|Do Aspiring Young Actors Need Acting Classes?
As with many things in the entertainment industry, everyone has their own view and opinion. But when it comes to advice on whether or not aspiring young actors need classes, the sentiments from agents and managers are pretty much the same: kids need classes! And keep in mind that agents and managers specifically are perhaps the most reliable source when it comes to this question. Not only do they have experience and connections within the industry and want you to succeed, but they receive absolutely no monetary benefit from recommending that you take a specific class (that said, if you believe your agent or manager is receiving kickbacks or requiring you to take certain classes, you may need to reevaluate your situation. Check out our article on Avoiding Scams.)
Many agents and managers believe that being enrolled in an acting class is simply part of the game.
"If a kid were on a sports team," explained talent manager, TJ Stein, "he or she would be required to practice, and this is no different."
"As the saying goes, 'actors are athletes of the heart'," noted agent Jody Alexander.
When to Start
With so many acting classes and coaches to choose from, it's tough to know exactly what age your child should get started, and what types of classes he or she should take.
"For age nine and up, I think any actor needs to be in classes and have a personal, professional acting coach for theatrical auditions," commented Carol Lynn Sher of CESD. She explained that often times young performers take on tasks with which even adult actors struggle. "Sometimes a child needs to be able to cry on cue or deliver a lot of dialogue. Great coaches are essential to any actor uncovering the emotions and depths of a character."
But for younger children, Sher explained that the basics like learning to read and write are for more essential than the need to take an abundance of acting classes.
"Many classes for age eight and under are more like play time," said Sher. "Learning to master acting techniques and storytelling as well as perfecting the ability to read out loud is much more vital."
Harvey Kalmenson of Kalmenson and Kalmenson (who specialize in Voice Casting), though jokingly, didn't hesitate to agree. "I may be a person controlled by a bent towards sarcasm," he said, "Children, without exception, require training: how to eat, how to go to the bathroom properly and most importantly but not limited to how to become socially a blessing to everyone around them."
Sarcasm aside though, many pros agree that the skills required for a young person to perform with the likes of adult actors span far beyond the ability to memorize lines. Children need to be prepared to work with adults. They need to be able to take direction, communicate and behave. Plus, there is a sense of confidence required within this industry and all of these things can be learned through a variety of classes.
"Study and training help to provide keys to the kingdom whether or not a child becomes an actor of consequence," Harvey Kalmenson pointed out.
Harvey's wife and partner at Kalmenson and Kalmenson agreed:
"To compete and succeed in professional acting, all aspiring young performers need strong acting skills and confidence (derived from strong skills)," Cathy Kalmenson said.
"Acting skills are honed through learning acting "method" from teachers/coaches, then practice, practice, practice (most effectively, practicing with professional feedback, guidance and coaching). Such commitment results in self discovery, and the resulting self-confidence. This gives the young actor the best they can ask for: a better chance to win. As casting directors in voice, we find the young performers who come to us with acting skills are the ones that we bring back most frequently, and these more skillful kids end up being the ones that book the jobs. And guess what? All of these acting skills also provide a confidence in who they are as people. This will serve a young person well in the future: as a productive person in life, comfortable with themselves, exuding an approachable, natural personality for jobs and social situations outside of acting."
When it comes to deciding when your child is ready to transition from experiences that help him or her learn to read, take direction and interact with others to classes that are more specifically oriented around learning performance skills, Carol Lynn Sher had this advice to offer:
"Once a child has an ability to express themselves in stories and they can cold read at a 3rd grade level, then I believe in [acting] classes."
How to Choose the Right Classes/Coaches
Children In Film asked the pros we interviewed to provide advice on choosing the right classes and coaches and most agreed that it comes down to doing your research. When researching, it is important to get advice from your agent and manager, find out what the community is saying, and review the resume of the coach in question.
"Part of my job as an agent is to seek out the best classes and coaches who really make a difference in the growth of our clients," explained Jody Alexander who recommended that parents consult with their representation when choosing classes.
Cathy Kalmenson explained that you truly must seek out the best and most experienced coaches in their field. "Your research is required," she explained, "both word of mouth from agents, managers and other parents, and online research."
"Finding a good teacher for a child requires patience," commented Harvey Kalmenson.
So What do the Pros Suggest you Look For?
"I feel the most important ingredient on a teachers resume is the amount of experience they have as a teacher and or coach," Harvey said.
"If [the coaches] are hired by studios for on-set coaching, clearly they know what they are doing," explained manager Terrie Snell of TalentInk. "but if you do not have a good rapport with them you will not learn well. If you have a wonderful rapport but none of the people they coach are booking regularly, chances are you will not be doing so either."
Children In Film's ratings and recommendations system is an excellent way to research potential acting coaches, camps and classes. Click here to search our member directory for Acting Coaches and Classes!