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What should I do if my child wants to be a performer?

Emily Carey in the 2018 film Tomb Raider. Photo: Christian Black
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Does your child have the talent and commitment to pursue a performing career? Samantha Marsden talks to child actors, parents, casting directors and agents about how to give your child the best chance of success

Hard work, perseverance and dedication

Emily Carey, child actor: “Being a child actress takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and dedication. In this industry, you never know what’s going to happen next. If your child wants to be an actor, they must be able to deal with rejection. This can, of course, be tough on both adults and kids. However, if they really are passionate about the craft and they genuinely enjoy it, then they won’t let negativity take over and they definitely won’t give up. My best advice is to never just give in. Shoot for the moon: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
(Credits include: Marta von Trapp in The Sound of Music at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; Grace Beauchamp in Casualty; young Lara Croft in Tomb Raider)

Be led by your child

Sarah MacDonnell, Emily Carey’s mother: “The best advice I can give is to make sure you are completely led by your child and always manage expectations. For parents whose child is just starting out, it can be a minefield knowing where to begin. There are plenty of good resources on the internet to connect with other parents whose children are further down the line and more experienced and who can offer good support and advice. I joined the forum on notapushymum.com when Emily first started out.”

Be prepared, but not over-coached

Jo Hawes, children’s casting director: “When auditioning, we’re looking for confidence, focus, and the ability to listen to what we are saying and take direction well. Be prepared, but not over-coached. It is possible to get coached out of the part and become so rigid in a performance that the director cannot move the actor. It’s important for the child to be themselves in the audition as we don’t have long to get to know them.”
(Hawes has worked on many West End, and touring shows, including Oliver!, Mary Poppins and Les Misérables. She is author of Children in Theatre: From the Audition to Working in Professional Theatre – A Guide for Children and Their Parents.)

Turn a rejection into something positive

Lydia Ward in Annie. Photo: Peter Buncombe

Lydia Ward, child actor: “Turn rejection into something positive – just getting an audition is an achievement. Enjoy the audition experience and learn from each one. I recently got down to the last recall for a musical, but I didn’t make the final cut. I was so disappointed as I really wanted the job, but I had the best time at the auditions and made new friends – plus a really respected casting director got to know me.”
(Credits include: Gretl in The Sound of Music, Molly in Annie at the Cambridge Arts Theatre)

Ban the bland

Paul Roseby, artistic director of the National Youth Theatre: “In the past I’ve used the phrase ‘ban the bland’, because we’re not looking for a ‘type’ or the right answers. At NYT, we want to meet and get to know young people who have something to say about who they are, where they come from and about the world around us. We also look for people who can work well in a team, because, despite our illustrious alumni, we’re not a ‘star-making factory’. We’re all about nurturing confident, collaborative and creative young people who will stand out from the crowd whatever path they choose to take.”

Give your children as many opportunities as you can

Penny Yates, mother of Felix Yates: “My advice would be to give your children as many opportunities as you can afford. Take them to regular classes in dance, drama and singing and to as many workshops and auditions as you can. Don’t be pushy: don’t ever make your child go to an audition or take a contract that they don’t want to do.”
(Felix is a singer in the boy band Bring It North, which reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent (2018). Credits include: Benji in Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Sheffield Lyceum; Nathan in the national tour of The Full Monty)

Approaching an agent

Advice from Katie Louise Rutherford, Children’s Talent Agent at KR Management, Glasgow:

  • Do your research. There are so many children’s talent agencies – why are you applying to that specific agency for your child?
  • Send clear images when applying. Professional headshots are great, but if you don’t have these, don’t stress – most children don’t to begin with.
  • A non-distracting background, no silly faces, natural lighting and neat hair is all it needs.
  • Send a polite email introducing your child. Include recent photos, full name, age, date of birth, location and a little about them.
  • Consider the commitment before applying. We always tell parents if we can give them 48 hours before an audition that this is a lot of notice.
  • Ask whether your child is truly interested. The child’s heart and passion must be in it to achieve their full potential in this tough industry.

If your child is not successful at audition, don’t show disappointment

Sylvia Young, founder and principal of Sylvia Young Theatre School: “Be supportive. Let them know it is not their talent that is rejected but only that the casting director had something else in mind. When auditioning at Sylvia Young, we don’t need to see the finished article. We need to feel that the student loves what they are doing and can express the feelings or the story of the piece whether it be through dance, drama, or song.”

Don’t compare yourself to other people’s success

Amelia Shipton, member of the National Youth Theatre: “Remember that you are unique, that you are on your own journey and not to compare yourself to someone’s else’s success. I always and still do keep a journal of all my auditions so I can remind myself of how far I’ve come.”


Samantha Marsden is author of 100 Acting Exercises for 8-18 Year Olds, published by Methuen Drama on February 21.

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