I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on children in show business, but I do know some stuff.
My first, and biggest, piece of advice woud be to NOT BE A STAGE MOM! (Or dad.) I've known my fair share of these over the years, and they are not fun to work with. The odd thing is, most of the time, their kid wasn't even all that interested in acting/singing/dancing/whatever it is their parent was pushing them to do. There's a difference between being supportive and being pushy. Directors don't like pushy.
They also don't like suggestions about a certain shot. You have to be on set as long as your kid is. It's a long day. Most parents bring books, laptops, work—for themselves AND their child. And they stay out of the way. They make sure their kid is behaving and listening to the director and doing what they're supposed to do, but they stay out of the director's way. They don't insist that their kid needs a close-up here, or ask why their kid isn't being seen as much, or let people know that their kid can do a tap dance and wouldn't that be adorablein this scene?
On small sets where the crew is very minimal, things are a little different. It can sometimes be an “all hands on deck” situation. In this case, ask if you can be of service, and let people know you're willing to help out. But don't insist on it.
On the same token, your child should be very well-behaved and respectful. They must LISTEN and take direction, no matter what. Attitude doesn't belong anywhere in this business, all the crazy divas not withstanding. It just won't get you anywhere.
Now...on to actually getting your child IN to show business!
First, put them in classes. Acting, singing, dance...everything! Get them into school programs and community programs. It gets expensive, so those will cut your costs a lot. On occasion, splurge on a really good Acting For Camera course or something similar.
Even as an adult, one should never stop learning and training. There are some great books I recommend: How To Book Acting Jobs in TV & Film, by Cathy Reinking (a casting director I've had the privilege to work with) and Hit the Ground Running, by Carolyne Barry. Both of these books have an enormous wealth of information for kids and adults. I'm sure there are some just for kids in the business, but I haven't read them and wouldn't know what to recommend.
I found a Q&A session with casting director Sharon Chazin Lieblein, VP of Talent & Casting for Nickelodeon. It had a section regarding kids:
What qualities do you most admire in the actors you’ve worked with?
At this point in my career, the majority of the talent who I work with is young talent. What I admire about a lot of them is their ability to do all of their schoolwork, do great work on our shows, and manage to have fun the whole time.
What are you looking for on a résumé? What impresses you?
With kids, I don’t really care about past credits. Most importantly, I look to see what acting coach he/she is studying with, or has studied with in the past. I don’t think that anyone – child or adult – is above training. Even if you’ve been told that you’re a natural, there is a lot that you can learn from an acting class. Plus, even if you aren’t employed as an actor on a full time basis, when you are in a weekly class you consistently get the chance to work out. That is very important for an actor.
At Nickelodeon, you’re no doubt working with children and teens. In your opinion, when is a child ready to enter the world of professional show business?
A child is ready when they go to their parents and say that they really want to do it. It can’t be the parent’s decision. If they aren’t passionate about it, they shouldn’t do it. I had a parent ask me once, “How do I motivate my child for an audition?” If you have to motivate your child, they shouldn’t be doing this. When kids enter into this business, they end up losing out on a normal childhood. Successful kid actors are okay with that and have figured out how to enjoy their childhood. Unsuccessful kid actors spend their days going from audition to audition, don’t book any jobs, don’t get to hang out with friends after school or play soccer or take ballet. A lot of them are even home schooled and miss out on the social aspect of school so that they can be available to go on more auditions. They are missing out on a lot for what they eventually will learn was a dream that really wasn’t theirs. Or in some instances they don’t fully understand the sacrifice that they were making until it’s too late. That’s really tough for a kid.
This is an amazing business for a talented child that is passionate about acting and enjoys what they are doing. A child actor learns discipline, how to take direction while getting to delve into their imagination. They make great friendships and bonds while on sets with other actors as well as other staff and crew. It could be a lot of fun if the child is guided well by their parents and representatives. Even if a child actor’s career doesn’t continue into adulthood, they will hopefully have had a great education and will be successful adults in whatever industry they choose to go into.
It’s the parent’s job to listen to what their kids say and how they act. Don’t concentrate on the dream of your child becoming a star, the most important thing is that you pay attention to when acting is or is no longer the right choice for your child. This is a tough business for adults to be in, and it’s even harder for kids to have to face rejection again and again. A child that still has many life lessons to learn and many experiences yet to experience, doesn’t really know if he is going down the right path or not. They need a parent to guide them.
That's a great place to leave off...stay tuned to Part II, where I'll share the rest of the Q&A session, along with many other great tips, tools, and advice for the young actor. Believe it or not, I have this whole series already written! I'm breaking it up into parts to make it easier to read. Trust me, you'll thank me on this one. ;) (And I'm going to try to do that for all my blogs!)
You can now read Parts II & III