I received a call the other day from a friend. She told me that her 7-year-old daughter was asking about becoming an actor. I gave her the same advice I give every parent of a young child who expresses an interest in getting into the biz: “Get her involved in school plays, and tell her to wait and come back again next year and explain why she wants to be an actor.” In her book “The Hollywood Parents Guide,” Bonnie J. Wallace—author, manager, and mother of Dove Cameron—writes: “If I have one piece of advice, I’d say to make sure the adventure is child-led and that the child genuinely loves the work of acting, rather than the idea of being famous.”
The craft of acting looks like so much fun from the outside. The accolades, attention, praise, and special treatment all seem pretty darn cool. That said, as a parent, have you ever really thought through what it takes to be a successful actor and what responsibilities you’ll have throughout this endeavor?
Expenses: These come from shepherding your child through training, plus basic day-to-day costs and the costs associated with actually booking the job.
Classes, training, and coaching: Yes, some kids are just born with talent; but as time goes on, they will need a foundation to build upon. Most successful adult actors I know still take classes to keep their instrument sharp, just as professional athletes train daily. Unless you’re an actor yourself, you should not be coaching your child. Coaching fees generally run between $75 and $200 per hour. Do you have that amount of money in your budget, considering your child may land two to three auditions per week?
Headshots: Because your child’s “look” will change every six to eight months or so as they grow up, you’ll need to get a new set of headshots regularly. Professional kids’ photo shoots can run anywhere from $350–$750 in the U.S.
Self-tapes: Our industry has pivoted to the use of self-tapes as the first step in the audition process. They help casting directors cover many locations, while also holding live auditions. Since the pandemic began, we’re no longer seeing actors in person, so the self-tape has become even more crucial. At minimum, you’ll need a video camera or a high-quality smartphone; a tripod, lighting, and a backdrop; and a dedicated quiet space and a talented reader to play opposite your child. The days of the parent performing this role are waning, because they usually produce a bad audition unless the parent is a skilled actor.
Your time: Unless your child has a driver’s license and a car, you’ll be schlepping them to and from every audition, meeting, wardrobe fitting, and rehearsal, as well as to set when they book a job. How does that work with your schedule? When they book a job, they will need a parent, guardian, or legal chaperone on set. Will you be able to accompany your child on set, or will you have to hire someone?
Sometimes the cost of a chaperone doesn’t make sense compared to what your child’s day rate is. You will probably be the one to help your child learn their lines. Since we’re now doing self-tapes from home, do you have time to invest while you’re trying to balance family, work, and everything else you do on a daily basis?
Disappointment: Last and certainly not least, are you prepared for what could be daily disappointment and how that will affect your child? For many of the parents that I talk to, they’ve managed to keep things in balance (for a certain amount of time) to make it an adventure that can, in some cases, instill a sense of self-esteem in the child. Unfortunately, the cliché of the stage mom is still alive and well in our industry and can wreak havoc on your child’s psychological development.
These are only a few of the things to consider when your child comes to you with this very special request. Acting as a career is much more than just a fun hobby.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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