Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The Kid Comes First: Suggestions for the parents of a young actor
Suggestions for the parents of a young actor
by Corey Parker
In this blog post, I address some topics that I believe will be helpful for you to address as a parent of a young actor/ actress. Take whatever makes sense to you, and leave the stuff that doesn’t.
I have coached many young actors, kids and teens. I have met many parents of young actors. I was a young actor as well. I think the best thing you can do as the parent of a young actor/ actress is to inform yourself as well as you can about all aspects of his/ her work in the business.
Auditions are opportunities to get jobs in the real, professional world of acting. This means that auditions can be a form of pressure, as are any opportunities for a person to get work, including adults. Further, there are many other issues that can go on for a kid in this circumstance.
For example, is the love and approval of the parent going to increase with a booking the job? Or is the love and approval from the parent going to decrease if the child does not succeed in booking the job?
What are the feelings of the parents, do they show their own disappointment when the kid does not book or do they properly parent and support their child instead? Kids want to please their parents, they want their parents approval and love. They do not want to disappoint them or to be a disappointment to them. Long term psychological damage can take place if the young actor is demoted or reduced consistently in the process of trying to book jobs. The young actor can internalize this dynamic- ‘book the job or be worth less.’ They may erroneously decide that they must succeed, that they must be in complete control of the casting process in order to have inner worth and that it is their role to do so…or else. In other words, they believe they must book the job. It's important to know that actors may book one in ten auditions or less. Conditional love based on auditioning can be internalized by the child and can have potential long term manifestations for the child/ teen are related to 1) self worth, 2) inability to cope with stress, 3) fear, anxiety, panic and 4) shame (the experience of something being inherently wrong with them as a person). There is a long list of innocent young actors who had such struggles.
The solution is in awareness from the parents. Ensuring that their young actor or actress learn healthy beliefs and coping skills, forms of play, and proper training.
Play: kids need to play. It serves them developmentally. This is very important for young actors as well. They need to have play, because it reduces stress, it can serve a positive sense of self and releases anxiety. Without play, their world of auditioning becomes more and more fraught, more overly important, and is potentially a source of pain and worry in their lives.
Training: Talent is not enough. Every agent and coach knows this, every casting director knows this. Your child needs to be training when he or she is not auditioning. Training is a way to weave ‘play’ into her work, particularly in the setting of auditions. I suggest mock auditions that create positive habits (inner and outer) for the audition process. Habits are very important in the long term. For example, how to deal with tension in auditions, how to play and try different choices, how to let go, how to breathe properly, how to handle it if you make a mistake, etc.
These habits are important and take time and practice. In the right setting, that work may seem like play at times. Find a good teacher. Good teachers bring good habits and bad teachers teach bad habits.
Coaching for auditions: This is a wonderful way to offer support for the actor. The actor is supported and feels their growth in the audition scenes. On the other hand, I feel it is counter productive to only work on actual auditions with a coach because there is no time for overall training: to learn technique, to bring play into the young actor’s mindset and instrument, no time to work on habits.
Training should be fun and should allow her to meet other kids who deal with similar issues. Some kids will be buttheads. Prep him or her for that. Just to be polite but don’t let them under your skin. If a kid brags about their work/ resume, go listen to your headphones or talk with someone else. Don’t let people get under your skin.
Parent coaching at home: When parents coach the kid at home, it is very important how you approach the work sessions. These sessions can become about the kid wanting to please the parents, which all kids want to do. That can be a very different dynamic than the kid working with a coach who does not hold the parent’s power and who knows what he or she is doing. Parental coaching must include constant encouragement presented credibly. Literally, every time the kid runs through the scene or scenes, the young actor needs to hear encouragement about the good aspect of their work—every time. All actors need encouragement. Even the greatest in the world. Most importantly, young actors need to know that they are loved throughout the parent coaching process and that they will be loved even if they don’t book the job. Be aware at home: are you coaching ‘results’ or ‘process’?
Results vs. process: I believe there are two ways to work—results or process. I teach with process, giving creative ideas to the imagination so that the actor (including adults) can play with these suggestions and be affected by them.
Result-based coaching consists solely of results given verbally—"be happy," "be funny," "make a serious face," etc. When a child is taught only with results, they leave their creativity behind and try to satisfy the teacher or parent by hitting that desired result immediately, which can elicit a performance that is robotic, leaving all their authenticity and creativity at the door. From my experience, this is the last thing casting director’s want to see.
We don’t see the young actor at their best this way, we never will. Also: if the coach uses a creative process and the kid goes home to a parent who then uses result, the kid will tend to do the results, the parent’s way, despite what the coach taught creatively. Result oriented work is the lowest common denominator for an actor. A person may book a commercial with it, rarely will it be used to build a career.
A smile. If a young actor is taught to smile whenever they are asked to and to smile a really big forced smile every time, that child will bring a plastered-on, obedient smile in the casting office, as dependable as a miniature robot; whereas, if the young actor is taught that to smile means to smile as if smiling at their best friend or at their favorite grandma, that child’s imagination can play and the casting director sees a relaxed, open and authentic young actor. Think of your best friend when you laugh, or when you laugh hard at a joke with someone. Who is that person? If a smile starts to form, it is authentic, real and it brings you joy. You work until you find the choice that works for you. My son makes me smile. I had a best friend in High School who always made me laugh. I smile when I think of him. And I can share that smile when I get in the audition room, just like I would share it with another person. I let the camera capture what is authentic. Regular training offers habits that can translate into a happy kid and the ability to be a healthy actor who enjoys the process of acting.
There are parts of the audition that the actor can control and parts of the audition process that the actor can not control.
I believe this must be taught to kids so they don’t take on full responsibility for the outcome of an audition. What they can control is going in the room and having fun, being their authentic selves and doing their creative work. Nothing else about the audition process is up to the kid. Don't ask them to do any more than that.
The kid can’t control the final decisions that are made. Sometimes even the casting director cannot control that decision (any time the director is the one making the choice). This is important for the parent to understand and to teach the young actor. The young actor is not wholly responsible for getting the job. And what a lot of pressure that would be for any kid. Many of us have heard the parent in a waiting room at a casting office telling their child that they must get the job and make the parent happy. This is not uncommon. Yet, the child has no definitive chance of controlling this. How frustrating and confusing for the child. For me, the kid is more important than the job, and this rule is written in stone. The kid comes first.
Memorization: There are different ways to memorize. I am not a supporter of mere memorization of words only. The brain learns by making connections. Mere word memorization does not give the brain sufficient connections and the result will be forgetting words and feeling lost. It’s like memorizing math problems.
The other way to learn is to understand the meaning of the sentence, what is really being said. The lines start to make real sense and we find connections to words beyond how they initially impressed us (or didn’t). This allows the brain to make connections and to a deeper meaning. If the actor goes up on a line, they just ask themselves what are they missing about that line, what is it really saying? Say the meaning of the line out loud. The actor may get it on his or her own, but it can be fun to explore what's happening. Acting can be like detective work.
If an actor keeps forgetting the same line, this means the actor has not yet pierced it’s meaning and why the writer even put it there in the first place. We ask questions and the brain reconnects and the actor is on his way. It's similar to being told a math equation but not remembering it--you can use lemons or eggs and count them out and create a physical representation for the equation. The brain can make a connection. When my son struggled as a kid with Pythagoras' theorem, we studied Pythagoras' life, and when we saw him as a real person, our brains made new connections.
There are infinite possibilities and acting itself can solve these questions. Our brain just needs to make connections.
You can also develop the abililty to find associations to nouns in a line. The line mentions a tree or a car or the sky.
There are lots of trees, so a choice has to be made about what the actor is describing. Maybe it’s a healthy maple tree you saw outside your window as a kid, or it’s a sad weeping willow. Finding an image that serves the intention of the writer and creatively instigates the actor’s imagination is another way of allowing the brain to find yet another way to make connections.
Writing the entire scene out is another way to help learn or reinforce learning. This can be done as many times as necessary.
Dropping a line. This is normal for all actors. The young actor needs to know this. The best case scenario is that the actor is able to look at the script for a moment, pick themselves back up and move forward. It’s human. The actor need not feel that they have failed if they drop a line. That is where bad habits create severe pressure for auditions. If the child feels too much pressure internally, then going up on a line is equated to failing, and possibly failing their parents’ expectations, which is a Big Deal to them. No child wants to come out after the audition and announce that they didn’t do as good as the parent wanted. Some children might lie to the parent and say it went well. This kind of dysfunction does not serve anyone. The child will never do their best in the short term with that kind of thinking and they will develop bad habits in the long term.
Reality: in an audition, the child is allowed to make a mistake. Just pick it up and move on with the scene. When actors make a mistake they are focused only on their mistake and are unaware of all the different factors involved in that moment—the casting director's problems, the pressure they are under, the director the producer, the network, who has the power, etc. All of this is going on at the same time as our auditions.
The casting director is rooting for the young actor always, because they want to cast the role. If you drop a line, just keep the scene alive and get your head back in to it. Once the actor leaves the audition, go get ice cream! Or a treat and let it all go. Go back to life. Find positive rituals that accompany each audition. When my son went to kindergarten, I promised him I'd make it up to him by taking him to Baskin Robbins afterward. He loved that. We did this each year of his schooling. Now is he is a freshman at college and after the first day of each term, we go get ice cream. Auditions can be handled creatively if we acknowledge what our kid goes through and we parent them.
I suggest you read a book called: “Pretty Babies” by Andrea Darvi. It is rare, can be found on Amazon. It is old, but much of it is still important for the parent of a child actor. This book can offer a great deal of valuable knowledge for the care of your young actor in the long term throughout this process. The author interviewed many real young stars, casting directors, directors, etc. all on this subject. She was a young actress and worked with a number of big time actors, directors, casting directors and producers.