Jun 02, 2014

Big Dreams, Tough Industry

A number of young actors give an end of year performance at Doughtery Art Center on May 29th, 2013. The center is a popular place among kids because of the variety of theater and acting classes they offer year round. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

A number of young actors give an end-of-year performance at Dougherty Art Center on May 29, 2013. The center is a popular place among kids because of the variety of theater and acting classes they offer year round. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

By Alyssa Sanchez
For Reporting Texas

Travis Martin had an interest in acting at a young age, and at 14, he captured the attention of a talent agency in Houston.

“They told me, ‘Yeah, we love your look!’ and that all I would have to do was take some classes first,” said Martin, now a religious studies major at the University of Texas at Austin.

The agency asked for thousands of dollars for classes and said if he did well, he’d fly out to Miami for more classes. Martin’s parents were skeptical and did not take the offer. A few years later, the agency would be revealed as a fraud, scamming many aspiring kids and adult actors.

As summer approaches and acting camps and classes fill up with kids with big dreams, it’s important to keep in mind how few actually land paying jobs. It’s also worth considering what kind of training is most likely to get a child actor that big break and how she or he might avoid any pitfalls.

Now 21, Martin pursues acting outside of school and has been an extra for several shows and movies filmed in Austin. He said acting is tough, and kids can be exploited.

“It’s easy to convince kids [of] different things. Their imaginations are so big,” said Martin.

Casting director Rachel Flanagan, who originally worked in Los Angeles and now works in Austin, said becoming an actor can be a game changer. Kids can get paid thousands of dollars for just one day’s work. But many more children than adults are trying to get into the industry, she said, and kids should start by working on their skills.

Some parents are more concerned with gaining access to industry insiders than with developing their kids’ talent, Flanagan said. Those parents are the types that can get suckered in and lose money, she said.

“You should not be having to pay a lot of money,” said Flanagan. “Austin is totally hooked up with awesome coaches, and the sessions aren’t very expensive.”

Kids can get involved in camps or take classes that might lead to auditions.

For the past two years, Martin Rodriguez, a 20-year-old theater education major at The University of Texas at Austin, has taught at the ZACH Theatre in Austin. Rodriguez said the Austin art scene is booming.

“Acting’s hardcore here in Austin. It’s like the LA of Texas,” he said.

Sometimes stage parents are a problem, he said.

“Every once in a while there is a kid who does it because of their parents,” said Rodriguez. “But most of the time it’s like these excited, extrovert students, and their parents say, ‘My kid would be a good actor, let’s get them into training.’”

Besides summer classes, ZACH offers a college-bound conservatory program; kids must audition to win admission. The four-year program is for high schools students who want to purse acting in school and as a profession. The program costs $1,200 for the year-round course, which includes classes and participation in a show.

But they can’t teach you how to handle rejection.

“I’ve seen a kid very upset that they didn’t get a role. It broke my heart, it did,” Rodriguez said.

The acting industry is tough for a kid, Rodriguez said, and it requires dedication. Call times can be early in the morning, and kids still have schoolwork, he said.

“They are kids; they don’t need to be working quite like professionals,” said Rodriguez.

Flanagan said parents of a child interested in acting should talk to casting directors or other parents about acting classes and agents. Effective classes pay obvious benefits.

“Sometimes a kid gets in front of me and I can tell they have been taking classes,” she said. “I can see they’ve seen working on their craft.”

A good acting class shouldn’t be expensive, however, and the children should be having fun, Flanagan said. If a kid isn’t having fun, then it’s not a good class.

A good agent won’t push your kid to do something they don’t want to, she said. If they don’t want to do commercials or film then a parent or agent shouldn’t push them.

She recommends not signing a contract with an agent right away and, instead, to give it a 3-month trial to see if it works well.

“For kids in Texas, I think it’s the perfect opportunity,” Flanagan said “A kid should be focused and passionate. But some kids just aren’t meant for it.”