Every generation has its television show or movie that inspires children and teens to consider acting, singing, dancing – or all of the above. The difference today is that there are so many more shows on TV (not to mention what’s available on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet) that the degree and extent of inspiration are at an all-time high.
In the 1930s, it was Shirley Temple who single-handedly was responsible for the sales of millions of pairs of tap dance shoes and an equal number of moms and dads attending dance recitals. Later in time, American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s long-running program, introduced rising stars that launched probably a thousand garage bands for every performer who appeared on the show.
And television’s Fame ushered in the 1980s, a time when MTV was also emerging as the multimedia platform for recorded music. What may have set that show apart from the rest is that it dealt with some of the harder parts of show business, the low pay and rejection that all performers go through in the earliest parts of their careers (well, perhaps not Shirley Temple…).
Today we have everything from scripted shows like Glee and SMASH to reality shows like American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent. We imagine that several nights per week, in family rec rooms, kitchens and bedrooms across all economic strata, children are lip syncing or belting out full voice with contestants, practicing dance moves and dreaming of the day that they too will be onstage.
In other words, there is nothing new to dreaming about stardom and the approval of applause. The only difference today is that a yearning to perform is almost unavoidable.
So what can and should a parent do about their children’s interest in the performing arts?
There are many pitfalls to working as an entertainer in general, of course. No one with the stomach for job insecurity should ever go near it. Also, when children and teenagers actually get work, bad things often happen. But focusing instead on the positive, a career can be significantly rewarding even for those who fail to achieve superstardom. And even if performing is an avocation not a vocation, what can possibly be wrong with having a voice that people notice in church or a holiday sing-along?
The ParentBiz Foundation is a non-profit geared toward helping people with minors in the entertainment arts industries. The organization was founded by Anne Henry, who herself was the mother of three child performers. She advises, “Make sure it’s your child’s motivation, and not something that you or grandma or somebody else thought would be neat to try.”
Instead, she advises that the first priority is to consider the performing arts as a means for developing character and life skills. If a lucrative career results, then it can be a happy surprise.
If that fits your family situation, there are many great film schools, acting camps and theater training programs available in most major cities. The New York Film Academy has campuses in 13 cities around the world. The school’s summer teen camps — for film, acting, musical theater, broadcast journalism, 3-D animation, screenwriting, video game design, music video and filmmaking – are provided in one- to six-week programs in New York City; on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts; at Universal Studios in Los Angeles; Disney Studios in Orlando; and in Paris, Florence and Queensland, Australia.
One recent summer camp grad you might recognized is Aubrey Plaza, who plays April Ludgate on NBC’s hit comedy Parks and Recreation.
There is no telling what shows with budding talent we will be watching in five or ten years from now. But rest assured there will be one, probably several, and that a whole new generation of would-be performers will watch these shows with stars in their eyes.