In 2009, for the first time in history, the Tony Award for best actor was shared by 3 performers—the 3 boys who play Billy Elliot on Broadway. Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe did Equus recently, and Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin makes her stage debut in The Miracle Worker in 2010. Many of our children dream of the big stage, but as parents we have no idea what it really takes for a kid to make it on Broadway. BizParentz asked about a dozen parents, studio teachers, agents and managers, and even a couple of adult Broadway actors to share what the Broadway experience is REALLY like.
We received some incredible information that we have included in this very lengthy article. Please consider reading this introduction to get an overview, then read each section for specific topics. You can get to each topic by clicking on the links in the bar above.
Broadway by the Numbers
How Many Kids: Broadway producers are hiring more kids. According to a NY Times article dated 11/8/09, producers are trying to lure in a younger audience by putting up more kid-friendly shows, with more young performers. There are 53 actors under the age of 16 working in New York’s major theatres in 2009-10; 23 of those are working on Billy Elliot. Last year there were 79 kids on Broadway, but there were no more than 30 in any of the previous 5 years.
Minimum commitment for a typical contract: Six months, with a possible rider for an additional six months. You can get fired or replaced at any time. Some kids get to continue for a year, or even two years in a successful show.
Shows per week: Eight, with matinees typically on Wednesdays and one weekend day. The shows are usually dark one day a week. Pay rate for a hit Equity Broadway show: $1400-$1800 per week
Typical growth before a child actor gets replaced according to their contract: 10 lbs (lost or gained) or 2 inches growth. There are also restrictions for any change in appearance—braces, haircuts, etc.
Typical weeks of full time rehearsal before opening a new show: 6 weeks
Length of Haley Joel Osment’s Broadway Run: One week. They posted the closing notice immediately after the opening night party, despite positive reviews of his performance.
Lifestyle on Broadway – Can Our Family Do This?
Theatre is not for everyone. It is a very demanding lifestyle that takes a commitment from the whole family. Is it for you? There are many things to consider. Take our thought provoking quiz and find out!
Kids in an Adult World
Unlike community theatre, or children’s productions, Broadway is not designed for children. Young performers are expected to be as professional as the adult performers in their cast, sometimes more so, since the kids also have the additional responsibility of going to school.
But how does a parents help their child manage this world when you aren’t there (because you had to drop and go)?
There will be coworkers that don’t like children, and some that resent their early success in this very difficult career (remember—the adults in the show may have college degrees and 10 years or more of struggling for this opportunity!). MOST adults do like children and enjoy working with them. One of the adult actors we talked to had this advice for parents:
“I think all of the adults liked our kids and were willing to hang out with them at various times. But I think you also have to be aware of when your kids are causing issues. There are a lot of kid actors who behave inappropriately for a backstage area. The adult actors often don’t want to cause problems by saying something, and we certainly don’t want to discipline any child ourselves, but it can be a sticky situation to tell a parent about behavioral issues.”
Of course, since the parent isn’t backstage, the only way a parent can really find out if there are any issues, is to have someone tell them. So that is when the wrangler, stage manager or company manager comes into play. But it also helps if a parent develops a relationship with the adult cast as much as one can without being intrusive.”
eeping Your Child Safe
For more on Safety for Young Performers:
This is the parents’ most important responsibility. You will be required to leave your child alone at the theatre, picking them up for lunches, dinner and after the show. Physical safety isn’t as much of a consideration, due to the strong labor unions for the crew. They generally are very careful to make sure the work environment safe, but even then occasionally accidents happen. Where are you if your child gets hurt in the theatre?
The rules for safety are the same rules we parents should be using all the time. Never leave kids alone with strangers. Make sure the wrangler is not a stranger. Wranglers are not union members and have no background checks. Anyone can say they are a wrangler. Sometimes they are frustrated performers, sometimes just hard working crew looking to work their way up the stage management ladder. You should do your own research, make friends with them, and know who you are leaving your child with. Make sure your child has a communication system (a cell phone) and knows how to use it.
Trust your instincts. Keep in mind that actors are not background checked. There is a quite popular adult male actor that is performing on Broadway right now. He was convicted of a sex offense with a teen girl just last year. But he still works.
Safety tips for Bios and other theatre issues:
Tips for Success
Below are tips shared by the Broadway moms, agents, managers, and actors who contributed to this set of articles for BizParentz. These gems are in no particular order, but each one comes from someone who has “been there done that”:
* Memorialize your experience. Equity does not allow shows to be filmed, so you can’t record the show as you would a school play, but you can collect clips on the internet. Try scrapbooking the experience…keep Playbills, objects from each city, photos of the cast, etc.
* Get involved in the community! Broadway Kids Care (BKC) is a philanthropic group that plans activities for the Broadway kids, past and present, which impact their community in a positive way. This is a great opportunity to meet other families, and give kids a sense of community outside the theatre.
* Give your child a cell phone.
* Learn that “change is the new normal”: New songs, cast changes, etc. Expect it and it won’t be so disorienting.
* Ask for the wrangler’s resume and get to know them well. Make sure the child knows who they can trust backstage (the wrangler, another actor, the stage manager?). Stay on the good side of the stage manager if possible, so that the child has the highest ranking advocate in their corner.
* Respect the adult actors and give them their space. This is their job, their life. They are often under extreme pressure. Support them, and teach children to learn from them, respect their seniority (even if the child has a bigger part).
* Stand up for education. Make sure your child’s 3-4 hrs of school a day are taken seriously.
* Avoid the stage moms. At BizParentz, we like to believe that the stagemom stereotype doesn’t really exist. That said, all of the people we talked to had stories of poor behavior by other parents (the word “ruthless” was used three times!). It appears that the stereotypical stagemom may be more alive in the theatre world than anywhere else. If you find your child is being sabotaged or treated badly, simply disengage from that co-worker parent as quickly as possible.
* Supplement your child’s education with field trips and history lessons in each city.
* Parents say they gain weight when their kid is in a show…lots of fast food, waiting for them and having to buy Starbucks in the city, etc. Tips here: walk, walk, walk. Try to have housing where you can prepare most of your own meals.
* Re: Tours: Don’t be afraid to say you need alone time. Sleep whenever and wherever you can. Bring your favorite stuff from home, but don’t pack your entire home--just those things that make you comfy and be careful not to over pack (you have to lug it around).
* Julie Stevens suggests: Make a few friends and share responsibilities. Take turns with the drop off and pick up at the theatre. Set boundaries for how people speak to you and your child and how you expect to be treated. Always think ahead and be prepared for the unexpected. Remember that your child’s reputation lies in your hands and the trouble (or perceived trouble) you cause could have future career repercussions for your child
* Your child’s Resume: Never, never lie. Decision makers always know. Theatre is a very small community and producers know each other.
* Note who gets cast and why. You can learn from them. It is common to see Broadway kids jump from show to show. It makes sense: not only are they talented, but they have proven that they can survive the heavy workload of a live show. Previous Broadway or off-Broadway credits weigh very heavily in an actor’s favor, but outside of that, all experience counts. So get out there and perform!
“A word to the wise” certainly holds true in this series of articles. Rather than going to the school of hard knocks, this information will hopefully allow families to foresee potential problems and eliminate the risks. For this opportunity we express sincere thanks to the many individuals, both un-named and named below, who shared their experiences and expertise with us so freely:
--All the theatre parents and the moderators who network at Professional Actors Resource Forum
--Julie Stevens, producer, studio teacher, coach and former Broadway child actor:
--Kim Pedell, Brilliant Talent Management http://www.myspace.com/brillianttalent
--Marie Watkins, Romawat Academy
In summary, we asked our experts to give you some parting words of wisdom. Here is what they said:
Joan Blake: “Looking back on it now, I can only compare it to childbirth: It’s painful at the time, but in time you forget that and only remember the good times. Would he do it again? Never say never!”
Kim Pedell, manager/parent: “Be supportive and keep quiet—there is a lot of “gossip” and often its not true and hurtful and in the end everyone finds out the information. No two shows/part/auditions/casting directors or experiences are the same and nothing at all is predictable—so just enjoy it and have fun and let things happen as they will—its such an interesting process—and so rewarding!!!!! A lot of work—but a lot of fun!”
Julie Stevens, Producer, former child actor, studio teacher, coach: “In my experience, the kids that go on to successful careers in and outside of showbiz are the kids who’s parents never used their income to support their family and who’s parents stayed in the role of parent, not employee. I think parents who placed value in education while also helping to nurture the artistic abilities are a big influence in the success of their talented child. I’m hoping parents these days are more aware of the pitfalls of having a career so young, but the best way to prepare your child for the end of career is to make sure they have other hobbies and a strong support system.”
JK, adult actor working on Broadway with kids : “You can’t get those projects unless you audition…I think the only ladder is the one you make for yourself to climb. I only had local community theatre credits and yet I still got in for producers sessions for leads on Broadway and national tours. You can’t be considered unless you go, so go!”
Continue to next section Broadway Training