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Acting School Monthly -- Do You Have a Kid Who Dreams of Acting?
February 16, 2010

Acting School Monthly Newsletter - Issue #013 - February 16th, 2010

Do You Have a Kid
Who Dreams of Acting?


Here's the news from Acting School Stop, your one stop on the road to an acting career!

In this issue... It's all about kids acting! Read an exclusive interview with two Los Angeles acting coaches and discover our new Child Acting section to learn all you need to know about getting your kid started in acting.

1) Acting Tip of the Month - A Q&A on Child Acting

If your child's got the acting bug and you're not sure what to do next, read this exclusive interview with Judy Kain and Pat Tallman, veteran actresses and co-owners of Talent To Go, a unique venue in Los Angeles that offers kids' acting classes while allowing young actors to showcase their talent in front of casting directors and agents. Child and teen actors who are members of Talent to Go have appeared in films (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Forget me Not…), TV shows (Private Practice, In The Motherhood, Dexter, Weeds…) commercials and theater plays. Many have won awards for their performances and all are building careers as up-and-coming actors.

Acting School Stop: What do you think makes a good acting class for kids? How can a parent choose the right class for their child?

Pat: By talking to other parents and other actors. There's a style of acting that seems to be acceptable for Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel that won't carry kids through their career. They need to get to a point where they are learning adult acting techniques. If you can find a reliable teacher when the kids are young, they'll learn an acting technique without having to relearn it later. So many kids end up with really bad habits.

Judy: There are a lot of people out there teaching young actors just to smile and be perky. Also, the teacher needs to be a working actor. It's very important to work with a teacher who works in the business currently. You have to be current with the pulse.

Pat: There's a reason why good acting classes are not cheap and cost on average $50 a class. It's an investment. You wouldn't get a new roof for your house from someone whose not really good, but is cheap. Don't go paying a nutty amount of money just because your manager told you so, but it's important to look at classes as a long term investment when talking about professional level classes. It's an investment in their abilities. Train them now so they don't get bad habits and are able to book jobs.

Acting School Stop: Kids love to play make believe. How do you build on this natural ability to nourish their acting talent?

Judy: One of the major techniques that we use is bring yourself to each role. Bring yourself to each script that is given. Find what it is in yourself that you can put in your acting instead of wondering, "What do they want? How can I fit myself into this role?" The teacher in our kid acting class has two children who work in the business. She's not just a great mom and caregiver for the kids in her class, she also has the skill to get them to bring out their personality without telling them how to do it. They remember it that way. It's not like they're trying to get the A on the test. It's an organic experience.

Pat: I think that's a big mistake that all actors make. Young ones and older ones. They want to do what the director wants. They want to do what the casting directors want. They're trying to read the person's mind. This natural ability to make believe and playing is a good thing. We should never grow out of it. Let it be a natural thing. Don't over-coach kids. Leave it alone. Let your kids figure out in class how to use their natural abilities and create from there. It's about who they are and what makes them special and that's what's going to get them the job eventually. We want kids to have a really good time in class.

Judy: I coach kids on their casting director showcase scenes, and the easiest thing is to give them short directions on one little moment rather then the concept of the whole scene which is harder to grasp.

Acting School Stop: What do you feel is the most important acting skill children need to master? What are casting directors looking for when auditioning children?

Pat: They don't want to see anything artificial. It all has to be real real real. That's not what we grew up with. We grew up with a heightened sense of reality.

Judy:The class allows them to be confident enough to walk in and not feel like, "What should I do?" My son did quite a few commercials from age 5 to 13. We never really coached him on how to act in the audition room because he was a very confident kid. He could go in and just talk. Casting directors love that because they know that he will be himself if he gets the job. That he is comfortable and not trying to "people-please".

Acting School Stop: What is the biggest challenge when you teach acting to kids?

Judy: The biggest challenge is to re-coach them from something that they've been taught by their parents or another coach. I can tell instantly when a parent has coached their kid. They tend to have a stress on certain words, for example. The kids, once they get a rhythm, you can't break it. You're really doing them a detriment.

Pat: Casting directors want kids to be unique and completely natural. If you coach your kids, you may take that away from them. You can't necessarily know as a mom or dad what your child is bringing to the material. Just let them do their own thing. If they really love what they're doing, they're going to have their own take on it, which won't be yours and really shouldn't be.

Acting School Stop: Can parents do anything to help their kids prepare for auditions?

Pat: The only thing that you should do is give them time to look at their words and think about them. Just give them alone time with it. And if they have questions, you can talk about it a little with them. I wouldn't give any line readings, but you can ask, "What does this mean?", or you can remind them of an event that happened in their life that was similar to what is happening in the scene. But just like with school work, you need them to know how to do this on their own. It has to be theirs. Just like they have to know how to do that math or how to write an essay. You can't do it for them because it wont serve any purpose whatsoever. They just won't know how to it. If you feel like it's material that really warrants it, send them to a coach. It should help their confidence level. But make sure it's someone reliable first. Someone who knows the business and won't over-coach it your child.

Judy: You don't even need to help your children with memorization. They can do it. Believe me. They can look at something and a minute later, they'll have it. Even if it's not perfect. It's unbelievable how quick they are.

Acting School Stop: And because they're kids, it doesn't have to be perfect…

Pat: The casting director wants to see a kid be really natural, so if they come in and don't quite say the words perfect, they don't really care.

Judy: The hardest thing is when a kid worries about getting the lines right. Because that's all they're playing in the scene then, as opposed to talking to their brother about getting into the baseball team, for example.

Acting School Stop: Actually, a little improvisation on the lines can help bring out their personality…

Pat: Absolutely. A lot of things nowadays incorporate improvisation. So if a young actor is able to improvise or "riff" on a scene, that's really a good thing because the director may want to use that skill eventually.

Acting School Stop: At what age are kids expected to learn lines and audition with memorized monologues?

Pat: When they can start to read…

Judy: 6 or 7.

Pat: …and the younger ones need to be able to repeat it back, but they don't really have to memorize paragraphs or anything until they're able to read.

Judy: A lot of kids you see in roles with a lot of dialogue are usually older and look younger, which is a great asset for a child in the business. They are more mature, they have the ability to memorize copy, but they look younger. Some parents ask me about putting their 4 or 5 year old in an acting class. That's too young. I do allow some 6 year olds to start if they really have the desire and are able to sit through the class, but usually 7 is a better age.

Acting School Stop: What's the best way for kids to get started in the business?

Pat: I think the best way for kids to get started in the industry is to find a reliable class. At Talent to Go, we have a lot of conversations with the students and the parents if they have questions. We give advice, we talk about agents and managers, etc. It's about getting into a community.

Judy: Yes. A community where the parents can feel supported and the kid can feel he's amongst others who are pursuing the same thing. Then if the kids feel they want to do this after taking a class, they need to find a manager or an agent to help them get as many auditions as possible. Kids aren't able to really think long term about a career at first but they can go on auditions as long as it's fun.

Pat: There'll be a transition later on. We see that a lot around 12-13 years old when kids who work all the time start to really build a career.

Acting School Stop: Talent To Go offers commercial classes for children and teens. Are commercials a natural way to break into acting for kids?

Judy: It's a really good way. It's usually a one day or two days shoot, so it's palatable. My son had a great time on the sets, it was like playland. It's not like working everyday at Warner Bros on a series. Plus they need good kids. They're always looking for fresh faces.

Acting School Stop: What about child modeling?

Pat: It's a nice adjunct. It doesn't require anything other then a picture and someone getting you out on go-sees. That's it. You don't need an acting technique.

Acting School Stop: With so many acting and modeling scams out there, how can parents find the right agent for their child?

Pat: There are a lot of scams. The best way to avoid them is to talk to other parents of child actors and to find a legitimate acting school that is not affiliated with any agencies.

Judy: What to be wary of particularly is if someone comes up to you in a mall or if they approach you in the street. Run! Nobody legitimate is out there doing that. I cannot tell you how many times this happens. Do not ever pay anyone to represent your child or if they tell you they will get them headshots and classes, etc. These should all be separate entities. Some agents tell parents they have to pay a certain amount of money per month to appear on a listing. No! Don't ever pay an agent until you book the job. Period. Same for managers.

Acting School Stop: Scammers often rope parents in by saying their kid has star quality. What do you find successful child actors have in common?

Pat: Most of the kids that are successful really want to do it. That's huge because they spend so much time driving to auditions, having to learn new material, etc. It's exhausting. A lot of the kids have to be home schooled. We often see acting families where one sibling is a terrific actor and the other kids are being pushed into it. They may not be as talented or even want to do it. If a kid is terribly shy, maybe it's not the right choice for them. If they're nervous about it or if they're freaked out because they didn't get the job, then they should probably let it go.

Judy: I think it's pretty clear if you really listen to your kids. If they're excited about getting an audition. If that's what they want to spend their time doing. If they love going in that room… The kids will tell you. They really know if they want to do it or not.

Acting School Stop: Talent To Go has a unique approach to casting director workshops and agent showcases because actors present prepared scenes instead of cold readings or monologues. Can you tell us a little more about how this helps the actor in general and kids and teens in particular?

Pat: It's better for the actor. They get to work on their scenes so they're putting their best foot forward. They're also working with another talented actor, somebody whose work you know. All those things add confidence to actors' performances. For kids and teens, it's so valuable because it allows them to be natural and themselves. They don't need to feel they're performing because they are not in front of 30 other actors. It's just them and the casting director. So it really is more like an audition. The casting directors love it because they see kids talking and listening in a scene they could realistically be cast in.

Judy: And they also have time after their scene to talk to the casting director one on one. One of us takes notes so the parents can see what was said. When they come out, the kids can hand the parents the evaluation form so they can know exactly what the feedback was.

Acting School Stop: You also sometimes organize agent showcases?

Judy: Yes, five or six agents watch well directed scenes come in one at a time.

Pat: And we do a little chat with the actor afterwards so that they get to see actors' personalities and learn a little more about them. It's really exciting to see the kids get a new agent and go to a whole new place in their careers.

Judy: It's the biggest perk to see kids get an agent or book a job!

You can find out more about Talent to Go here.

2) What's new on

Child Acting - How to Get your Child Started in the Acting Business
This first page of our Child Acting section helps parents decide if they should help their kid get into acting.

Children Acting Guide
Read this step by step information on how to start a child acting career, from acting classes for kids to kid headshots, resumes and auditions.

Kid Acting Career Tips
Tips on what parents can do to help their kids succeed as child actors.

Kids Acting Classes
Listings of kids acting classes, along with information on how to pick good acting schools for kids and what children need to learn in acting class to succeed.

Kids' Auditions 101
Tips for kids' auditions: how to prepare for young talent auditions, how to find casting calls for kids, and what to do to help your child book the job.

3) A word of inspiration

"To be an actor you have to be a child." - Paul Newman (1925 – 2008)

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Comments? I'd love to hear from you. Just reply to this newsletter with your feedback and thoughts.

Good luck with your acting career!

Alex Swenson

Acting School

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