Parental Advice During a Pandemic: If My Parents Had Only Known
By Jason James
The struggles and complications of COVID-19 have caused tension and complications over the past several months, especially for those young artists so eager to continue their training in the theater arts. As the arts continue to wait for the green light, here are a few pieces of parental advice for all of the parents of young artists looking to pursue theater arts at the collegiate level with aspirations of professional careers.
Your child wants to do theater. They are interested in the performing arts. Where do you go? What do you do? Let’s start with community theater. A great place for a young and interested child/young adult to get their start. Start by doing a little bit of research. Google local community theaters. Where are they? What is their season? Do they have shows and auditions coming up that are age appropriate for you child? When are they? What does your child need to prepare? What does 16 bars mean? How do I find sheet music? All overwhelming questions for the beginning parent of a theater kid. I promise it’s going to be okay.
Most community theaters understand that not every person has the tools needed to auditioned at most auditions. Your child can sing “Happy Birthday” for their first time, this is totally acceptable. The panel of people behind the table are only looking to see if you child can carry a tune and match pitch. They aren’t looking for the next Kelly Clarkson or Adam Levine.
Finding music options: start with online resources like MusicNotes.com. Does your child have a favorite song? Maybe a Disney song, pop song, or church song? I bet you can find it on online and purchase it. Don’t worry about the key. Purchase the standard key it was published in. Just get them to the audition and start their journey. Headshots and resumes… that all comes later. Get them in a rehearsal room and see if they enjoy it.
Now jumping ahead, here is the key to helping your child move forward. Do not stay in one place or at one theater for too long. You will know when it’s time to move on. Let them make friends, learn what they are able to learn, and help them start to audition elsewhere. They need to grow and learn from different people, different directors, learn different types of social interactions. They themselves might hear of auditions elsewhere and want to venture out, support and encourage them. While going to elementary school or high school, they should also be taking voice lessons and dance classes, maybe even high school drama to hopefully learn the basic fundamentals of acting. Yes it can be expensive, it’s an investment but if your child is serious about this career, you must be as well. One word of caution, which I will cover more below, try and deter from the schools and studios who offer “pay to play”. You do not need to pay someone to let your child do a show. Take that money and put it toward lessons and education.
Your child wants voice lessons, what do you do? Well, there is that place around the corner that always advertises voice lessons. It’s close and easy. That may not be the best option, let me explain. Your child is young and vulnerable and their mind is still adapting. It is in their best interest to do some research. Find a voice teacher that specializes or has experience working with children and young adults. This teacher should understand the anatomy of the voice as to not harm your child and do vocal damage as they continue to grow. You, the parent, also play a huge part in this. Gather as much information as you can and get to a point where you feel comfortable and and able to trust that you made the right decision for your child. Let me ask you this: When you take your child to the doctor, do you make an appointment knowing and understanding that this doctor has gone through years of education and training? This doctor has a medical degree and should, hopefully, know what they are talking about, yes? Then why would entrust your child to anything less than that in any other aspect of their life? Voice teachers in America do not need a degree or certification to teach. Anyone out there can say they teach voice and entice you with the notion of making your child a star. Remember the voice is a muscle and improper technique and training can cause more damage in the long run.
The same thoughts apply to acting and musical theater. There are performing art schools in every town. Research the school or studios you find. Look at the faculty and where they are from and what they have done. Where did they complete their education and training? Then go look up those schools. Side note: just because someone has a list of Broadway, touring, or mainstream credits does not always mean they are the best teacher. I have known lots of people who are absolutely incredible on stage, but can’t tell you, inside of a class, how they do it or more importantly how to teach your child to do it. On the other hand, I have friends who don’t have high profile credits but are amazing and effective teachers.
Always ask if a free trial class is offered or if can you sit in and observe. If the studio or school says “no,” trust your gut. In my opinion, anyone paying for a service when it comes to your child’s body, mind, and overall attitude, should have a chance to see what they are paying for.
When helping your child choose the right college, do as much research as you possibly can. In the arts, getting into a top college is harder now than ever before. What does your child want to do and what is the best route for them to take in order to achieve their goals. The type of education your child will receive will set the groundwork for the rest of their career. The connections and networking opportunities the make are extremely important. Do the colleges you are looking at offer these opportunities? Who is on faculty? How long have they been there? Have you taken a tour? What is tuition? Do you need financial aid? Have you started working on FAFSA? It’s all overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Take a breath. It’s going to be okay.
Do not be fooled or blinded by the schools and conservatories telling you what you want to hear. “Look how many of our alumni are on Broadway.” “Come here and you too can be a star.” What you may not know is that “star” may have had credits and training before even applying to that school. The school didn’t give them those skills, but what they did do is harness and hone that person and those skills; they offered that artist direction.
It is a huge part of our everyday lives and seems to navigate the trends of our societies. Don’t worry about it! In today’s world we are so concerned about image and perception that we have completely forgotten about core values of work ethic, morals, and flat out being good human beings. Teach your child to always do good work. Teach them to be respectful and appreciative. Teach them to say “thank you”. Teach them to not worry about what others are doing but to continue on their own path and not to compare themselves to social media’s standards. Entitlement gets you nowhere. Hard work, technique and following through with your commitments will outlast any virtual “like”.
Do your homework and be an active part in your child’s performing and artistic goals. I’m not saying go all “Mama Rose” on them but be visible and knowledgable. Understand their needs and wants and learn as you take this journey with them. It’s your responsibility to choose the right voice teacher, dance school, piano teacher, to the best of your knowledge. If my parents had only known one ounce of this, I would have been much more prepared when choosing a college and diving into this unstable and ever changing industry. Remember, it’s your child’s health, mental stability, education, and future. There’s a lot to choose from out there. Everyone is vying for your attention and money. Choose wisely.