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Training for the Budding Little Actor/Actress

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Parenting a budding entertainer is a lot of work, but if you followed along in the last article you should have most of the paperwork done (work permit, Coogan account, passport) and know if you have a parent or guardian available and willing to chaperone, and you have hopefully confirmed your child’s desire to pursue acting and your ability to make the time commitment. If you haven’t then go here first.

Now you’re ready to start preparing for auditions and working in entertainment.  As I mentioned this career is a lot of work, thankfully most of this next part is super fun!  I did put the training requirements in order of importance below but they really all need to be addressed.  When a child is in acting class, they’re just going to be that much more confident and comfortable working on set or stage or in the audition room.

Improv

I have written a whole article about why improv is so great for kids (and adults too) which you can read here.

Improv is such an important muscle to stretch that I’m going to strongly recommend that every kid actor take improv and continue to take classes from time to time.  All agents, managers and casting directors love to see improv on a resume.  This skill is infinitely valued by everyone on every set but especially by people casting and filming commercials.

You may have heard that the golden rule of improv is to say “Yes, And…”  It’s not just a clever phrase, it has a very practical use in all of life and especially in any acting situation.  The first word, “YES,” is two things. First it is an affirmation as opposed to a negation. The actor is supporting the idea or situation that the scene partner has supplied, not throwing it out or replacing it with a different idea.  Secondly, it requires active listening.  The actor can only agree with the first idea if they heard it and understood it, then their “And” will make sense and add to the comedy.  In any scene, acting is as much a response to the other people as it is the individual actor’s contribution of words or actions.

Improv teaches kids to listen and observe; to be active even when they’re not speaking; to live in the moment; be open to new ideas and to collaborate well with others.

Look for a reputable class.  If you’re in LA there are some incredible places that do workshops, camps or ongoing classes.  Second City, Groundlings, and the Young Actors Project via Mission Improvable are some places we have first-hand experience with.

Scene Study

If your child wants to do any type of scripted acting, then they must take scene study classes.

Sure, there are stories about the kid who had no training and booked the lead in a feature film, like Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild – but that is a Unicorn story and 99% of everything cast are kids who dedicate time to practicing.  There are so many approaches to scene study that I’ll have to write them in a separate article.  The main thing is that you find a class that feeds your child’s desire to act.

I suggest you audit the class before you sign up for ongoing study or look for workshops or camps that allow your child to see what style of teaching works best for them.  Then really listen to your child.  If they didn’t enjoy it, didn’t feel like the learned anything or found the teacher abusive on any level, find a different class.  Never stay in a class where the instructor makes your child feel bullied or embarrassed.

Scene study can vary greatly for each type of acting: Commercial, Theatrical (on stage), Theatrical (TV) multi-camera sit-com / TV single camera sit-com /Drama, Theatrical (Film) and Improvised Shows.  For example, if your child is really interested in serious drama then make sure they’re in a class that specializes in that.  It will be completely different from a comedy class or a commercial class.

Classes my kids have taken are with Andrew Magarian “Simply Acting”, Shari Shaw, and workshops at Talent House.

Commercial

A lot of commercials are cast in the LA and other key markets, so definitely study this specialized style of acting – these are great opportunities to get on set and work and hopefully make some money.  Commercials are for selling a product to consumer but in most cases the advertiser (like a soda company or a car company) doesn’t want it to feel like they’re selling something, so they may want grounded acting.  Or maybe it’s food your promoting so in a commercial workshop you might learn how to do a ‘bite and smile’, a technique that teaches you how to take an appropriate-sized bite, appear to enjoy it and look good all at the same time.  They might then have you spit it out instead of swallowing bite after bite and ending up feeling nauseous after take twenty.  You should definitely learn how to properly handle the ‘Hero’ product; which is a perfect version of the item they want to sell that is used for the close-up shots.

There really is an art to auditioning for commercials, so definitely take some classes that focus on this specifically.  Here are the classes we’ve taken: Bo Kane’s Acting Class (both scene study and commercial), Mike Pointer’s “Hey, I Saw Your Commercial” Class, and Terry Berland’s Commercial Acting Workshop.

Read

I grew up in a house that didn’t have a large library, but we did have a bazillion National Geographic magazines and I read every one of them cover to cover.  I felt like I had been everywhere in the world and I believe it helped me develop a health empathy for others.

Not only are books great for taking you places you couldn’t possibly go, like into the past or to Mars they also connect us all through meaningful stories.  Acting requires the ability to play pretend at a whole new level and take on characters that you might not have much in common with.  Reading books lets us get into other people’s heads, lives, emotions and experience things from their point of view.

Reading out loud will help with fluency.  Being able to ‘cold read’ is very important for working actors who will have to deal with last minute script changes or audition opportunities to read for an alternate character they weren’t originally asked to prepare for.  We practice cold reading scripts often.

Plus, reading helps grow vocabulary, improve comprehension and studies show kids who read every day have strong academic growth across all subjects.  It’s also great to spend time with your child reading out loud together. It will show them that you think reading is important.  Parents, be sure to model good reading habits for your children by reading your own books too. THIS is a comprehensive list of why reading is important.

Watch TV

This is useful for some of the same reasons that reading is, taking us on emotional journeys and understanding different people, places or things.  It’s a good idea to be familiar with the types of shows that your child would like to work on, what characters are on TV and in film or commercials.  I suggest you watch with your child and help them identify roles they could be playing and write them down.  Make notes about wardrobe or acting styles to use in your headshots or demo reels.  Find out who the director, producer, writer and casting director is and keep a list of them to use when you’re ready to send postcards or ask your agent to pitch your child for specific shows.  And finally, we all need to blow off some steam and watching a show with your child can be a fun way to connect with them and relax!

Research

Before you sign up for any class you should do your own research.  I mentioned several classes that we have had good experiences with but there are plenty of great classes out there.  There are also lots of scams, low value classes, sales pitches disguised as workshops, terrible or demeaning teachers and other possible conundrums.  Your best bet is to ask other parents, get recommendations from your agent or manager, look up reviews and try things out for yourself. I’m sure there is a perfect class near you.

Erin Leigh Neumeyer

About Erin Leigh Neumeyer

Erin Leigh Neumeyer is a family and headshot photographer and actress-VO artist-director-writer, you know the all around multi-hyphenate “maker" type. Erin’s favorite phrase is "Imperfect Action beats Perfect Inaction every time.” She has a background in PR and Marketing and has worked with non-profits like The Humane Society and Project Angel Food, fundraising, running events and managing communication. She is also the Communications Director of Connect Film Festival. Her training began in theatre and improv and she’s a graduate of the Second City Conservatory in Chicago as well as iO Chicago and iO west. She is a proud member of Women In Film, Women in Animation and is a huge fan of Seed and Spark, Film Powered and of course, Ms. in the Biz. Living in LA she feels at home and loves the creative energy. She has two children who she adores and who also work in the entertainment industry and her adorable Siberian Husky, Thunder, has been called in to audition from time to time. Erin is currently filming a web series with her kids called Your Neighbors The Neumeyer’s, in pre-production on a social activism themed short film that she wrote and regularly works on projects at HitRECORD. Keep up with Erin: Entertainment: ErinNeumeyer.com Instagram: @ErinLeighNeumeyer Twitter: @ErinNeumeyer Photography: ErinLeighPhotography.com & ePhotoLA.com Instagram: @ephotla Twitter @erinLEIGHphotog