Stage Dad: The Audition Process
Being cast in a professional show is a long shot. Here are some tips to help your child
Ben at the first of what would be 15 auditions for the title role in “Billy Elliot: The Musical” in September 2008. One of thousands seen for the part, he became part of the show’s ensemble in 2010, joined the national tour as Michael in October 2011, and ultimately played Billy for a year on the tour from June 2012 to the following May.
Parents of child actors are on the periphery. You observe, evaluate, question, and wonder. You pursue PhDs in personal and professional juggling, trying to strike the balance between the actor, your other children, and your respective careers.
And you schlep — a lot.
At age 9, our son Ben decided he wanted to pursue performing as a profession, with the encouragement of his dance teacher and a couple of others who had spotted his talent — and, more important, his presence — on stage. Talent is something you can nurture and teach; presence is innate. You either have it or you don’t.
Making this level of commitment was something Jill and I were willing to do, but we agreed in advance to several rules that we would not bend. Among them:
He has to maintain good grades; none of this matters if he ends up flunking out of school.
He has to be professional when he’s on the job.
He has to be a kid when he’s not.
We also decided that we would make a conscious effort not to be your stereotypical stage parents, those who constantly criticize and critique everyone else’s work while extolling the virtues of their “perfect child.” You see these parents over and over at auditions, acting/dance classes, and other informal gatherings rife with politics that could rival any legislature or Congress. Suburban PTA meetings have nothing on professional auditions, but then again, Broadway has nothing on travel soccer.
Some parents want to sit and watch auditions and rehearsals and are shocked when they can’t, not realizing this is work. Think about it for a second: Would you want to accompany your teenage child to a job in a fast-food restaurant?
“Hey, Mom, can you please move? I’ve got to get this customer their fries.”
That, of course, is an exaggeration. Parents make tremendous sacrifices for their children. But, just as in any competitive sport, we've seen some kids that are either coddled or pressured to such an extreme that you wonder how they will survive it. And sadly, tabloids have been littered with those who ultimately didn't.
The Audition World
Auditions are tough, no matter how prepared your child is and you are. Casting a professional show is often an incredibly complex process, and the odds of booking something out of the gate are the same as being called up to the Major Leagues and hitting a grand slam on the first pitch.
At the same time, auditions also are a valuable learning opportunity, both for you and your child. As parents, that’s what we focused on with Ben. If this is something your son or daughter really wants to do, they will have to constantly work on building and refining their skills. And auditioning is a skill.
If your child wants to pursue this professionally, in the beginning you can’t be choosy. Be ready to go to every audition you are sent on unless you feel the content is not appropriate. If you get an agent and say “no” too many times before establishing yourself, agents will forget about you and stop sending you out.
Here are some other things to think about as you enter this process together:
For the audition:
Chances are you will drive three hours for your child to spend five minutes with someone you may never meet or who may not give you the time of day. That’s one of your biggest adjustments, given the amount of prep time your child must put into a project, but it is part of the business.
On time means early, even if you have to wait. Arriving 20 to 30 minutes before your scheduled call time means you will have to wait, but it may not. Someone scheduled to go before you might not show up, and you need to be prepared.
Audition spaces are not as fancy as they look. If you think auditions and rehearsals are held at beautiful, spacious Park Avenue studios, think again. Don’t let the appearance of the place you are going deceive you; professional shows have been cast or rehearsed in spaces that some may classify as dumps. That said, be sure to be on the lookout for troubling signs that your child is not safe or in good hands.
Your child will need the tools necessary to be successful. This means headshots, shoes, sheet music, notebooks, water, etc. For parents, wear comfortable — not sloppy — clothes and bring something with you to pass the down time. You never know when you’ll be stuck in an unfamiliar setting for two hours with nothing to do.
Don’t court distractions. It is natural for young performers, especially novice, nervous ones in a room with equally talented kids, to want to show off. Encourage your child to save his/her best for the audition instead. This goes for parents, too. Don’t spend your time talking to other adults about your child’s talents, no matter how multiple and varied they might be. The ones who do it often are trying to get into your — and by extension your child’s — head.
Before and after the audition:
Look at how your child handles difficult, stressful, and/or trying situations, and don’t be afraid to (gently) ask questions before and after. How your child deals with rejection — commonly called “getting cut” — is critical. Do they hate the process? If so, ask them why. This may not be for them.
Ask your child to take notes — either through talking to you or in a journal — before and after each audition. The notes need to answer two primary questions: “What did you learn from the experience?” and “What, if anything, do you need to work on before your next one?”
At the end, you likely won’t get feedback. Even though you’re dying to know what your child could/should have done better, chances are that you’ll hear nothing. Casting directors, in most cases, simply don’t have the time to give individual feedback to everyone they see.
For some, it’s difficult to understand the ambiguity — and disappointment — that auditioning brings. As parents, you wonder what sort of chaos that booking a life-changing role will have on your family. Going to that place before you even start is natural, but given the odds, not necessarily reality. If you’re putting your child’s ambitions, curiosity, and desires equal to your own, it doesn’t hurt for him/her to try.
Do you have suggestions for this Stage Dad series? Questions? Feedback? Let me know in the comments or send me an email. To see the first “Stage Dad” column, click on the link below.
The Daily Photos
Here are the Daily Photos posted for the week of April 4-10 to my Facebook business page. The photos represent the random things I capture during travels to various places. To see a larger version of this image on your desktop, just click on the photo.
If you’re on Facebook, you can check out the full-size images and more details about them there. If not, you can view my page by clicking on the link above. (You don’t have to be on Facebook to see my page.)
If you have any questions or are interested in purchasing a print, let me know in the comments or by sending an email.
See you next week!