Just in titling this week’s column, I’m conflicted. “Stage mom,” “stage dad,” “stage parent,” these phrases all have a negative connotation in the entertainment industry, and I don’t want to perpetuate that. But this phrase gets a lot of Google action, so I’m going to use that momentum to share a warning about the exact type of nightmare parents to young actors that SOME people are.

Parents. Listen to me. Some of you are effin’ up your kids’ careers.

I have three stories. The first one is really short. A young actor comes in to audition for me, and right as the child is entering the session room, her mother snaps at her — a cruel, discipline-filled string of comments — clearly causing the girl to deflate, just as she’s supposed to be *on* for her audition. Not privy to what had happened in the waiting room before the barking that I witnessed, I asked the young actor if she needed a moment before going into the scene. “No,” she bravely sniffed. And she soldiered on. Bless her heart. She couldn’t have wanted to be there less, at that moment, but her mother wanted it so much *for her* and the stakes felt so high… it was painful.

Sure enough, I confirmed with my assistant during the “diva report” at the end of sessions (this is where I find out who was a pain in the waiting room, so we don’t inadvertently cast someone who is delightful in the room, but who will wreck the set with negativity) that this mother walked in angry with her daughter about having blown an audition earlier in the day. She’d been rehashing what the young actor could’ve done better for at least ten minutes in the lobby. Of course, there are stories like this involving young athletes, young science fair participants, and young spelling bee contestants. This dynamic is not unique to young actors and their parents. But choose your moment. Just before the next audition? Yikes.

Second story comes from an audition that wasn’t my own. From my office at 310 Casting, I witnessed something really scary, because it’s the kind of thing that causes the young actor to earn a reputation that is *not* his own. This was a big commercial audition, and the session runner was bringing in a half-dozen young actors at the same time, providing instructions, then sending the actors back out into the waiting room ’til each was brought in, individually, for the audition. Standard stuff.

A group goes in, comes back out, and then I see — right outside my office door — a mom kneel down to straighten her young actor’s clothing and do a little motherly pep talk. “Aw…” I think to myself. And then I hear her words: “You’re going to be great. Now, I want you to ignore everything that guy told you to do. They don’t KNOW what they want. You go in and SHOW them how this should look. Do it just the way we practiced at home. Do you hear me?” “Yes, ma’am,” the young actor said, quietly.

Holy cow! This kid will possibly be labeled as someone who cannot follow directions (or perhaps who cannot understand them), and even if he’s wonderfully talented, they may see him as a risk on set. Of course, they could redirect him in the room and see if he could get to what they asked for, but the point is that they already *asked for* what they wanted, and if they weren’t seeing a glimmer of that, the young actor may not even get another chance. And why? Because his mom was certain “they don’t know what they want”? Unless she’s part of that “they” population, how does SHE know that? *shudder*

Finally — and this one is tough, because if you’re results-oriented, you’ll see this as a victory, possibly, and I want you to see the big picture on this one — I have another example from a project I cast a while back.

I don’t ever say no if a parent wants to enter the audition room with his or her young actor. Why? Well, if the family doesn’t know me yet, I want the parents to be comfortable with how I run my sessions. I want them to trust that, in future sessions, they’ll be happy to send their kiddo into the room, knowing first-hand how auditions are gonna happen. So, when this dad brought his son in for the role we were auditioning on this particular day, I was fine with him joining us. I wasn’t expecting his daughter to join us as well. Or, anything that happened after they entered the room.

The young actor’s father hovered, mouthed all the words along with his auditioning son, and then stayed in the room, schmoozing the team, ingratiating himself with the director, pushing until he was given an email address to which he could send additional materials about his son and — get this — his daughter, who was mortified that her dad was pushing her on the team. “You should write in a role for her. She’s very talented. Sing. Sing for them, honey. Go.” *cringe*

It was the most uncomfortable post-audition “chit-chat” ever. After saying, “Okay, great. Thank you so much. We’ll be making decisions later this week,” and rising to escort the fam back out to the waiting room, NO ONE budged. The director stood, shook hands with the dad, said, “Thanks for bringing him in.” Still, no movement. Uh-oh. We’ve got a camper! I leaned out of the room several times, attempting to speak with my assistant about, “So! Who’s next?!?” and such things that would indicate more directly it was time for the family to move along. At this point, I was certain — even though the young boy was talented and the right type for the role — this would not be his role, since we’re never *just* casting the young actor! With parents on-set, as required by law, when you cast a young actor whose parent is a hovering, micromanaging know-it-all, you’re begging for a long day (especially on a low-budget indie, where you don’t have it in the budget to hire a wrangler to sit on the parent).

Cut to: Casting decisions. Yup. This kid books it. Of course, I’m thrilled for the young actor, but I do my job and make sure the director understands that helicopter dad will be on set, and you can bet he’ll bring big sis, just in case there’s a way to work her into the storyline. The director assures me he can handle it and we execute contracts and make it so.

Now, let’s cut to the day after the shoot. Guess who calls me. The director. “Bon, damn. You were right.” What!?! This is *shocking* information! (Just kidding. It’s not shocking at all. Part of my job is communicating potential pitfalls in casting choices and I figured the behavior we saw in the audition room was just a small preview of what we could expect on set. NOTE: People don’t start behaving *better* after they have the job! We’re seeing the BEST of folks *at* the audition, when we “have” something they need. It’s after they book that diva behavior — if it’s gonna come out — really does so.)

Anyway, the point of this story is that this may be seen this as a win (hey, he booked the role, so his dad did NOT screw it up for him), but this whole family — the young actor siblings *and* their dad — are on at least three “never again” lists: mine, the director’s, and the producer’s. No, of course I don’t think we’re the only source for projects in town, but eventually, the brand erosion will stick, and while these two young actors may book now and then *in spite of their dad*, there will be bigger things down the line that they miss out on *because of their dad* and his inability to read a room.

Being a “stage parent” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But there’s a reason so many folks take the phrase to the negative. Some young actors are missing out on tiers they could easily hit, simply due to their parents’ choices. Please know that I treasure the majority of stage parents, who are normal: detached but interested, committed but not micromanaging, excited but not demanding, supportive but not meddling. If you’ve read this week’s column thinking, “Oh, man! I’ve so seen those types of parents when taking my own kid to auditions. I always hope casting SEES that,” you’re probably okay. If, however, this column makes you mad, perhaps I’ve held up a mirror you’re reluctant to look into. You want what’s best for your youngster, no matter what activity, sport, academic interest, or industry career he or she is into! Hooray! Step back and help make the best of the journey… for everyone.


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001736.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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