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How to Become an Actress at 13
Whether you’ve spotted star potential in your daughter, or she’s been bitten by the acting bug herself, becoming an actress at a young age is not an easy road. There are plenty of scams to avoid, and both of you will need to brace for the harsh rejections you’re likely to receive along the way. To become an actress at 13, you’ll need to look for auditions, avoid scams, and invest in tools like headshots and a demo reel.
Becoming an Actress at 13
Before tracking down kid actor auditions and putting time and money into this pursuit, it’s important to make sure this is the right route for you. Acting is an artistic pursuit – as is singing, painting or dancing – so your child will need a combination of natural talent and willingness to work hard to learn the craft to succeed. The competition for every open role is typically fierce, and if your child isn’t 100 percent dedicated, you’ll both likely burn out after the first dozen or so rejections.
One of the best things any aspiring actor can do is to audition for school performances or local community productions. It can help your child hone her craft and get that all-too-important practice with auditioning. From this experience, you can easily determine if your child has a genuine love for acting before you invest money into headshots and acting classes.
Acting Classes for Youth
If you’re sure your child wants to be an actress, and you’re ready to tackle the challenge of escorting her to auditions and gigs, a next great step is to help her hone her skills. It’s important to avoid the many acting school scams that are out there. Any school that asks you to shell out thousands of dollars upfront is likely just out for the money.
Those living in major cities – especially New York and Los Angeles – should have no difficulty finding weekly acting classes open to children. It may be a bit tougher if you’re in a more rural area, but you can typically find experienced acting coaches in your closest metropolitan area. One-on-one coaching is also available via videoconferencing online.
Acting Scams to Avoid
Although you likely will find that any acting coach or course charges a fee, this fee should be by the hour or week, with no commitment required. Any school that tells you availability is limited or promises direct bookings without an audition is likely a scam. Direct bookings are only available to established professionals, and not even the best Hollywood agent can offer a guarantee of paying work.
Lining Up Professional Headshots
Your child’s headshot will be the first impression she makes on casting directors and agents, so it’s important to make sure it’s good. It needs to be 8½"x 11", and your child’s face needs to be the central focus. You should also avoid heavy makeup or otherwise glamorizing your child for the photo. Natural is always better.
There’s no need to spend a great deal of money on professional headshots early in your child’s career. You can always spend more to upgrade them once she’s landed a few paying jobs. If you have a good camera and prefer to do it yourself, there are sites that will walk you through exactly how to shoot them. It can also help to look at examples of other child headshots posted online.
Resumes and Reels for Children
Another important item your child will need to apply for roles is a resume. If your child is a newbie, don’t sweat her lack of experience. Any credentials will help, including acting classes, school productions and community theater roles. This is where getting some theater experience can come in handy before reaching out to the big dogs.
One way to land acting auditions is to post a demo reel online. Although your daughter may not have any on-camera roles yet, it’s important to be thinking of this as she does start to work. If she doesn’t have any work to share, you can always gather some actors together and do some short videos just to showcase your child’s skills.
Acting Auditions for Children
Once you have your headshots in hand and are ready to go, it’s time to start tracking down auditions. Backstage.com lists open casting calls for children on their website. Look for those in your area and consider whether you’re willing to drive a few hours to work if there’s an opportunity outside of your area.
In the early days, it’s important to take as many opportunities as possible to get experience. An opportunity may be low-paying, or not pay at all, but it could be seen by a talent scout or casting agent, as well as serving as a clip for your demo reel and credit for your resume. They also give your child acting experience.
Becoming a Disney Actor
Some of the best opportunities for young actors are on the Disney Channel, so it’s only natural that parents will ask how to get their children onto one of those shows. Disney Channel agents look for children with impressive acting abilities, but it can also help if you can sing and dance. In addition to talent, agents will also be looking for personality and screen presence, so it’s important to let those shine through if your child lands an audition.
Although you can occasionally find open calls for the Disney Channel on Backstage, the network’s casting directors get most of their actors from agents. It’s important to be very wary of the many Disney casting scams out there. Disney casting agents don’t hang out at malls or charge upfront fees for connecting you with roles.
Preparing for an Audition
When you land your first audition with a casting professional, your little actress will undoubtedly be nervous. As with Disney channel agents, most casting directors and agents are looking at screen presence and personality as much as acting ability. So, it’s important that any young actress simply be herself during the question-and-answer phase of the audition, then transition into the role when it’s time to start reading.
Before attending your first audition, find a few good monologues that showcase your child’s acting ability and relate to the type of role, then rehearse them exhaustively on camera. You may be given scenes to read when you arrive, but having that material on hand at all times can prepare for those occasions when you aren’t. Study the call sheet in advance of the audition and research as much as possible about the project and those who are conducting the casting.
Handling Rejection as an Actor
Rejection is the toughest part of being an actor, and for parents, it can be especially difficult. Although kid actor auditions may be slightly gentler than their adult counterparts, the casting agents aren’t required to be more delicate simply because those auditioning are children. Your child should be prepared in advance for the likelihood of auditions. In fact, experts say it takes 99 commercial auditions just to book one job.
There are several ways to soften the blow of rejection for the young actor in your life. It’s important that she develop a love for acting itself so that she focuses more on the craft than getting work during those tough times. It can also help to develop other interests, which will allow her to shift to something else she loves after a rejection, then come back to it once the initial sting has worn off.
Landing an Agent
In the early days, young actresses can focus on local productions and open calls. However, eventually, you’re going to need to track down an agent. An agent will constantly be on the lookout for opportunities suitable for your child, as well as sending her to those acting auditions that she couldn’t get on her own.
It's important to only use agents approved by the Screen Actors Guild. You can find a list of SAG franchised agents on the guild’s website. Not only will this help you avoid scams, but it will also get you the credits you need to eventually qualify for union membership. Once an actor has a SAG card, it’s easier to land union gigs, where you’re guaranteed a minimum income and extras like craft services.
Vetting Potential Agents
If an agent calls your child in for an audition, you may feel so grateful that you forget that the agent will be working for you. The agent expects you to ask some questions, too, so be sure to get information on the agency, the clients they represent and the type of work they envision for your child. Your daughter may have no interest in becoming the Disney Channel’s next big star, instead, she may want to focus on more subdued, critically-acclaimed work. But if your agent isn’t on the same page, it won’t be the right fit.
Chances are that you’ll get at least one “no” before you find an agent who will represent your daughter. Understand that numerous rejections are the norm for performers, and, as with the 99 auditions it takes to get a paying commercial, plan to visit many reputable agents before you get an offer of representation. Agents typically are looking for a very specific type of client, so it’s simply a matter of finding the one who’s looking for what your young performer has to offer.
Earning a SAG Card
As your daughter begins auditioning, you’ll likely begin to notice the importance of a SAG card for landing the best roles. In order to qualify for SAG membership, you’ll need proof of one or more of the following:
- A starring role in a SAG, AFTRA or SAG-AFTRA production
- A background role in a SAG, AFTRA or SAG-AFTRA production for at least three days
- Employment as part of a SAG- or AFTRA-affiliated union
If you aren’t sure if your work has yet qualified your daughter for SAG membership, you can input her information on their website.
Ongoing Costs for Actors
It’s important to know in advance that membership in SAG is not cheap. Currently, you’ll pay an initiation fee of up to $3,000, although it may be lower in your state. You’ll also pay semiannual dues of half of the base dues, which is $218 as of 2019, plus half of work dues, which is calculated based on your previous calendar year’s earnings.
In addition to union fees and the cost of transportation and accommodations to travel for auditions, you’ll also need to invest in ongoing marketing for your young actress. Younger performers must regularly update their headshots to accurately reflect their current age. You’ll also need to keep an updated highlight reel online to ensure that casting directors and agents looking for actresses can find her.
- You should be open-minded about the roles you will get in the beginning. The great advantage of starting out at a young age is that you have the opportunity to learn while in the spotlight. Very few actresses receive starring roles at the very beginning of their careers. Rather, expect to play smaller roles while working your way to the top.
- Unscrupulous agents might ask you for a fee in exchange for their services. If you come across one of these individuals, you know you are dealing with a rip-off artist. You should never have to pay to audition for anything or for an agent. Agents work on commission; they find you audition opportunities for paid roles, and in the event that you land the role, they will take a percentage—usually between 10 and 15 percent of your total salary.
Stephanie Faris is a novelist and business writer whose work has appeared on numerous small business blogs, including Zappos, GoDaddy, 99Designs, and the Intuit Small Business Blog. She worked for the State of Tennessee for 19 years, the latter six of which were spent as a supervisor. She has written about business for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2011.