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Ask a Casting Director: What Advice Do You Have for Parents of Child Actors?
Casting directors Judy Taylor, Carrie Haugh, Marty Keener Cherrix, and Ilene Starger share their advice for parents of child actors.
What I encourage is that kids start acting locally first. This is a competitive business. They are children, and it's important that they have some kind of grounding and have a normal life. Before coming to L.A. or New York, do whatever you can in your own community. Parents need to see if this is something their child has a talent and an affinity for, and if this is something that makes them happy. Start small before making a big move. If you find that things are going really well and if you think this is something your child is enjoying and can be successful at, then maybe make the decision to take it a step further.
Facing rejection at an audition is a valid concern. That's where a supportive family can make a big difference. And that's why it's great if kids have other things going on in their lives - such as school, sports, and friends - to keep things in perspective. I think parents want their children to be happy. If this is something their child wants to pursue, they want to be supportive. But if the child doesn't want to miss that soccer game or they're feeling conflicted, like they don't have enough time with their friends, that's the time to pull back and say, "Maybe we need to take a break and just concentrate on the things you want to do."
Sesame Street Productions, New York
Sesame Street, Elmo's World, Sesame Street home videos
I don't have to interact with the parents so much, and parents aren't on set. Kids act differently when their parents are right there. So [I look to see if] the kids are able to walk away from their parents and not be shy. I tell a lot of parents not to even bother getting headshots. It gets very expensive to do that. I prefer snapshots of kids just being kids and a lot more natural, just being silly or smiling or hugging their mom. And be on the lookout for scams. If the kid is good, the parents shouldn't have to pay anything; agents and casting directors are going to be making money off the kid. So look out for anything where you have to pay money, unless it's a class.
It's a lot of work; it's a lot to commit to. Parents might have to be willing to take their kids out of school. A lot of the kids I see are homeschooled and the parents are really dedicated. Obviously, when parents first meet me at the audition, they're on their best behavior. But it's very obvious to me, especially with the younger children, when kids want to be there. You can tell when this is about the parent and it isn't for the kid.
It's a tough business. We try to make it the most positive experience, and it's a warm and friendly environment, but obviously it's not like that in a lot of other settings. Parents should know that if they're getting into this business with kids, the kids are going to face rejection.
Marty Keener Cherrix
Cherrix Casting, Los Angeles
Location casting credits include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Pan, The Cider House Rules
Nobody will work harder for a child than their parent. So I put the onus on the parents to keep their eyes out in the media, to find out what's going on and what opportunities are available. If the child has an interest and expresses a desire, it's all a balancing act - making it a harmonious part of not only the child's life but also the family's. It's about prioritizing. If your child has an interest and the ability is there, they can rise to the top and their time may come. The kids that I see do well have a good family life at home.
[Professional headshots are often expected], but outside of New York City or L.A., your child doesn't necessarily need to have a headshot. What they need is an interest and a desire. You have to know who you are, both as a child and a parent. But your role as a parent is to guide, guard, and govern.
Ilene Starger, CSA
Ilene Starger Casting, New York
Night at the Museum, The School of Rock, Sleepy Hollow, The Parent Trap, 3 Men and a Little Lady
It's crucial that parents not force their kids to act or perform. The best parents encourage children to pursue acting out of a sense of creativity and fun. I think parents should examine their own reasons for wanting their children to act. If it's about making money or fulfilling the parents' thwarted dream of becoming actors, that, in my opinion, is a mistake.
Beware of agencies or companies which ask that money be paid in order to represent clients. Obviously, as in life, common sense is required. Check out companies, both for representation and those which are producing the movie, TV show, etc., for reputability. And if something doesn't feel right, don't do it.
Don't let your self-esteem be wrapped up in what others think. Not every child is meant to act or perform, and the really talented ones have a certain indefinable quality that makes them special. But all kids are special, performers or not.