Pay to Play: Why My Kids Don’t Do It

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.

Advertisements

When Your Kid Bombs an Audition

So it happens.  Kids can have a bad day too just like adults. Yesterday my son came home from an audition and shared that he completely bombed it.  He told me about forgetting the lyrics to the song even though he had the sheet music in hand. He said he then had the sides all out of order and was flipping back and forth between pages to figure out where he was.  Now, this seems pretty funny to me as I visualize how foolish he must’ve seemed to the auditors behind the table.  Though, at the time of his reenactment of the audition for me, I didn’t find it so funny, and I immediately had the knee jerk response that I am not proud of.  I retorted that he should’ve been more prepared and it was his own fault.

He snapped at me that I was being a typical stage mom. He was completely right. Thank God it only took me thirty seconds to realize what an ass I was being.  S*** happens. Our performing kids are human and entitled to a bad audition once in a while or even a flawed performance.  It really is not the end of the world.  He got flustered and it happened. He’s had 100 superb auditions for that one stinky one.  He’s auditioned for nine years of his life. He knows the ropes, and it was a freak thing. Now mind you, I don’t do any prep with my kids for auditions. I set up a lesson or two for them, and that’s it. We don’t run lines nor practice songs.  Yes, he could’ve practiced a little more, or checked over his sides, but it really is OK. He was racing directly from school, leaving early and missing Spanish, in the pouring rain, to get to the appointment. ( Not excuses, just a fact.)

So after thirty seconds of being a jerk, I stepped back. I realized that here was my teenager sharing what was a difficult moment in time for him. I was grateful that he came to me. He could have just as easily said the audition was fine or good. Instead, he was looking to me for reassurance.  I told him I was sorry for my response. I told him that sometimes we aren’t perfect, and it’s okay. As the dust settled, he showed me how he was flipping the pages, and we laughed about it.  We talked about how the casting director had remembered him from casting him in The Secret Garden almost six years ago.  It became  a moment of bonding and connection between us rather than a moment of judgment and blame. I am glad he called me out so I could fix myself quickly.

My relationship with my son is more important than any audition or show will ever be. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the urgency of showbiz.  I have succumbed at times to  prioritizing  my kids’ auditions in hopes of landing roles above other things. But, as I get older and wiser, and my children become more independent, I place higher value on being their mom than on being their guide in showbiz, i.e. stage mom.

 

I Reject the Term Stage Mom

I am a mother. That’s it. Plain and simple.  My job is to mother my children in all facets of their beings. This is the primary reason I reject the term stage mom, and I utilize the term stage advocate instead. I cringe every time I hear a woman call herself a stage mom, or even worse see a woman title herself a stage mom in her hashtags, email addresses, or twitter names.  What happens to a mom’s identity if her child stops wanting to perform? Our title as mom should not be linked to what our child “does”.  I don’t see my siblings or friends hash tagging soccer mom or chess mom or ballet mom as if it is their sole identity.

We all know that “stage mom” carries with it negative connotations, and for good reason. We can remember the story of Gypsy and her crazy Mama Rose.  I have seen it fifty percent of the time when parents are too invested in their child’s performing successes and endeavors  and demonstrate that their own self worth as a parent is too tightly woven into their child. “Most important, Diller says, these kids grow up with fragile self-esteem. ‘They feel loved only when serving the needs of the parent.’ When they stop receiving that reward, they can crash and seek solace in substances. Feeling that approval is ever-conditional, children of stage moms grow up constantly looking for accolades from others.” ( Psychology Today, Field Guide to the Stage Mom: The Pusher, May 2013)

I won’t call myself a stage mom because my children are mutli-dimensional. If I were to call myself a stage mom, I would also have to call myself a scholar mom, a chess mom, a skateboard mom, a video editing mom, a french fry mom,….you get the idea. I choose to be an advocate for my children in all their pursuits and endeavors.  In that sense, my duties as a stage advocate involve keeping family first, considering performance as a hobby, stressing education, measuring my children’s pride and humility, validating my child’s character and self-worth for internal traits, balancing the needs of siblings, accepting rejection for my child, staying steadfast in my values and moral compass, monitoring what is best for my child each step of the way, and preparing for the possibility that my child may abandon performing altogether and grow up to be an engineer or taxidermist or airline pilot. My ultimate job is always to raise a human being- not a performer. Thus, just call me a mom please.

 

 

 

 

The Three R’s for your child’s start in showbiz: Start by Reading, Researching and Reaching Out

As parents, we should never be asked to pay another parent or child care giver for advice on anything. If there are specific professional services another parent or professional may provide to our child such as academic tutoring, website design, or dance lessons, that is another story. It seems to me that the term “expert” is often thrown around loosely in relation to kids in show business. I have three kids in the business who have collectively been in over 50 professional projects over the last ten years, but yet I am in NO WAY an expert in the business. Every project is different; every child is different; every pathway to success be it on Broadway, film, television, or voice overs is different. There is no formula for the Broadway “home run” that one can pay to receive.

With that said, there are true experts in the business who can offer paid expert advice and help for your child in the Broadway world. And, there are DOZENS of parents who have multiple kids in the industry with multiple credits who also offer advice and wisdom to others freely and with an open heart, but this can be done over a cup of coffee, facebook messaging, or a lunch date rather than an expensive seminar.   The logistics of navigating a performing child’s needs and even New York City go far beyond what can be taught in a two-hour class with folks who might not even have the true inside scoop or expertise they claim to have. Since most of us have limited resources, and the number one thing to know about showbiz is it is EXPENSIVE TO PURSUE, it is important to consider how to best spend our money.

So, with that stated where is a place that folks new to the Broadway scene and even seasoned families can turn? Here is a small list of legitimate, professional resources for families and kids. It is in no way exhaustive, but it certainly gets you started. And, guess what, this information is FREE.

The best place to start is to read Nancy Carson’s book Raising a Star. For much less than, say $175 for a two hour session, you can get a printed manual and how to guide for your child pursuing Broadway or other forms of the entertainment industry. In fact, you can buy it here at Amazon for less than ten dollars. https://www.amazon.com/Raising-Star-Parents-HelpingTelevision/dp/0312329865  Another great resource from an industry insider is a book by experienced casting director, Jen Rudin entitled Confessions of a Casting Director, again for less than ten dollars on Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Casting-Director-Secrets-Audition/dp/0062292099  An additional “how to” book has been written by a former child Broadway star, Henry Hodges, entitled How To Act Like a Kid. http://www.henryhodges.com/book

These three industry insiders alone offer a wealth of accurate, helpful and honest advice to families in the business. It is a parent’s job to do the research and do the work to help your child. Start by reading, researching and reaching out to friends you know who have kids in the biz. That’s the beginning.

A more direct benefit to your child in the industry is of course training and contact with people who really can help them along. If your child does not have an agent or manager, that is a next step. One group that I have found to help match children with agents and managers is A Class Act NY. This company, run by Jessica Rofe Grosman, offers an abundance of classes and workshops, but one of the most beneficial to the newbie are the agent and manager showcases she offers. These are LEGIT. Excellent agents and managers come and scout for new clients, and dozens of kids have been placed with agencies through this process. http://www.aclassactny.com/ ( One of the on camera classes my children attended offered a parent session at the end, and we learned so much useful information about self-taping that we put to use the next day, and our son booked his first film using that information.)

Some other organizations and people who are also insiders in the business as much as coaches are listed below. These are people who have years of professional experience behind them. They know what it REALLY takes for a child to make it on Broadway. Some of these people do training and some do seminars for parents, teaching us the expectations and responsibilities of the Broadway child. ( On a side note, Broadway is only one small set of stages a child may perform on and information on showbiz in general is probably more beneficial in the long run to most families.) Please follow up and research any group or person on the list. Keep in mind that this list is not all encompassing. It is simply a good start for parents who are seeking some direction.

Acting

Actors Connection https://www.actorsconnection.com/

Actors Technique NY http://actorstechniqueny.com/

Denise Simon http://denisesimoncoaching.com/

Diane Hardin http://www.dianehardinacting.com/

Jodi PrusanCoaches Kids https://www.facebook.com/Jody-Prusan-Coaches-Kids-344104809093327/

The Actors Green Room http://www.theactorsgreenroom.com/

Voice

Bob Marks http://www.bobmarks.com/

Lisa Franklin http://www.lisafranklinonline.com/vocal-studios.html

Casey Erin Clark https://www.facebook.com/caseyvoicestudio/

Trapper Felides  https://www.facebook.com/trapper.felides

Musical Theater

Broadway Artists Alliance http://www.broadwayartistsalliance.org/

Broadway Dreams Foundation http://broadwaydreams.org/

The Broadway Workshop http://www.broadwayworkshop.com/

Theater Development Fund https://www.tdf.org/—Education

Random Farms Kids’ Theater http://www.randomfarms.com/

Connecticut Resources

Voice- Billy DiCrosta http://www.billydicrosta.com/

Musical Theater all inclusive studio- Star2Be http://www.star2bperformingarts.com/

 

Growing up Broadway

I steal the title for this blog post from a reality show that once could’ve documented my life and the lives of several friends of mine…Thank goodness it never came to fruition because there are things that people wouldn’t believe could possibly be true, yet on the other hand, the day to day workings of child performers’ families can be as banal as any other family’s day to day workings.

Tonight, or really this morning (almost two a.m.) I sit here still sort of in awe of the invited dress rehearsal of a show I saw tonight- my son’s latest project Off-Broadway with a cast and creative team and band and crew that are the top of the top.  I am trying to process what is different about this show, this experience, not just for him, but for me as well. Why is the impact of a short run show so great, when he has been in shows for over six months to even almost a year at a time?

I think it is because for both of us, even though he is only fourteen, it is the first time he is working more as an adult. The irony of having kids do this sort of thing is in some ways they grow up really fast, and in other ways they can stay sheltered and young. He has leapt that fence. It is the first time I could stand completely back, 100% and let him do his thing. Heck, I even left the country for a short Caribbean vacation during rehearsals. He is just doing what needs to be done, loving every minute of it, embracing his cast mates, taking direction and BEING! It’s really quite amazing to see him fly. I think he feels it too; it’s just different this time, better in so many ways.

This morning, I knew for certain this was the case.  Unrelated to showbiz, he has been going to the orthodontist on his own now for several months, and he made an appointment for this morning at 8 a.m. knowing he would have rehearsal today and need to be available by ten a.m. I slept in, and at 9 a.m. he texted me and told me his next appointment was on August 17. He had gotten up and taken care of his teeth all on his own. It might seem like a small thing, and in the scope of life it is. But what it said to me was, I love this show and I am responsible enough to get done what needs to be done. I had even offered to reschedule the night before.

I am pretty sure that many activities can afford this sort of discipline or commitment to inspire kids in the same way. But I know the passion he feels for this current project just spills over into his life in such a positive way.  I cannot really complain, can I?  For my kids, growing up on Broadway and with Broadway aspirations from a very young age has given them the confidence to be who they are and the discipline to know how to get things done.

Maybe I was in awe tonight because right before my eyes, I saw my little boy change into a young man. I have witnessed the progression, but  couldn’t really see the transformation, and tonight I saw it. I saw that with the guidance and inspiration and direction and mentorship of an amazing creative team, cast, band, production team, and crew, that my once little goofy, nervous guy is now a confident young man on that stage, and even more so in life.

 

 

 

 

Even if They’re Little…They Will Grow Up

Last weekend, my son was sitting in the hallway of a dance studio where many showbiz kid “regulars” attend. I started receiving texts from him thanking me for not being like those “moms”. Apparently some mommas were discussing the height of their children, in inches of course per regular stage criteria, and lamenting that they are too tall for anything on stage ( most specifically Broadway).  He was amused, and alarmed all at the same time.  He told me he so wanted to speak up and tell those mommas to STOP, that height, yes, is one factor but there is so much more to life and performing than this.

I have written along this theme before about the kids growing up, but I think it is an important topic needing to be discussed from all angles.  All of our children will grow up. It is inevitable. It is forthcoming. It is scary. And, it is beautiful. Your 4’3″ ( 51″) little guy at age ten might just become your 5’8″ guy at age 14 like mine has become. It is the law of nature, and they grow how they grow as time passes. Voices change; body parts develop; minds expand. It’s really pretty awesome!

So this short piece is more about encouraging the mommas and daddies out there to be fearless while watching your children grow. Don’t worry and don’t lament when your child grows out of a role or grows beyond the height requirements of a specific show. It really is OK. We aren’t raising just children,and more specifically we aren’t raising child actors, we are raising kids who will eventually become happy and healthy adults. Our kids may or may not become “the next big thing”. And that is ok too. Constantly commenting and assessing our children’s heights won’t change anything. Time marches on.

As I have said before, what we can change is our attitude toward our child’s growth and development. Focus on what they can do and not what roles they might have grown or aged out of… And yes, there are opportunities out there for taller children, sometimes even in a Broadway show or feature film. It is good to be realistic, but it is not good to be self-defeating in assuming there are not opportunities for your kiddos.

As much as a child is a certain “type” for roles, just like adult actors are, our job as parents is to not allow them to follow into always leaning on or playing to that “type” at any given time.  What I mean is this, it is more important for your child to grow as a person and a human being than it is to stay ever small and ever young, playing a cute little kid. Cute only lasts so long.  Children have the distinct advantage of being able to grow and change and try out new things and new roles as their body grows along with them. Help your children do this at any age. There is no need for any child to feel he or she has lost or missed opportunities. There is always more to come. I certainly don’t want my eleven year old to think she is finished because she happens to be over five feet tall. We look ahead, and we look to the future.

Having been down this road myself and still continuing on, I can say with complete honesty that as difficult as it may be, it really is marvelous to watch our once once teeny tiny guy grow into a competent performer. All of our kids will grow up, whether they were once a pint-sized Broadway star or a MineCraft expert. But in the world of showbiz, the stakes are so high, and heights are measured, recorded and announced in inches. As parents, we can try to forget that our kid may be 58.5″ and remember what a cool kid she is growing into!

The Difference Between “Pushing” and Supporting A Performing Child

Because I have three kids who are professional performers of varying degrees, I often hear people either directly stating or implying that we have pushed them into this, or that others with kids in the biz are somehow pushing their kids to do this.  Let me assure you that we are in no way forcing our kids to perform, and in fact, it would be much easier and cheaper if they chose to take up less demanding hobbies without such high stakes.

After spending almost the last ten years with my oldest son in the entertainment industry and the other two following in his footsteps, I do have some decent experience under my belt in this arena of guiding my children “down the right road” when it comes to their performance opportunities.  I personally believe the difference between pushing children and helping them to push themselves is often hard to distinguish to the outsider, but the behavior of the children can often tell the real story.

For example, I believe that if a child is showing any physical symptoms of not wanting to be performing, it is definitely time for a parent and the caregivers of the child actor to take a step back and examine what they are doing to this child. “When kids are pushed and suffer stress, they also experience anxiety and depression, which can surface as physical symptoms like headaches and stomach pain, says psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, author of ‘Parents Ask,’ a monthly advice column for ‘Houston Family’ magazine.”

I have had to carefully examine my children for physical signs of exhaustion since their schedules can be full of late nights and multiple obligations. When they have become too tired for whatever reason, it is time that I pull back and rethink what their schedule was at the time.  I cannot force them to go to an audition or performance when their little bodies can’t even wake up.  On the flip side, if they are just in a funk or hypothetically engrossed in their favorite Netflix show when it is time to go to the show,audition or lesson I can coax them into getting to their obligations.  This is not so much pushing because I know once they get there they have fun and enjoy their time.

The same can be true for lessons. I do support their interests by scheduling lessons for them. And even though they all love performing, truth be told, they don’t all jump up and down and beg for lessons.  I don’t do this to push them, but I do it to help them train and also prepare for auditions, and because they always love the lessons and their teachers once they are there. I think it is more the amount or excessiveness to the lessons that can factor into whether or not one is pushing.  None of my children go to any type of lesson every day nor do they go to coaching for every single audition. A really awesome fact now that they are getting older, and have lots of training under their belts, is I can often consult them on what lessons they may need for upcoming auditions or projects.  I can often put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own needs for performing. This has really helped take the pressure off me in even needing to “push” them for their training.  But, this has developed over many years of me formerly doing all the scheduling and coaxing and even sometimes gentle bribing to get them where they needed to be.

Unfortunately, I have seen children in different settings where my children have performed or trained, who quite obviously did not want to be there. The very first modeling job my son went on at age five was shared with a boy who threatened to cut the pockets off of the wrangler as he was screaming at her. Needless to say, he wasn’t asked back on the dozen or so subsequent shoots my son did over the years. ( The irony was the boy’s mom was telling me in the green room how she hoped her son would get a six figure contract so SHE could quit her job. TRUE STORY that happened nine years ago.) That momma was definitely pushing since her motive was fame and fortune for her young, uninterested yet adorable son.

I have witnessed kids literally rolling on the floor in dance class, or even worse, sitting outside the room bawling their eyes out. Now come on! Mom or dad should take that child home and not force them to do something that is truly upsetting the child.  I am not saying my kids are perfect, but I can say with one hundred percent honesty that none of my three have ever cried at a dance class, voice lesson, in rehearsal or at an audition. (Although my two little ones did have a lovely knock down drag out fist fight once while they were waiting for their older brother to audition.–That’s a topic for another blog.wink wink.)

And then there is the poor kid outside of the audition room either being forced to run sides or sing their song by momma or daddy right there in the waiting room.  That to me seems a little pushy. Really. I don’t even blur the lines and coach my kids at home. If it is something they need to work on, they get a coaching session with a professional.  I don’t push them to do their material in any certain manner. That’s not my job. My job is to be their mom.-not their stage mom.

Do I support my kids? I most certainly do by scheduling their lessons, getting their materials printed, schlepping them where they need to be, and looking for opportunities for them to enrich their lives.  But I certainly hope they do not grow up feeling that I pushed them to be in showbiz. Because more than anything, I want my kids to feel I helped them achieve their dreams and goals and did not push them to meet my expectations of who and what they are to become…..