Should Parents Promote An Acting Career For Their Children?
By Linda L. Esterson
Most nights, 7-year-old Ashley Shavitz puts on the same blue sundress and same pink furry dress-up heels. Sometimes she even grabs a boa.
“Everyone, turn off your cell phones and pay attention,” she instructs the audience, comprised of her parents, Lauren and Neal Shavitz. Sometimes Ryan, her 4-year-old brother, joins them.
Then, Ashley breaks out in song, singing Mylie Cyrus tunes or songs she learned at Pumpkin Theater Camp. Often, she performs songs she has written herself. “If she had it her way, we would do this every single night,” says Lauren Shavitz about her daughter, who entered third grade at Ft. Garrison Elementary School this fall.
Like many youngsters, Ashley saw a few plays; then asked if she could be on the stage. “She likes shows,” says her mom. “She makes up songs and sings around the house. She’s constantly performing for us.” Lauren Shavitz has no idea if her daughter will stick with theater, especially after ballet was a bust a few years ago, and soccer just “wasn’t her thing.”
“I could see her following through and really wanting to do this,” Lauren Shavitz says. “She really enjoys it.” However, Lauren Shavitz will tread carefully after seeing her younger brother move to Florida to pursue tennis and then sustain an injury and give up on his dream.
At the same time, 12-year-old Jordan Katz is pursuing his dream. Since the age of 6, Jordan has portrayed Linus in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Jack in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Danny Zucco in “Grease” and Hugo in “Bye Bye Birdie” for such organizations as Pumpkin Theater, Baltimore Actor’s Theater, Oregon Ridge Dinner Theater and Pikesville Middle School.
Last school year, when he portrayed Linus, his love for the art just clicked. “That’s when I figured out what I wanted to do,” says Jordan, who aspires to be in movies and on Broadway. “And I wanted to spend every free minute doing it.”
Jordan watches plays and movies, and then imagines himself filling the different roles. Most recently, he saw “Inception” and could see himself playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb character. As he’s aged, though, he’s also matured. “When I was younger, I thought I would get every role,” he says.
“Now I know I’m not going to get every role and I’m okay with that.”
His father, Jerry Katz, provides support, and transportation, of course. “This is how you do get started,” says Katz, “but everyone who does this doesn’t end up in Hollywood.”
Although Katz hopes his son can be successful with his craft, he’s realistic and makes sure he focuses on math and science as well. “Besides needing it for life — science and math — there’s no guarantee that he’ll be the next Brad Pitt,” he says.
That sentiment is echoed by Michael Elbert, executive director of talent development and marketing at John Robert Powers in Baltimore. “There are no guarantees in life, period,” he explains. “If anyone guarantees anything, they’re lying.”
Agencies like John Robert Powers invite children for free screening auditions to evaluate their level of talent and potential in the areas of singing, dancing, acting, modeling, image development and social skills. We try to identify strong points and weak points, and help people become accepted in the entertainment and other industries,” he says. “Anything they wish to do in life involves communication and presentation.”
Companies that charge a fee for an audition should be avoided, says Stacey Needle, who got her start in community theater. Those that advertise on the radio for national talent searches are usually scams.
Jimi Kinstle, artistic director for Pumpkin Theater, calls them “cattle calls.” According to him, 300 kids will show up, each getting 30 seconds in front of the camera after waiting for five hours, and then told the classes cost $8,000.
Elbert advises parents to support their children and encourage them to follow their dreams, finding what makes them special and helping them to develop it. That can be acting, singing, dancing and performing or playing an instrument, being behind the camera among other activities. It’s up to the child to commit to working and developing the skills needed to be successful. “Even if they don’t land a famous TV show, they can be successful because they obtained the skills to lead a company, represent a department, to do everything in life they want to do,” Elbert says.
With the plethora of child stars on television and in the movies today, parents can get caught in the excitement — and the expense — of signing talent scouts and enrolling in acting, modeling, singing and dancing classes. At John Robert Powers, a one-time payment for programs lasting one to five years ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.
Like Ashley, Needle was inspired after seeing “Annie” at the Morris A. Mechanic Theater at age 11. Ironically, “Annie” was her first show for the Liberty Showcase Theater. Community theater progressed to dinner theater and then signing with an agent. She did go to New York for auditions and filled extra roles in movies.
One college summer, she worked for Nickelodeon and after college moved to Florida for a job with Universal Studios. Her work in Florida segued to production and scheduling positions. After marriage and the birth of her first child and a total of five years in Florida, she moved back to Pikesville and reality, not wanting to “deal with years and years of rejection.”
“You can go for it, but be open to the realization that you have to be strong enough to handle rejection,” says Needle, who still performs in community theater and is box office manager for Pumpkin Theater. “I never tell anyone not to try.”
Although her parents were supportive, she has seen parents who push. “A lot more parents are pushing their children now,” she says. “Companies pull scams because parents want their kids to be stars.”
Performing and studying at the community level is the way to start, Kinstle suggests. It’s a low cost, low commitment alternative and gives the child a chance to see if he or she wants to continue.
“Dreams are incredible things to have,” Kinstle says. “We should definitely follow them; they should be guides for us, for what we want to do. They are healthy to have.”
Ashley continues to dream about her life on the stage; but for now, she is content with her home performances, belting her songs aloud for her personal audience. “It’s a hobby and she could do it for her career,” says Lauren Shavitz. “But we’re not hoping for the unreachable.”