What Other Parents Wish They Had Known…
One of my favorite television shows is Friday Night Lights, a beautifully written, small-scale drama that focuses on a small Texas town and its obsession with high school football. The show’s overarching theme is “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose” – a motto that all parents should adopt when they have a child who wants to perform professionally.
That’s easier said than done, because entering with your child into the professional world of acting and performing is an ongoing test. Schedules get blown up, sibling rivalry can be on steroids, and you often will find yourself asking more questions in a never-ending quest for answers.
We’ve faced those challenges as parents of a performer, and in talking to others in similar situations, I found a wealth of great advice – and a few warnings. Here are excerpts from my e-mail interviews with more than 20 parents, this time centering on the question: What do you wish you had known before you pursued this as a family?
“There is so much I did not know,” one parent said. “I guess maybe it would have helped to really understand the demanding schedule these kids have, but truthfully you can’t really understand it until you live it.”
Unless you land that million-to-one role, make sure you prepare your child for a lot of grunt work along the way. “We learned that much was involved before acting in movies,” said one parent, “including ‘learning to act’ – classes, practice, etc. – local training, local theatre, finding an agent, beginning the work. A wise coach taught us that an actor’s job is going on auditions.”
Parents say you have to be prepared – at least as much as you can be – for lengthy separations. The cost of relocating to New York or Los Angeles is likely more than you expect, especially if there are periods of unemployment.
“I wish I had known more about the business end and the rights and costs associated with being in a union,” one parent said. “We learned the hard way that after everyone took their percentage, we were not left with enough money to cover the cost of travel, tolls, parking and food.”
One parent regrets not spotting his daughter’s desire to perform sooner and doing something about it. “I wish that we had acted sooner, that we had taken her to have her talents evaluated before we did,” he said. “It would have allowed us to plan more.”
Child actors are faced with a short window of time, something I’ve discussed in previous columns. Once you reach puberty, get too tall, or your voice changes, the chances of you being hired until you reach 18 become few. In most cases, small or young-looking adult actors can be hired to play teens.
“It’s a lot of work and time involved. When our daughter was asked to go on tour we decided not to because my husband and I had commitments here, another daughter still living at home and homeschooling, so that wasn’t an option,” said one parent, who also was a child performer. “Then our daughter became too tall, so her options for Broadway were cut very short.”
With our son, one of the most difficult things has been the long periods of separation. For the first year, my wife and I split our time going back and forth to New York, but we had to hire a full-time guardian when he went out on tour.
“I wish I knew how hard it was to be separated,” one parent said. “But that may have stopped me from pursuing this, so I’m glad I didn’t know.”
Parenting, under perceived normal circumstances, often leaves you with more questions than answers. Are we doing what’s right for our child and for the rest of our family?
“Like everything in life, choices must be made,” one parent told me. “Do we want to move? Do we want to split up our family? What about the other kids, spouse, friends, community? For each choice (action), there is a consequence (reaction). We have learned our personal preferences along the journey and so far they have worked well for us and our child.”
And most important, the parents said, remember that you’re helping your child achieve their dream, not living out yours.
“I had been a performer,” said one parent. “I knew somewhat what we would be getting into and I try to never push her into anything she doesn’t want to do. It’s not fair to her.”
Coming next: Parents give their best advice.
Read other articles in Stage Dad.