CHILD ACTORS: IN IT FOR THE FUN OR FAME?

Stephen SalamunovichBy Stephen Salamunovich C.S.A.

I’m sure that given the stats you’ll read about below, most of us in the media field have encountered kids or their parents who are interested in getting their kids into the on-camera acting fields. Since I’m asked about this far more than any other subject, I wanted to address this subject for many readers who’ve probably also come across this situation. And unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there willing to prey on the desire of kids to become famous and for parents to provide opportunity for their kids.

If your child approaches you and says they want to act, that’s potentially a wonderful thing, as may also be the case if they approach you about the desire to dance or play an instrument or paint or engage in any of the arts. But this particular request of acting may require more scrutiny, as it may potentially reveal a more concerning reason than just getting involved in organized “make believe.”

A recent statistic published in The Economist stated that in a 1976 survey, “people ranked being ‘famous’ 15th out of 16 possible life goals. By 2007, 51% of young people say that it was one of their principal ambitions. The proportion of American teenagers who believe themselves to be ‘very important’, jumped from 12% in 1950 to 50% in 2005. On a test that asks subjects to agree or disagree with statements such as, ‘I like to look at my body’ and ‘someone should write a biography about me’, 93% of young Americans emerge as being more narcissistic than the average of 20 years ago.”

I hope I don’t have to tell you how alarming this is. The rise in taking and posting an abundance of “selfies” has already started to be analyzed by psychologists as a symptom of narcissism among children and adults.

Between my 31 years as a casting director and growing up the son of my father in the media town of Los Angeles, I’ve known many people who were famous, and most of them before they were famous. The only difference between the two situations is somewhat obvious, but given the stat above, it bears repeating and remembering—frequently! It’s this: More people know who you are… That’s it! It doesn’t mean you’re more talented or valid than you were before. I get about 10 “selfies” a week from kids who have been indoctrinated in our celebrity-worship society with its warped values of fame, no matter how dubiously attained. They think that they can simply snap a shot of themselves and send it to a casting director and then clear their schedule for the next week for all the red carpets and awards shows that will surely follow without an ounce of study and preparation!

The fact that more people know who or what Kim Kar-whatshername is than know who Mother Teresa was is disturbing on so many levels. And don’t even get me started on the cast of the Jersey Shore, which I believe to be one of the signs of the apocalypse! It’s also the reason why the arts are being devalued left and right in the form of actors and musicians not being offered fair monetary compensation in a fit exchange of their gifts, and instead being offered the hollow payment of “exposure”, as if you can then turn around and offer it to your grocer or in place of your rent or your health insurance premium. Ego and vanity are enormously expensive commodities to which to aspire, and is the equivalent of worshiping sand, never realizing the beaches are covered with it. And fame for its own sake is an unsustainable phenomenon over the course of a lifetime. The drive to create, however, is like an itch that must be scratched regularly and thus can absolutely be sustainable throughout a lifetime. And the true expression of it will bring fulfillment whether one is famous or not. The expression of creativity can bring fame as a byproduct, but it isn’t the main motivation of true artists.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, I knew several child stars, some of whom have become famous adults. It requires an enormous amount of emotional intelligence to navigate the challenges that follow fame for adults, let alone children. But acting for the sake of creativity should be its own reward, just like painting a beautiful picture or dancing to the full extent of your heart’s creative expression. The urge to create is a beautiful one and is an archetype exerting a pull, to some degree, in all of us. And it should be nurtured and kept in its purest state. So if your child comes to you and says they want to pursue acting, put them in a theater setting first to see if it’s acting they prefer. If it’s fame, you’ll be able to tell because they won’t be interested in the expression of acting as an end in itself. They’ll want to be on TV or in the movies. That’s your clue that their value system is in drastic need of a course correction.

Carl Jung, the philosopher and psychologist, theorized that the archetype covering the human desire to create could be found in the mythology of the mating of Eros and Psyche and their offspring was Pleasure. In the film Chariots of Fire, the lead character’s sister tries to get him to give up his desire to run and return home to become a minister like his father and grandfather. She finally asks him why he runs anyway since she finds it a frivolous preoccupation. His answer is brilliant: “Because when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” There is no better reason to engage in any artistic pursuit. I wish your child pleasure in all of theirs!

For more information on casting director Stephen Salamunovich or his services, visit www.completecasting.com.

Leave a Reply