A pal of mine, Dominic Flores, teaches a wonderful class for young people in Orange County called Actors Edge OC. He invited me to speak to them. I didn’t really know what I could offer young people, but I did know what I could offer their parents. I told him I wanted to speak to the parents about the pitfalls of the industry. He thought it was a great idea. Dominic is a father of four and cares deeply about children. Whether his students continue on in the industry (and many of his students do work) his first interest is developing them as good, creative and confidant human beings. So he gave me the green light to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about.
I thought maybe I should post my talk. And so I am.
A huge disclaimer: I am not a parent. I was not a child actor. I speak from my own experiences that shaped my opinions. You are welcome to your own opinions.
I was not a child when I started acting. I was 24 years old when I moved to California. I studied theatre at Northwestern University had already had professional acting gigs in Chicago, on stage, in commercials, TV & film. I was also lucky enough to have an agent in California when I moved. About 15 years ago I started playing Moms. So I got to see first hand how children were treated on a set. And I started to develop a very strong opinion about it.
I didn’t like it.
There is a reason the TV and Film Industry is called THE BUSINESS, because it IS a business. And although there are child labor laws the film industry must abide by, it is still the wild west when it comes to being on set. Case in point all of the sexual assault and sexual harassment that has recently been exposed. It is true, a teacher is always on set. It is true, there are only a certain amount of hours a child can work.
But do not think for one minute that the studios, networks, producers, directors or other actors have the best interest of your child at heart. First and foremost in their minds is the business. And a business is about making money. It’s not about art and it’s not about taking care of its employees. Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule.
Make no mistake, a set is an adult environment, even if it is a kids’ show. A set is an adult work environment with adult language, adult concerns and adult levels of stress.
The bottom line? YOU must take care of your child because no else will.
I know this may sound dramatic but I am quite serious.
Actors in general must take care of themselves. Even though the union looks out for us, they aren’t on the set. It’s our responsibility to communicate wrongdoings to the union. Then the union can take action. They can’t help us if they don’t know what is going on. So who is going to do that for the child? YOU MUST BE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE AND PROTECTOR.
You’ve seen all the things that have been in the news. It is an adult environment… I can’t stress that enough. Language is crude, lewd and rough. Tempers can flare, people can be abrasive and inappropriate. There is a great level of pressure on a set. Stress levels are high. Your child is working not playing. And I’m not saying sets can’t be fun and acting isn’t fun – it can be amazingly fun. But it is still work, people are getting paid and the networks or studios want a product they can sell.
A set is inherently stressful. Even when things are going well, stress is palpable. And children are emotional sponges. They soak up everything. They are born empaths and can feel what everyone else is feeling. You need to protect them and shelter them as much as you can while they pursue their dream.
And please do some soul searching. Is this their dream or yours? If it’s your dream and they are trying to please you, please do your child a favor and find another hobby. Let them be children. Do not force them to work if they really don’t care about doing it. If they only care about pleasing you and making you happy, encourage them to find what interests them.
And pay attention. Even though they might really enjoy it in the beginning, see if it shifts. Their love or excitement for it may change. And that has got to be okay. If they don’t want to do it any more don’t make them. Try to find out WHY they don’t want to do it any more. Make sure something dreadful didn’t happen.
Be hands on. There are ways to be there for your child without being a stage parent or annoying production. You do it by simply BEING there. And always there. You can’t just leave your kid on a set while you stay in their dressing room. Speak up for your child when you need to, but your presence speaks volumes.
The greatest example I ever saw was a father with his extraordinarily beautiful 15 year old daughter. He never said much of anything, was always pleasant and always there. She was delightful, not precocious, still a child and was a very good actor. You could tell the home life was a solid bedrock of supportive values. No one would have ever treated his daughter with anything other than respect.
Being strong and silent works amazingly well on sets. Don’t be a fan, don’t be overwhelmed by the potential glitz. You must realize it is a business too and your first responsibility is to your kid. People can sense it and they will respect you and your child without you having to do much at all except give a damn about your kid.