This is the third part of a three-part posting that we are doing to discuss our philosophy at WFT for working with young people. If you missed the first two entries, read them below! bp
Advice for Parents
You are an essential part of your child’s acting experience: without your whole-hearted collaboration it wouldn’t even happen. As you consider or continue this involvement, the following suggestions may be useful.
Make sure that your child really wants to do it. Your enthusiastic support of your child’s interests is essential as well -- and this may involve time, money, and a flexible work schedule for at least one adult in your household. But do be certain that the initial impetus comes from your child.
Training is essential. Encourage your child to take basic skills classes which are focused on the process rather than the product. No matter where your child’s interests ultimately lie, these opportunities will enrich his or her life.
Develop realistic expectations. Remember that very few people get work in professional theatre. Always reinforce the idea that each part of the experience is worthwhile in and of itself. Be particularly sensitive to the emotional hotbed of auditions. Young people vary as widely as do adults in their ability to be philosophical about rejection. Help your child to see auditions as educational, entertaining, and worthwhile events, no matter how they turn out. Your responses to the casting process are an example to your child. Be there to support, sympathize, encourage. Try not to get super-invested in the results.
Academics and theatre do mix. In our experience, young people generally do better in school while they are involved in a production. And, more often than not, teachers and school administrators are more than willing to help make creative arrangements -- which should be discussed well in advance -- when performances conflict with the school day. If you do encounter resistance, talk with teachers about the educational opportunities offered by the work. Suggest that your family document the experience in some way to share with classmates. Be sure that your child can follow through on make-up assignments.
Debunk the old stage-parent myth. Groundless though it may be, the stage-mother archetype lurks nightmarishly in the wings of many a producer and director’s imagination. It doesn’t take much to transcend this stereotype. Be relaxed and professional and never interfere with production routines. Find out to whom you should voice concerns -- the stage manager, perhaps, or a production assistant -- and always go through channels. Be friendly, interested, responsible, and never pushy. Advocate for your child when necessary, attend to business arrangements by all means, but encourage your child to communicate directly with production staff. After all, your child is the one who was cast. Don’t hover. But remember, you are the prime mover, the transportation, and the organizer. Without you, the director would not have the benefit of your child’s talent.
Unless a young person is working for pay, no particular financial or legal complications will arise. A few general pointers concerning salaried work follow.
Portfolio and headshot photography, multiple wardrobes, inclusion in a model agent’s book, resume preparation, legal and professional fees, classes, and so forth will cost hundreds of dollars -- at least. Unless a young person works enough to become a business of his own, these expenses are not tax deductible
In order to work, young people need a Social Security number and must file W-4 forms with each one of their employers.
Massachusetts has a Child Labor Law which makes particular requirements of employers who offer entertainment contracts to minors. Speak with an agent or the production company or theatre involved about their compliance with these laws.
Young people under the age of 16 may need a work permit, usually available from the local public school superintendent.
Young people under the age of 14, who have their Equity cards, may work in an Equity theatre as non-union actors.
Seek the advice of accountants and/or attorneys who specialize in the performing arts for details on tax issues or before signing long-term or exclusive contracts for minors, whether with agents, managers, or producers.
AFTRA/SAG publishes an excellent guide called The AFTRA/SAG Young Performers Handbook, which is recommended for further information about film and television work. It is available to members only through the AFTRA/SAG office at (617) 742-2688.