I know this post may offend some, but it is time I voice my opinions. If your kids have a passion or an interest in something, and you have the means to help them to live out their dreams, then fantastic! But, I want to get real about the pay to play programs for musical theater that seem to be EVERYWHERE now. When you pay money for your child to be in a musical, or anyone in that musical pays, your child is NOT performing in a real Off-Broadway musical. Period. It can be billed whatever the organizer wishes to bill it, but it is not a real credit in a legitimate professional musical or play. Does this diminish the fun or learning your child may gain, no, not necessarily, but they are not gaining true professional experience.
So many of these programs claim that they are training you in the manner that professional shows are run. I can tell you for certain, this is not the case. No professional show will EVER ask an individual to pay to be in the show, help find his or her costumes, donate time, or buy a set amount of tickets to the production. No professional production will post their cast lists and callback lists publicly on the internet for everyone in the world to view. No professional production will ask performers to do written homework and turn it in to the directors. ( This is not to say that there isn’t homework involved in discovering aspects of one’s character, plotting dance numbers, or researching the time period or historical context etc., but this is often left up to the actor, and no written work is “handed in”. ) No professional production will cast their “favorites” over and over regardless of whether they are truly right for the part ,solely based on the amount of donations mommy and daddy throw at the organization, or how much ass kissing has occurred over the years. Most professional productions run for longer than 1- 10 shows total.
There is definitely a market for these programs, as even in NYC, where there is an abundance, and they seem to be full of kids scrambling to do these shows. And it is not the shows I have issue with as much as the promises and billing they are given. If we could call these camps, or workshops that end in a performance, I have a much better time stomaching that. There are some wonderful people running some programs with children’s best interest at heart, and then there are some that are definitely in it for the almighty dollar, and taking advantage of parents’ ability to spend vast amounts of money to “make their kids a star.” They use students’ names who have made it in the industry as examples of success stories from their programs. Yes, a few kids may have made it because of those programs, but most likely these kids would make it anyway and just found some training or fun out of their experiences in these pay to plays. Oftentimes, former Broadway kids do these shows just to fill time and to have something to do in between professional gigs. And, unbeknownst to many of the paying children, little do they know, that these former Broadway kids get their tuition waived and don’t have to pay for being in the show just so their expertise and already honed skills can be showcased amongst the newbies.
Some of the programs do invite industry professionals to view the shows, but primarily it is only friends and family buying repeated tickets to come and fill the seats. So, essentially, parents pay to have their kids do shows that they just come and watch and fill the seats on every performance. The general public seldom, if ever, goes to watch any of these shows. But again, if your motive is just giving your child an enjoyable activity, then great. Many of these productions are some good quality, entertaining shows too.
If we could just call these programs what they truly are, camps and workshops resulting in performances, rather than billing them as Off Broadway productions, then I think it is much more accurate in the description and promise set forth. If professional training is an objective, NYC is FULL of training schools that will broaden and heighten performance skills, and the price tag is much smaller and the training is superb. For example, the training students can get at Broadway Dance Center comes with a very small price tag and will challenge them every single time they take a class, rather than learning some watered down choreography in a pay to play musical. Small workshops at A Class Act NY on improvisation or acting for the camera really help hone these skills. And private voice lessons or workshops will directly benefit the student involved. In short, if you are looking for a fun, social experience for your child, then go for a pay to play, but call it what it is. But, if the result you are seeking is truly professional training, lessons, workshops, and weekly study will most likely glean more skills for your child in the long run.