles available for this age range. Here’s what you can anticipate for child actors at various life stages:
- 0–4 years old: Your baby or toddler is adorable, of course. You get stopped on the street by people asking if you have ever considered putting them in the business. If your little one is personable and comfortable with being separated from you, and you’re willing to do the schlepping to and from auditions and gigs, go for it. You don’t have to spend money on classes or professional photos; snapshots work fine at this age.
- 5–7 years old: This age group is just beginning to grasp the concept of reading, so encourage your young actor to read out loud—but make sure they’re exploring their imagination and having fun, too. An improv or game-based acting class is the way to go at this age; but be careful to avoid over-coaching them.
- 8–11 years old: Agents and managers love to find actors in this age range. Their voice is still unchanged, they’re disciplined enough to handle long work hours, they’re reading, they’re not old enough to develop acne, and they’re still child-size. There are plenty of roles for kids this age in all mediums, and agents are hungry to represent them—especially if they can act.
- 12–15 years old: Puberty has struck, and your little one is no longer a child. They may start doubting themselves and lacking the easy confidence they had at a younger age. Now is a great time for them to take classes and master skills beyond their natural abilities. Roles are hard to find in theater; they’re too tall to play a kid, but not old enough to handle the maturity and skill that older roles require. That said, there’s plenty of work to be found in commercials, TV, and movies. They should consider getting experience by working in student films, then start to build a demo reel.
- 16–18 years old: Your teen doesn’t need someone to drive them to auditions anymore, but they still need a tutor, and there are working restrictions on set. There are plenty of 18-year-olds who can play younger, and it won’t cost the production company money for tutoring. If your teen wants to further their acting career, this is a great time for them to study and prepare for college theater auditions; getting into a good program is more competitive than ever.
Every young performer needs four things to start their career: headshots, an acting résumé, a demo reel, and audition materials. These are essential parts of an actor’s toolkit at any age, but you’ll need to approach them differently for kids than you would for adults.
A headshot is an 8 x 10–inch color photo of your child that casting directors will use to help decide whether or not they’re right for a part. Especially if you’re just starting out, it’s not necessary to spend money on professional headshots; a high-quality iPhone portrait or candid photo is enough, assuming it was taken recently.
“It doesn’t make sense to spend a fortune on kids’ headshots, since they’ll need to be updated frequently,” says acting teacher Mary Wheeler. “However, it’s crucial that they reflect how the child currently looks.”
Once your child is more experienced, investing in a session with a professional photographer is “essential,” according to Simon. “A headshot is your child’s business card. It is a casting director’s first impression and a way for your performer to get [their] foot in the door.”
Depending on your child’s age and how long they’ve been acting, their acting résumé may be sparse—and that’s OK. Include any school or community theater productions, as well as classes that they’ve taken. According to Ross, the “special skills” section of an acting résumé tends to take on outsize importance for kids.
“For child actors who don’t have professional credits yet, casting directors and scouting talent agents pay special attention to this category, as it gives them info on what the child’s personality is like and what talents they possess,” she says. “So include a range of information that expresses the personality of your child.”
Ross advises listing your young actor’s special skills as follows:
- Traditional performance skills: e.g., dancing, singing, playing instruments, modeling
- Sports or physical activities: e.g., soccer, volleyball, Hula-Hooping, cycling
- Hobbies: e.g., camping, cooking, reading, playing with pets
- Service and charity work: e.g., scouts, mentoring, volunteering via Sunday school
- Personality traits and strengths: e.g., a team player, outgoing, a quick memorizer
A demo reel
A demo reel is a short video compilation of three to five clips of your child’s best onscreen performances. Like a professional headshot, a reel isn’t necessary for most child actors at the beginning of their career. However, as they gain more on-camera experience, putting together a high-quality demo reel will boost their chances of getting a part.
“When it’s a larger role, the footage that we have is very important in swaying a director toward hiring the child,” explains T.J. Stein, president of talent management company the Stein Entertainment Group. “Studios and networks really like footage.”
Although requirements vary depending on the project, your child should have two short monologues memorized and ready to perform (plus 16 bars of a song, if they sing). Choosing the right monologue can be daunting, but Ross has some pointers. Monologues should be one minute long, max; she suggests preparing both comedic and dramatic selections to demonstrate their range.
There is no formal education required to be a child actor, but young performers have four main options when it comes to honing their craft. Which one is right for your child will depend on how much time they have each week to devote to training, whether they work best in an individual or group setting, and your family’s budget.
- Weekly group classes: Consistency and repetition help any actor grow, and weekly classes can help build a foundation for young actors as they learn to work with others. Besides providing a fun space to make friends, group classes reinforce acting basics like listening, reacting, and tackling difficult material. “Any time parents ask me for advice, I always advise them to start with an ongoing, age-appropriate class,” Simon says.
- Workshops: There are a variety of workshops available for child actors, including audition intensives, musical theater boot camps, and single-day on-camera classes. These are typically led by experts and focus on helping performers hone their skills in a specific area. “What I find most valuable about workshops is [that] the environment pushes a performer to bring their A-game to a group of strangers,” Simon explains.
- Private coaching: This route provides the benefit of undivided attention and the ability to focus on developing specific skills that might get overlooked in a group class. “One-on-one coaching offers a personalized environment in which a young performer can feel safe and free to express themselves while being propelled to reach personal heights,” Simon explains, noting that coaching is particularly important for kids who audition regularly.
- Summer programs: Summer is a fantastic time for your child actor to get to work while their schedule is freer. That said, not all programs are right for children who are working to develop a professional acting career. Jessica R. Grosman, the founder and artistic director of A Class Act New York, offers a few key indicators of a high-quality summer program:
- The program provides an hourly breakdown of the daily schedule, and there isn’t much downtime or time spent on more traditional summer camp activities.
- The classes are small and divided by age group.
- The instructors are working actors with past credits.
The best place for child actors to find auditions is through an online casting platform like Backstage—at least at first. Once a child actor has secured representation, their agent will have direct connections to casting directors and can submit them for bigger roles with major networks and studios.
Backstage has been around for more than 60 years and is home to thousands of vetted casting opportunities, which are updated daily. These range from smaller projects like student shorts, web series, and regional theater to Hollywood features and Broadway productions.
We have several subscription options available, although our most popular is an annual web-only subscription. Once you’ve figured out which tier best suits your child’s needs, here’s how to use Backstage to find what you’re looking for:
- Create a personalized talent profile for your child. Include information about their acting credits, skills, and training, plus photos, videos, and/or audio clips. Once your kid has a profile, they can be discovered by CDs, directors, and others searching our Talent Database.
- Submit to casting calls. It’s easy to find the roles your child might be right for using our customized search. Enter the age range, location, and the production type you’re looking for, and watch the casting notices appear.
- Schedule auditions. Once your kid has submitted, you can communicate directly with CDs and filmmakers via our dedicated messaging system.
- Choose audition materials. Backstage’s monologue database will become a must-have before you know it. Set your filters (including genre, age range, and gender), and you’ll find a number of options that your child can start working on right away.
- Research agents and managers. Find contact info for professionals who represent children, and learn about acting schools and coaches for kids.
Audition prep depends on the type of project they’re going out for. For theatrical productions, there are usually several rounds of auditions; for film and TV, your child will likely be required to memorize a few pages of the script. Here’s what you can expect from each:
- Theater: There are two types of auditions when it comes to stage productions: agent appointments and open calls. For the former, your kid will usually receive audition material in advance and only has to come to their specified time slot. For open calls, performers come in on a first-come, first-served basis without making an appointment. Your child will have to return for several rounds of tryouts, especially if they’re going in for a musical. The first will include a 16–32 bar cut of a song and, sometimes, a dance component. If your kid gets a callback, they will then perform for the production team.
- Film and TV: Open calls are less common for onscreen work than theater. Bigger projects with major networks and studios require an agent or manager to secure a spot. In advance of a film or TV audition, your child will be given sides (pages from the script). It’s essential that they memorize their lines, since the audition will be taped. “If they have their eyes glued to a page, the only thing anyone will be able to see is the top of their heads,” Simon warns.
- Commercials: Be careful of overpreparing your child, especially for this type of audition. “I think the biggest mistake most parents make—understandably so—is they try to help too much,” says Kim Swanson, who casts commercials for major brands like McDonald’s and Disney. “They over-rehearse and over-direct the kids before arriving, and then we don’t get a genuine kid in the room. It makes it nearly impossible to re-direct them.”
Dreams Come True/Shutterstock
According to Simon, here’s what CDs are looking for when it comes to auditioning young performers:
- Naturalness: Acting may be make-believe, but that doesn’t mean your child should come off as fake. In this business, it’s important to not be “showbizzy.”
- Personality: Your child shouldn’t try to tone down their personality. In fact, it’s what casting directors are most eager to see. Is your kid funny, thoughtful, interesting, or quirky? Having a good idea of who they are will help a CD imagine them as the character they’re casting.
- Professionalism: Acting is fun, but it’s also a job. Casting directors want to see that a young actor will be easy to work with and will bring a positive attitude to set.
- Well-roundedness: If your child has skills in other areas, it’s to their advantage to highlight them. This is another way that casting directors can see all the wonderful things about your kid.
- Training: A young performer may have a winning look and a great personality, but they’ll fall short in an audition without proper training. Whether it’s a group class or private coaching sessions, it’s essential that young actors build a foundation in the performing arts.
And don’t forget: As the parent, you’re part of the audition, too. “Many of us who work with children have also worked with ‘parents from hell’—well-meaning people who are pushy, demanding, or unrealistic about their child’s skills or fit for certain parts,” says New York–based theater director Matt Lenz. “It is a difficult situation for everyone. Be aware that creative teams evaluate parents during auditions as well as the youth. If you are difficult, you may very well cost your child the part [they] so desperately [want].”
If your kid is serious about acting, they’ll audition for countless jobs—which means dealing with lotsfgr of rejection. As their parent, it’s your job to help them process those feelings in a productive way. Grosman has a five-point plan for parents to help soften the blow when their child is turned down for a role:
- Explain the likelihood of actually booking jobs. An actor will hear “no” countless times before landing that coveted gig. These are tough odds to deal with, even for the most seasoned actor.
- Tell your kid the truth about casting. Landing a role often has less to do with an actor’s talent than with their type, height, hair color, ethnicity, and age—all factors that are beyond your control. No, not even standing on tippy-toes will land your child a job that they’re too short for.
- Be relatable. Remember the time you were rejected from a club, team, or even college? Sharing a personal story about rejection can help your child put their own disappointment into perspective. Just don’t forget to explain the positive way you were able to get over your rejection.
- Foster your child’s other interests, too. Variety is the spice of life, right? Take an active role in introducing your kid to as many different activities as possible. If acting is their only passion, chances are the inevitable rejection that comes with the business will be much more difficult for them to deal with.
- Never criticize your kid after an audition. Instead, ask them what went well in the room and focus on the positive. If you notice that your child isn’t having a great audition, the last thing you want to do is make them feel worse. It’s vital that they see this as a fun process.
Many parents worry that their kid won’t book work without representation—but according to Simon, that’s not true.
“They will have more auditions available to them with representation, but the most important thing is to not search for an agent or manager until your child is ready,” she explains. “Casting directors really aren’t that interested in [whether] your child has an agent or manager; they’re only interested in whether your child can do the job.”
Also, keep in mind that agents and managers play different roles in an actor’s career. Managers look at the big picture and help shape your child’s career trajectory, whereas agents typically submit clients on jobs and secure audition opportunities; they handle the contractual, business aspects of an actor’s career.
“I usually recommend a manager when a young performer is just starting out or has a career that needs to be managed,” says Simon. “As your child enters the business, you will have a lot of questions and concerns. A manager offers support and guidance in the beginning of a professional career. A good manager will communicate with you effectively, help you find reputable photographers, teachers, and coaches, review your photo proofs, push for auditions, and introduce you to potential agents to round out the team.”
Sometimes, parents decide to manage their kid themselves; you can learn more about what that entails in our guide to managing a child actor.
How do you know when it’s time to look for an agent? “If your child has been working, getting some good feedback, getting callbacks, and getting [jobs], and you’re hearing from industry professionals that your child is marketable and competitive and ready, it’s time to seek out representation,” Simon explains.
There are many different ways for child actors to get an agent, but one of the most common ways to secure representation in a major market is through a showcase. Avoid huge events (sometimes referred to as talent conventions) that offer thin training at high prices. The most highly regarded showcases are hosted by well-respected acting schools and are the culmination of a series of classes.
Landing an agent involves doing your research and learning the rules of the game. For instance, agents in New York City and L.A. are almost always specialists. Your child will need a youth theatrical agent for TV and film opportunities, or a youth commercial agent if they’re interested in commercial and print work.
“It’s much easier to sign with a commercial agent, as they will often take anyone with a good look regardless of training or experience,” says Hollywood parenting expert Bonnie J. Wallace. “Theatrical agents have to be choosier. They typically have fewer clients than commercial agents, and if they send out actors to audition for casting directors, those actors are expected to be ready to compete professionally.”
It will be close to impossible for your child to sign at one of the major outfits, like William Morris Endeavor or Creative Artists Agency, right off the bat. Instead, get started by browsing our lists of the best agencies for kids in Los Angeles and New York City.
If you’re in a smaller market outside of these major hubs, it’s less common for agents to specialize in children or adults, or theatrical or commercial. You may be able to simply send in your child’s materials (headshots, résumé, and cover letter) to local agents who will be willing to take a meeting—that is, to see your child audition and consider representing them—rather than going the showcase route. Check out our Call Sheet to research agents in your area, in combination with IMDbPro and a good old-fashioned Google search.
There are a fair number of parents who end up managing their kids themselves, at least in the beginning. But that’s far from the only part you’ll be playing in their career.
“As the parent of a professional child actor, you will be taking on new responsibilities,” Ross explains. “You must make sure that you have the time and willingness to take your child to and from auditions and bookings and to communicate with professionals in the industry. Also, of course, it’s important that you be your child’s cheerleader every step of the way. [They] will likely eventually have an entire professional team—agent, manager, publicist, lawyer—and you will be the central contact person for all booking and audition notifications.”
If your child has a 6 a.m. call time, guess who also has a 6 a.m. call time? It’s not just your kid’s social and personal life that will be impacted by each new project—it’s yours, too. It’s vital to pay attention to your own wellbeing so that you can continue to be the best version of yourself for your child.
“You make sure your kids are staying active. Give yourself the same gift,” says Simon. “If you don’t have time for a gym membership, carve out time to walk, take an exercise class, dance, or practice yoga.”
If you’re feeling isolated or overwhelmed, remember that you’re not in this by yourself. Asking for help will benefit you, your child, and their career. “Being the parent of a child actor is challenging. But you don’t have to go it alone,” Simon adds. “Talk to a life coach or therapist, or gather together with other parents who can offer support. When you find yourself feeling anxious, unable to sleep, exhausted, or cranky, it’s time to reach out and talk to someone who understands.”
We won’t sugarcoat it: raising a child actor is expensive. Parents can spend thousands per year to keep their children competitive in the business. “Is it the only way to break into the industry? Not necessarily,” says Simon. “I have clients on all ends of the financial spectrum.” The typical factors associated with child actor career costs include:
- Training: What you might pay for private coaching, group classes, workshop intensives, and voice or dance lessons varies widely depending on location, skill level, and teacher training; but the cost will likely be in the thousands.
- Portfolio: Professional headshots cost at least $250 for a single look, and can end up costing thousands of dollars for more. For children, headshots must be updated every six to 12 months.
You might also pay a professional to film self-tapes. This type of audition allows you to be more flexible; instead of taking the time to physically attend in-person auditions, your child can wow the casting director with a recording of themselves. Learn how to save some money with our guide to filming self-tapes.
- Transportation and living expenses: Transportation and living expenses can be the biggest drain on your family. Whether you choose to splurge on a city apartment or opt to commute, the combined cost of parking, E-ZPass fees, tickets, towing, gas, and car maintenance can end up costing a lot.
- Child care: Assuming your aspiring actor isn’t an only child, you’ll need to factor in the price of care for your other kids. This can range from hourly babysitting costs to a full-time nanny’s salary.
- Education: If your child auditions regularly and works often, public school may not be the best option for them; teachers tend to bristle at excessive absences, and it can be difficult for your kid to keep up with their coursework. If you need to find an alternative means of education, fees can range from hundreds per year for online home-schooling to thousands for private school.
- Business fees: If your child is a member of SAG-AFTRA, they will pay a $3,000 initiation fee, plus annual base dues of $231.96 and work dues at 1.575% of covered earnings up to $1 million. Agents take a 10–20% commission on all jobs booked through their services, and managers take around 15%. And don’t forget the accounting and legal fees you may incur, which vary from state to state.
For working child actors, public school isn’t always the best route. It can be difficult to keep up with coursework if they often miss class for auditions, particularly if they don’t have a sympathetic teacher or principal. But there are a number of alternative schooling methods available for kids pursuing acting.
- Online home-schooling: There are several programs available that satisfy state and district requirements, including Calvert Homeschool and Connections Academy. The pro is that you and your child can do school on your own schedule; the drawback is that your kid must be disciplined and self-motivated to make it work.
- Professional childrens’ school: There are two options in this category. Some professional childrens’ schools teach core subjects (e.g., English, math, history) but also focus heavily on the performing arts (e.g., dancing, acting, singing). These schools are amazing, but many of them have “no audition” policies, meaning that their students are prohibited from trying out for professional projects during the school year.
The second type is a school for professional children. These programs focus on kids with professional careers (actors, dancers, athletes) who miss a lot of school due to their other commitments.
Whether or not they remain in the industry into adulthood, a childhood spent acting professionally will have a lasting impact. “Kids in the business learn ownership and responsibility at a much younger age than people who enter the workforce in their late teens,” explains Jackie Reid, the owner of the L’il Angels Unlimited talent management company.
In addition to fostering a strong work ethic, an acting career can help your child learn to be adaptable. “Any kid who has been in the business knows that things can change by the minute,” Reid adds. “One minute, you can be in school, and the next, you might be pulled out to get to an audition…. There are endless examples that I give to show that these kids are not thrown off by changes, but rather embrace them and go with the flow. As an adult, this is such a valuable resource to have within you—to be unflappable.”
That said, don’t forget that this will change the lives of everyone in your family, not just the child who is pursuing acting. “Be aware that when your child or teen is cast in a production, it requires a commitment from the entire family,” Simon warns. “There are long hours of rehearsals, travel, and coordination with school and other activities. Your child may need to give up sports or time with friends to honor their commitment to the production.”
Establishing a sense of normality is key to maintaining a healthy environment at home. Remember that acting isn’t everything; devote family time specifically to non-performance activities.
“The neat thing in all of this [is] how acting is just part of the daily routine and the sweet parental awareness of the delicate balancing act it is,” Reid says. “It is easy to get totally immersed in daily acting activities, but make sure you help [your child] to take time out and include family things in your weekly rhythms. Don’t forget [to take a] family vacation away from acting. You and your kids have earned the break.”