Children who want to act
a little advice
by Debra Woods
back to Children's Theater Links

Since putting this links page together, I have gotten a number of requests for advice from parents of children who want to act, some at a very young age.  I was a little performer from birth, but did not get on stage formally till I was 14, in my high school drama program in Oxford, Ohio.  Before that, I had done classroom plays, girl scout skits, acted my heart out in the privacy of my room, and just entertained my family whenever I could.

I have taught children's drama classes in Washington, Florida and Utah.  It is my philosophy that children who love to perform should have a chance to do so in a safe environment where they are encouraged to be creative, yet disciplined.  I notice that the older a child gets, the more self conscious he/she may become.  As they become more and more aware of their peers, children become reluctant to do anything that their peers might make fun of.  This is why their creativity needs an outlet in a safe environment, or it can be snuffed out.  I also believe that the best education of all is simply being in a show.  Every class I taught ended in a major performance - and it wasn't till the children were confronted with an audience that many of them  got serious about what we were working on.  Then, they were beside themselves, wanting to give a good performance, and stopped worrying about being "cool" and let their lights shine.

On the links page you will find a number of theaters or theater schools with programs for children.  I don't necessarily know anything about those listed first hand - I just hunted up most of them on the web and others have requested I add their theater resource to my list.  I review the websites, but don't know much more than that.

Theater is not the same as choir, band or dance class.  It requires much more personal creativity and courage to act - for the only thing you have is yourself, not a musical instrument, or a group of dancers in identical costumes with music playing and exact movements to mimic.  It takes much more interpretation to act.  But if acting classes or plays with roles for children are not available in your area, don't hesitate to involve your child in other performing opportunities.

If no training or performance opportunities are available locally, invite the children to prepare a performance for family get togethers or church productions, school presentations, scout events, etc.  As children reach the age of 10-12-14, there are usually school productions or classes in most areas, and if not, city recreation and culture centers often offer workshops or stage productions for which your child can audition or simply sign up for.  Beyond that, in the summer, universities and other institutions, sometimes theaters near or far will have youth/teen theater camps/clinics/workshops.

Check out the links for theaters in your area.  And keep taking your child to see productions.  Aspiring actors have a tendency to pay very close attention when they watch others perform, and a lot can be learned by doing this.  I used to go in my room after watching a tv show with a child in it, and replay the scenes, usually feeling I could have done it better than the kid on screen.  I don't know if I was, I just thought I was - and practiced and practiced.  I was generally known as the class clown/entertainer, and kept my family laughing at my antics - but it wasn't till I was in college doing summer stock theater that I realized that all that kidding around I had done all my life had accumulated in valuable talent.  Not just the kids at school or my sister laughed at my comedy - but fellow actors I really admired were coming to me for coaching.  It changed my entire self image.

When you go to a really well done production that includes children, try to speak to the director about what is available locally for that age group.  Also, the local high school drama teacher is a good resource and ought to know what is going on in your community, as well as the arts editor of the local paper.

Provide children with costumes and puppets - let them make props and create their own stage with curtains etc - get scripts from the local library or online.  Let them write their own scripts.

If there are many training and performing opportunities to choose from, I suggest you go to a production for the best indication of what that theater or school has to offer. 

Children are so impressionable.  A dynamic teacher/director can shape their attitude about the stage and themselves - so be careful who you entrust with your precious child.  I knew a talented young actress who got her training from a 30 something man with a hairy chest bulging out of his tight knit shirt open halfway to his belly button with a pendant hanging from a thick chain, tight pants and a real Las Vegas showgirl group he had in skimpy little costumes sitting on adult men's laps at the age of 8-12.  I was abhorred!  But he whipped those girls into mini showgirls.  Not something I would ever choose for a daughter of mine.  Don't assume that just because lessons are offered for children, it is a safe place for your child!

For auditions, prepare material that is age appropriate - whether it is a song or a scene from a play they memorize - usually that is a monologue, a speech by one character from a play that is long enough to show off their abilities.  They should prepare material for a character that is their age.

They may practice alone till the cows come home, but unless they practice in front of an audience, when it comes time to audition, they will be handicapped with stage fright.  Do not perform a number from the play you are auditioning for.  Do not dress up in a costume. 

Your child may be competing for roles against very experienced well prepared children.  You just never know.  But if they are not afraid, and will take a chance, be expressive, and they can be heard, understood and seen - it is a good audition.  Keep your eyes open in the local paper for audition notices in your area.

Most cities have modeling and talent agencies.  An agent represents clients for casting in films, commercials, television shows, and print and live modeling opportunities that pay.  The agent earns a percentage commission on any paid work they arrange for their clients.  Usually, when you sign up with an agency, there is no money exchanged - not until a role is won by the client and the production company pays.  Agencies that have up front fees may be providing some training, but otherwise, there should not be any up front fees.  Agents will gather information about their talent - including a resume and head shot.  A resume will list the person's name, address and contact information, age, height, hair color, eye color etc - and list any training or experience the actor has had.  A head shot is usually an 8x10 black and white glossy photo of the head from the shoulders up.  You don't want a "Glamour Shots" look - but a more realistic look in a head shot.

You usually don't need an agent for stage productions, but you should have a resume and head shot for auditioning for plays.  Agents have relationships with casting agents - they are informed of upcoming auditions, and should be sending clients to auditions on a regular basis.  If you hear of a movie that is casting children and your agent doesn't contact you - it may be they don't have a very good relationship with casting agents.  When an agent wants to send you on an audition, if you repeatedly decline, they will stop calling.  But you must be careful what you audition for.  Often you don't know what the film is about till it shoots - and then it might be too late!  Try to get that information before the audition.