After participating in school plays, taking classes, and landing a lead role at the local community theater, your child is how begging to audition for professional work. Suddenly, you’re in charge of managing a budding child actor. What now?
You can always hire a professional talent manager, of course. But many parents decide to manage their own children’s acting career, especially as they’re just starting to find their footing in the industry. In this in-depth guide to becoming a parent manager, we’ll break down your day-to-day responsibilities—as well as things like labor laws for child actors and how to find your first auditions.
- What are the responsibilities of a talent manager?
- What are the pros and cons of managing my child’s acting career?
- Would my child be more successful with a professional manager?
- What does my child need to become an actor?
- What are some common mistakes parents make when managing their child?
- What do I need to know about child actor labor laws?
- How do I protect my child while on set?
In general, a talent manager helps to guide an actor’s career: advising on headshots, social media, website, and general day-to-day planning and strategy.
A lot of people are confused about the difference between an agent and a manager. The largest distinction is that an agent has to be licensed by the state and work out of an office, while a manager does not. As such, managers are often less regulated than agents. Agents usually have larger rosters, while managers tend to have a smaller group and work with each of their clients more holistically and intensively.
“Your day-to-day will essentially look like that of an adult actor who is advocating for their own career—but your work will be on behalf of your child, instead.”
Unless you happen to already be a licensed agent already working in the entertainment industry, you would serve as your child’s manager. Your day-to-day will essentially look like that of an adult actor who is advocating for their own career—but your work will be on behalf of your child, instead. That means submitting for auditions daily on casting sites like Backstage, taking your child to acting classes, updating their social media pages, helping to run lines, seeing shows, being on top of research such as what projects are out there that your child is right for, and more.
Various people you will have relationships with over the course of your child’s career include, but are not limited to: acting coaches, casting directors, directors when on set or in the theater, wardrobe, hair and makeup artists, photographers, agents, and managers.
The advantage of being a parent manager is that you know your child better than anyone else in the business already. You know the correct age range to submit them for, you understand their strengths and weaknesses, and you have an in-depth knowledge of their schedule. On your child’s end, they can effectively communicate their needs to you and not be self-conscious about passing along any advice they are given and feedback they receive. Your built-in relationship will help the two of you work together in a cohesive manner toward your child’s goals.
There are also downsides, of course. The time you spend with your child actor could mean time away from your other children or partner. Especially as your child begins booking work, you may be spending days at a time away from the house. And it’s not just time that you may be putting on the line: You should consider how your other children will feel about the added layer to your relationship with your child actor. Will there be jealousy? Hurt feelings? Resentment?
Additionally, before you commit to acting as a manager for your child professionally, be very sure that your own career can handle the time commitment. A job needs to be quite flexible in order to manage an acting career, as there are constantly last-minute auditions and callbacks. That’s not to mention the time spent taking your child to classes, managing their social media, and submitting them for auditions. Of course, when they do book something, that will also be a time commitment, especially if it is a longer run of a TV series or a play. At times, you may be forced to put your own career on hold for the sake of your child’s success, and that comes at varying degrees of sacrifice, depending on how invested you are in your career.
When a young actor is just starting out, it often makes the most sense for them to be managed by a parent rather than a professional. You’ll be able to help them build their résumé and confidence by doing smaller projects that can be found online through casting platforms or through local theater groups. However, to start booking larger roles, your child will eventually need professional representation: an agent, a manager, or both. A professional manager will have access to breakdowns for major projects that won’t be available to you.
Auditions are the cornerstone of the acting business—and to submit to auditions, your child will need three things:
- Acting résumé
- Demo reel
You can find work for your child on casting sites like Backstage. Professional agents or managers have access to breakdowns for larger projects (i.e., network TV series or Broadway shows) that you can’t get on your own through these sites, though.
Another way to get your child into auditions is through the Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union representing American actors and stage managers in the theater. As a member, they can sign up for and attend Equity Principal Auditions just like an adult actor can. (Nonunion children can try to be seen as well, but all nonunion actors are only seen after all of the Equity actors have auditioned.)
Remember you are acting as your child’s manager, not parent, so it is important to remain professional. Backstage Expert Jackie Reid breaks down some major mistakes that you should avoid when managing your child’s acting career:
- Don’t be too pushy or ask unnecessary questions. You can be sure that whoever is working the audition room will be reporting back to whoever is inside regarding all parents’ behavior. Be sure not to eavesdrop on how the audition is going or ask questions about the quality of your child’s performance.
- Don’t put too much pressure on your child. The most successful children are those who are really enjoying what they are doing. Openly bribing, critiquing, etc., will be noticed and make it seem as though you are doing this for yourself instead of because your child genuinely wants to.
- Don’t misbehave. Make sure your child is prepared, on time, and ready to audition as soon as you arrive. You never know who around you is involved with the production team, so be careful what you say in the waiting room, being sure to never comment on the script, the way the audition is run, etc. Running lines with your child, being upbeat, and making polite conversation is all fine.
Labor laws differ widely between states. The number of hours per day (and per week) a child is allowed to work also depends on the type of project, the age of the child, and the type of schooling your child receives. Be sure to check with unions, state laws, and any representation your child has.
In terms of financial laws protecting your child, California requires parents to set up what is known as a “Coogan Account.” A Coogan Account is a blocked trust where, according to SAG-AFTRA, “15 percent of the minor’s gross wages are required to be withheld by the employer and deposited into the Coogan Account within 15 days of employment.” In most instances, you will need to show proof of such an account before you will receive a work permit. A Coogan Account can be opened online. The Actors Federal Credit Union or SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union are good places to open one.
Meanwhile, New York state requires you to open up a trust account compliant with the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) or Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA). Per SAG-AFTRA, “this account may be opened with any bank, in any state, as long as it meets UTMA or UGMA requirements.”
In Louisiana, parents are required to open a blocked trust account in any state, with any bank. And in New Mexico, parents only have to open a blocked trust account if their child earns over $1,000 per employment contract.
As a parent, safety for your child is always your No. 1 priority. Unfortunately, the acting industry has had instances of abuse issues over the years. The good news is that in the wake of the #MeToo movement, this is finally being publicly acknowledged and the tolerance for it has seemed to dissipate, paving the way for better industry practices.
With that said, it is extremely important to always be on the lookout for inappropriate behavior since you are representing your child. Luckily, unions have rules in place to help you out. For example, SAG-AFTRA requires a parent to be within sight or sound of their child at all times. With small children, this may mean being in another room with a monitor watching your child on set so that they are not distracted and calling for you at all times.
You know your child best. If your gut tells you something is not right, believe it, immediately take your child out of danger’s way, and then report to the proper authorities on the set or show, as well as with any unions of which your child is a member.
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s kids auditions!