Mayim Bialik was one of those kids who wanted to be an actor. She is best known for her lead role on the NBC series Blossom and she now plays Amy Farrah Fowler, in the TV comedy sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.
So your kid wants to be an actor. A “real” actor; a “professional” one. I hear this a lot. And the questions I get next range from ”Should I?” to “Why the hell would I?” to “How do I?” Well, I’m going to lay it all out here as directly as I can.
Let’s name your kid Clive (yes–after Clive Owen, my favorite actor who is also my fantasy boyfriend).
Here’s the deal: if Clive wants to professionally act, your life will be driving Clive to auditions at the drop of a hat; schlepping him and any other kids you have to rooms full of adorable bubbly kids who have been trained to intimidate Clive and tell him he looks tired when the audition calls for a perky bright-eyed kid.
Your relationship with Clive will technically be about you “forcing” him (we can call it “getting” him) to do things when he may not feel like it, such as act healthy when he is sick, act happy when he is grumpy, or act perky when he is tired. Clive also won’t really get “sick” days, so he needs to prepare for that reality as well. And you may find yourself bribing him as the occasion calls for it with toys, candy, and expensive clothing, so if you don’t like the sound of that, you may be already done with this article.
Acting professionally is about obedience. If you think Clive gets mouthy now, wait until he has to keep quiet and take direction for hours from bossy grown-ups who really care more about making profits than how Clive is doing and the only safe place he can let loose is at home…
Clive’s worth as his young brain sees it will be likely determined by some 20-year-old casting associate who will break his little heart and tell him he’s too skinny, too tall, too short, his front teeth are too big, his chin is too weak, he has too many freckles, his accent is way too seductive (oh wait- that would be the grown-up Clive Owen, never mind); whatever. You get the picture.
I’m OK, You’re OK
You may have to sometimes tell a crying Clive that he’s perfect just the way God made him even when everyone seems to be indicating that he’s not. Sure, there are things in life we all have to get used to. ER doctors and nurses, for example, have to get used to seeing death, but do we really “need” Clive to get used to being assaulted about his appearance? I’m not sure. Personally, I never got used to it. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because that would have meant I either a) became numb to being hurt, which is sad, or b) rationalized the criticism by deciding everyone was wrong and I was indeed superior to everyone, which is also really sad, but happens to a lot of kid actors.
Now, you can’t tell Clive all of this. You can’t tell him because he won’t believe you and he wants to believe he can rise above it and succeed. And that is the beauty of youth.
If you want to give it a shot with Clive, contact children’s agents. If you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York adjacent, this whole process will be incredibly frustrating. I am sure you can submit Clive online; back in 1987 when I started acting, my parents actually typed a letter on a real typewriter and mailed it through the US Postal Service to kids’ agents in Los Angeles. I have no inside tips about finding an agent; the agent I chose when I was 11 said she saw something in my eyes that made her want to represent me. (She was also Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Dorff, and Johnny Galecki’s agent at the time, so I guess she clearly had a good eye!)
If you don‘t want to do the professional thing but want Clive to foster his love for performing (which is a wonderful and very positive skill and talent) community theater is an excellent idea, and it also can teach more than just acting: it introduces young actors to the nuts and bolts of performing from lighting to directing to production, thus expanding in their minds the possibilities for working in the arts.
And you don’t have to be a homeschooler to let Clive’s interest thrive with education that you design. He can read about theater and study theory. Actors and theaters in your community (especially improv actors) hold private classes for groups of kids even if it’s not someone’s birthday. Even adult actors you know who are struggling to succeed may be gifted teachers for seminars or small classes. Performing is not done in isolation; let Clive learn about the process, not just the applause.
Clive is trying to tell you something by expressing his desire to act. He craves attention, which, in moderation, is okay. He likes to make people happy. He likes being the guide for others’ emotions. Let him. But know your limits and boundaries too.
And for goodness sake, if Clive comes home in a few years and says he wants to run off with that Blossom chick who’s now on The Big Bang Theory, just know that you did your best and now he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.