From the Harry Potter trainee wizards to the Sound of Music’s Von Trapp children, child actors have played a large part in many iconic films, TV programmes and theatre productions around the world. However, for every successful school-aged star that have made it big, there are quite literally thousands of hopeful young actors, singers and dancers who have not yet reached such dizzying heights. Competition at auditions, castings and call-backs is fierce, with thousands of talented kids vying with each other for their moment in the spotlight.
If your child has caught the acting bug and harbours secret (or not so secret) dreams of a successful career in the performing arts, there are several ways in which you can help boost their chances – and pitfalls that you need to be aware of along the way.
Eyes wide open
Acting professionally in films, TV or theatre at any age is not an easy career to break into. There is a lot of rejection and disappointment involved, so it is important to go into it well aware of the downsides and pitfalls that could crop up at any time. Even if you manage to secure an audition for a paid acting job, there is no guarantee that you will progress beyond the first round. There’s a lot of rejection involved in the acting world that you must be prepared to deal with. Even if you do get cast in a film or a play, you shouldn’t expect to become famous quickly, or even at all. It can take ages for your work to be noticed and admired on a wider scale due to the sheer number of people out there, trying to make it big right alongside you.
The acting world can also attract unscrupulous people who don’t always have the interests of young performers at heart. Always work with a reputable talent agent who has experience finding work for young actors, as they will be best placed to spot any scams or dodgy deals. If you do spot an opportunity yourself, always run it past your agent or a trusted professional such as your drama teacher. If something seems too good to be true, it most probably is. Finally, keep up with your academic studies as it is crucial to have a solid ‘Plan B’ to fall back on. Even the most successful acting careers can suddenly stall for all kinds of reasons.
Learning the ropes
As with any profession, the best actors are those who have learned their craft and put a lot of hard work into improving their skills and increasing their experience. Sign up to acting classes – and do the same for singing and dancing if you are interested in becoming that highly sought-after ‘triple threat’ performer who can offer all three disciplines at a very high level. Additionally, exposure to various masterclasses, guest teachers, professionals and ideas is always beneficial to a budding actor, as is watching as many live plays and variety of films as you can.
Grab hold of any and all opportunities to perform, whether that is taking part in a school or college production, amateur dramatics club, drama festival or student film project. Again, always check that the opportunities you are investigating are appropriate for you to be involved in with a suitable adult before committing to taking part. Always listen to people you are working within these types of school, amateur or student projects as they will often have a lot of valuable advice to share.
If you are keen on the idea of working in film or TV, it can sometimes be harder to find courses and clubs aimed specifically at this type of acting training, as opposed to theatre-based, or more general drama classes. If you see yourself more at home acting in front of a camera than to a live theatre audience, then why not search for a suitable filmmaking course to help you learn about what happens behind the scenes, and gain valuable screen acting experience?
After you have honed your acting skills through lessons, clubs, amateur productions and film workshops, it’s time to begin the search for an agent. This is the person or company who will represent you in your search for acting opportunities and who will negotiate key issues such as your contract terms, working dates, chaperone arrangements and payments. Again, it is vital to choose a reputable, professional agent who will work for your benefit, rather than try to exploit you. Ask around at your film club, school or amateur dramatics group for recommendations or read online reviews.
Look for an agency that represents young performers like you. Their website should have details of jobs previously secured for clients, which will give you a good idea of how and where they work. You shouldn’t have to pay an agent up front to take you on, as they earn their living by taking a small percentage of your earnings when you actually carry out a job, so avoid anyone who demands money in advance. That said, you will probably have to pay for a professional photo shoot to capture your headshots, unless you know someone who can do this for you for free. You may also wish to pay for an entry in Spotlight, the acting industry’s directory and casting bible, to maximise your chances of being called for audition.
The right attitude
Once you have secured an agent, they will start looking around for acting auditions and opportunities for you. To help you make the most of these, you should be willing to travel and able to attend at relatively short notice as auditions can often be arranged without a lot of warning time. You may be given a few ‘sides’ to look at in advance; these are pages of a script that you will be asked to perform during your audition, so try to learn these off by heart. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of monologues rehearsed in advance, as well as a song up your sleeve to showcase your talents as much as possible.
In the audition, be friendly and respectful to absolutely everyone you meet, arrive on time and listen to the director at all times. These things show that you are easy to work with and that you take your acting seriously. The same applies if and when you secure your first job as a professional child actor. No-one likes a diva, so work hard, keep a positive attitude throughout and learn as much as you can from the seasoned professionals around you. That way, people will want to work with you again!