The theatre industry can be a tough one to crack, particularly for those starting out. John Byrne speaks to the parents of successful young performers to find out how children can be best supported
Most parents whose children tell them they want to perform will have two burning ambitions of their own: to support them in following their passion, but also to avoid potential pitfalls along the way. Here are some key tips and reminders to help parents achieve both those aims.
Don’t get stage fright
In common with many parents from a non-arts background, Ebere Okereke admits to being anxious when her daughter expressed interest in theatre as a career option. “All I knew about the industry were the myths, which were not positive: constant unemployment, unpaid work and unhealthy competition. Living in the north of England there wasn’t much information, but I believe we spend too much time at work not to love what we do, so I felt I had to support her to give it a go.
“I did a lot of online research, joined lots of mailing lists and made a nuisance of myself by asking questions of everyone in the industry that I met.” The strategy worked: Amara Okereke is now one of UK theatre’s fastest rising stars and winner of The Stage Debut Award in 2018. She is proof that researching the industry is one of the best starting points a parent can provide for a child’s performing arts journey.
Find the right training
“It’s important to know what your child hopes to achieve by entering a stage school before you begin looking,” advises Kyra Firth, an experienced actor, singer and vocal coach, and also mother of Konstanza, who has appeared in shows such as Poldark.
‘All I knew about the industry were the myths, which were not positive: constant unemployment, unpaid work and unhealthy competition’ – Ebere Okereke, mother of The Stage Debut Award winner Amara
“Find one that offers a personal touch for your child in terms of their own unique talent and personality. Avoid schools that encourage your child to enter as many classes as possible – which is fiercely expensive – rather than focusing on them as an individual. It’s not always the most expensive or well-known drama school that yields the best results.”
Keep the show going
Consistency makes all the difference when deciding if performing will be an ongoing interest or a passing fancy. “Enjoying the weekly training is vital,” says actress and singer Verity Rae Martin, principal of several Pauline Quirke Academies, and parent of 10-year-old performer Lucinda.
“Walking into a room of often very loud and confident stage school kids might seem scary for the first few sessions. It’s important to remember that all the students didn’t know each other at first either. Eventually, after all the amazing experiences the children have together, they become friends for life. I met my own best friend at Saturday stage school when I was 11.”
Audition potential agents
Many schools have direct links to agencies and, in some cases, even have agencies in-house. There are also long-standing and reputable independent agencies representing young talent. Unfortunately, legislation is not as tight as it should be, which means young actors (and their parents) can be soft targets for high-pressure sales operations, which promise much and deliver little. Due diligence is essential.
However glossy an agency’s website, online parent forums can be good places to discover a fuller picture. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions: what commission is charged, what areas of work does the agency specialise in and how many clients are on the books? No agency can guarantee work, let alone stardom. Any who say they do are to be avoided.
Be ready to juggle
Although often fun and enjoyable, performing work is just that – work – requiring commitment and sometimes sacrifices from parents and children.
“Auditions are often last-minute and during school. You can’t always negotiate a time that suits,” cautions Rae Martin. “This is an expensive business,” adds Firth. “Be prepared to keep a spare bank account for term fees and the costs of dance/drama-wear, private classes, LAMDA exams, summer schools, auditions and driving to and from rehearsals and shows.”
Read all about it
If knowledge is power, it would be remiss not to remind parents that The Stage has been informing and supporting performers of all ages for 140 years.
In addition to frequent news items and information features relating specifically to education and training, The Stage continues to partner with an ever growing range of training institutions to offer scholarships to talented young people who might otherwise be unable to pursue their ambitions.
Learn to take no for an answer
Even successful performers are turned down for more castings and opportunities than they secure. Helping your child accept and learn to cope with this, and other industry ups and downs, is one of the most important roles a parent can play. “Make sure you have a strong, supportive relationship with your child so they know they can come to you when the going gets stressful – and it will,” says Okereke. “Help them to develop mental resilience; they will need it.”
Get into Get Into Theatre
Launched by The Stage in 2019, Get Into Theatre is the UK’s first comprehensive online theatrical careers guide. “You can take a quiz to match you to the right opportunities and information, including what is available in your local area,” says outreach director
“It can highlight specific opportunities for black, Asian or minority ethnic, D/deaf and disabled, or low-income housed young people, and has job specs highlighting all the various jobs available, how to enter them, what they entail and what pay to expect. Videos are a key feature, in which young people working in theatre share their own career challenges and how they overcame these obstacles.”
Keep it real
Having graduated from West End productions of Oliver! and Peter Pan, and fondly remembered Nickelodeon comedy Renford Rejects, to adult roles on prime time TV and films such as Zero Dark Thirty, Martin Delaney has successfully made the transition from child to adult actor.
His advice to parents who would like to give their own children the same chance? “Let them be themselves. There’s nothing worse than pushy parents who want their child to be a certain way. Let them practise, let them play, let them learn. It’s important that any young actor brings whatever they have inside them. That authenticity will take them where they want to go.”