Acting | How to Be a... | How To's

How to Be a… Child Actor

1 Sep , 2002  

Written by Amy Souza | Posted by:

Patricia Campbell of Portland Models and Talent shares some tips and advice for parents of budding thespians.

So you think your kid ought to be in pictures. Maybe you dream of raising the next Macaulay Culkin. Or maybe you just think it would be a good experience for your child to model and act.

Find an Agent

Sure, you can do without an agent, but you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities that never make it to public notice boards.

"If they’re coming to Maine, some casting directors only call us; they don’t have an open casting call," Campbell said. "Many casting directors don’t want thousands of kids milling about, without any organization."

Campbell’s company doesn’t ask for an exclusive agreement with kids. But she doesn’t think you should be afraid of an agency that does. "I would say do an exclusive only for a year or two to see what the agency does for you," she said. Her agency does request that parents not sign up with another agency in Maine. But she does recommend parents sign up with agencies in each of the other New England states.

Show and Tell

A good-quality photograph is a must. Portland Models and Talent will accept pictures taken by parents, but not all agencies will. It’s important to check with each agent to see what they expect. Campbell requires at least a 5×7 photograph, black-and-white, with no one else but the child in the photo (no grandparents, no parents, no family friends.)

On the back of each photo you send to an agent, attach a separate piece of paper on which you’ve typed all the pertinent information: Child’s name and date of birth; parent’s name(s); parent’s contact information, including e-mail; child’s eye and hair color. Especially for younger children, it’s important to update these photos every six months. And another crucial note: "Parents sometimes give us their child’s email address. That is not O.K. We must have the parent’s email address," said Campbell.

Stay Connected

If you don’t have e-mail, consider getting it. It’s how Campbell communicates most often with parents. And once you get an e-mail address, read your messages every day. Don’t, however, phone an agent each week to check in. An agent who’s busy fielding parents’ calls has less time to find work for clients.

"Parents need to understand if they want their kids to work, it won’t happen every week," she said.

Once an agency starts booking your child, be sure to let the agents know if you’re going out of town. Sending an email with the dates of your trip keeps the agency informed.

Know Your Child

To be successful at a young age, a child doesn’t need extreme beauty or top-notch acting skills.

"The most important thing kids need is a high comfort level with strangers," Campbell said. Think about it: if you want your kid to audition well — for either a print, video, or film project — she must be able to act naturally in front of people she’s never met before. If you walk into a room full of strangers and your kid clings to your leg, acting might not be for her.

One of Campbell’s most recent clients was a newborn baby. "A lot of people want their babies to be available," she said. Until kids are around 9 or 10, in fact, the desire to "act" or be a model usually comes from the parents.

"Around the time when girls start to notice clothes, then they think, ‘Gee, I think I want to do this for real,’" she said.

"I feel sad sometimes when parents say to me… ‘My child wants to be in this catalog or that TV program.,’" Campbell said. "Parents need to understand that at age 4 or 5, it’s not the kids’ choice. They’re the parent."

Let Them Hone Their Craft

Middle-age kids — those between 9 and 12 — tend to become involved in local theater, act in school plays, anything to hone their craft. Campbell said at that point agents don’t have to suggest a client become involved in theater. Kids who are interested have a natural enthusiasm for learning and acting. "If we hear of workshops or classes, though, we may recommend those," she said.

There are many fine performing arts camps in New England and across the country, where your child can spend the summer acting as well as learning other skills like dance or playwriting. Plus, he’ll get to hang out with other creative kids. A quick search of the Internet or a call to your local library will yield scores of camps. You may also want to get recommendations from your child’s agent and your local or school theater director.

Be Respectful On The Set

When a child is working, his or her parent is always allowed on the set, whether it’s a still photo shoot, TV or film. Occasionally, Campbell said, grandparents have been allowed to chaperone kids when the parents can’t make it. But those arrangements must be made in advance and the parent, not the grandparent, must sign all talent releases.

"Producers are always respectful of kids," she said. "Parents are always around. Producers want the kids to feel comfortable."

Campbell recommends that parents talk to producers in advance; ask where to stand and if there’s anything the producer wants the parent to do or not to do.

"I say, just be present, be quiet. If your child looks at you smile but stay out of everybody’s way," she said. "Parents also need to be respectful of the producer."

For instance, if the producer wants to dress your daughter in blue but you think she looks better in the pink outfit you brought with you, defer to the producer. "For whatever reason, they want blue," Campbell said.

Deal With Rejection

If your child auditions for a part and doesn’t get it, don’t think there’s anything wrong with your him or her. "Parents think, ‘Oh my kid’s not beautiful.’ It’s got nothing to do with beauty. I’ve never seen an ugly child," Campbell said. "If their child is not chosen, it’s not because their child isn’t beautiful or stunning, but that the client wants something specific."

In Campbell’s experience it’s usually the parents who feel upset by rejection not the kids. "The kids are incredibly resilient," she said. "I find kids like to go on castings. They have a great time; it’s fun and interesting."