Your child has graduated from high school and their future lays before them. There are many possibilities for what they might do—so many challenging, exciting paths they may take. You set yourself to helping them achieve any and every goal they set their minds to … and they tell you they want to become an actor. It could happen to you.
For some, this is a terrifying scenario. Acting is a arduous profession, fraught with hard work and struggle, uncertainty and rejection. You may even ask yourself whether supporting such an endeavour is the right thing to do—knowing how difficult your child’s life may turn out to be. But even if this is the case: it is still their dream. And odds are you are gearing up to help them with all the support you can muster. This article speaks to a number of pathways that can help your child pursue a career in acting after high school. None of these pathways are guaranteed, nor are they mutually exclusive. Some will be more helpful—and accessible—to some than others, depending on factors such as age, maturity level, confidence and (as always) financial security. But the most important takeaway for you, as the parent of an aspiring actor, should be that there is no one correct path forward. Know what is out there, keep your child informed, and cheer them on as they navigate the rest.
For most, this will seem like the obvious pathway. Drama school promises formal training, socialisation with like-minded peers, as well as structure at a time in your child’s life when freedom can sometimes be a drain on productivity. They will learn a methodical approach to acting, gain experience from in-house productions, and start to make connections with industry figures that will help them after graduation. Most drama schools will also cover some of the more mundane aspects of acting life—expect your child to have some tutelage in areas such as self marketing and basic business skills.
Of course, drama school is no guarantee of an acting career; one of the downsides of studying acting full-time for two or three years is that your child may come out the other end, lose the structure that has been propelling them forward, and immediately feel isolated and insignificant. While this is no reason not to study at such an institution, it is something that will serve you well to remember: life after graduation can be challenging. Have a plan in place to help your child hit the ground running.
If your child wishes to go to drama school, the best thing you can do is to help them prepare audition material early; help them learn and understand their monologues (or hire an acting coach) and, if possible, speak to recent graduates about how they weathered the selection process. If they are not accepted, remember that most institutions keep tabs on students who re-apply: tenacity and self-improvement is often looked upon favourably.
In contrast to the “specialisation” of drama school, tertiary study in the form of a college or university is often regarded by parents as the safer bet (“You should get your teaching degree, just to fall back on!”)—as well as a cop-out to young actors who feel as though three years of study in the field of commerce isn’t getting them closer to the screen or stage. Neither school of thought is completely correct.
While your child won’t receive the same kind of focused training a formal acting school might offer, some tertiary institutions nonetheless boast excellent performance studies programs. Your child will leave with a more rounded education, and a line on their CV that looks better to non-creative industry employers. As with any selection process, make sure you and your child research the institution, as well as what its alumni have achieved.
The other consideration that makes tertiary study an excellent path for young actors is the existence of social clubs and societies on most campuses. These offer performance opportunities and the possibility of making friends and future contacts; as they are less formalised than drama school productions, your child may also get the opportunity to produce, design, or direct a work in these societies as well. This makes for a fine diversification of skills that can be invaluable when they work in early-career productions that require participants to fulfill multiple roles.
Youth Theatre Companies
Involve your child in a theatre company (YTC) that works specifically with young people. If possible, do this early and let them grow in this supportive environment. YTCs will usually support themselves by offering after-school and holiday teaching courses, which can give your child some firm foundational skills at a younger age. These classes are yet another way to help your child build their ‘creative community’, and allow you to speak to parents of like-minded children—wellsprings of advice on how to help your own child achieve bigger and better.
As YTCs are often staffed by teachers, or industry professionals with teaching experience, having your child audition for and work on a production at this level is a terrific learning opportunity in a safe, nurturing environment. And, as YTCs are professional companies, they can help you forge pathways forward for your child with their industry clout: recommending drama schools, alerting you to other performing opportunities, even giving you advice on acting agents!
This aspect of your child’s development as an actor is a less direct pathway; however, it is still something to be utilised and encouraged on their creative journey. If your child expresses their wish to create their own career opportunities—writing or producing their own play, film or related media—this can be a terrific way to help them build confidence and experience! Invariably, all actors end up producing or creating work for themselves (look to our article on How To Write A Vehicle For Yourself for more detailed information); encouraging such entrepreneurial activity is always beneficial, and is a great way to combat the post-study blues when they are robbed of all institutional direction.
The trick with independent creativity is to impose structure; if your child wishes to produce their own films or plays to act in, help them set deadlines and goals that make such projects viable. “A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head,” wrote Stephen Sondheim. “If no one gets to see it, it’s as good as dead.” Help find ways to bring their work to life.
See Lots of Theatre
As simple as it sounds, take your child to see everything you possibly can. Give them an understanding of what kinds of shows are produced, and the kinds of actors that are starring in them. Help them develop literacy in the field of theatre, and understand how the history fits together. This is often glossed over in formal institutions; most young actors, as a result, lack some basic knowledge when they step in a rehearsal room that requires of them more than their bare acting skills. While not a means to becoming an actor directly, immersing your child in plenty of theatre is nonetheless a vital part of their development as an artist, in conjunction with any other pathway listed above.
Help Them Define What ‘Acting Career’ Means
Just as there is no clear path to becoming an actor, there is no clear definition for what an actor truly is. Help your child build an understanding of this, and ask them to think about what their life as an actor might look like: are they expecting fame and fortune? Are they eager to give up their day job? Are they an actor once they graduate drama school? Or is it when they finally book that first paid gig?
Your goal, here, is to make them realise that being an actor is defined by only them. The sooner they get this, the sooner they will make peace with the fact that not every role will be career-defining. At times, they may find themselves working a crappy job to pay the rent or teaching drama at a theatre company they’d much rather be performing with than working for. But it’s all legitimate, and it’s all part of the actor’s life. If they (and you) are lucky, they’ll see this for the blessing it actually is: an actor’s life is uncertain and difficult. And yet it’s also greatly varied, unexpectedly rewarding, and branches into new excitements without any hint of warning.
There is no ‘right way’ for your child to pursue acting. Once you make peace with this, find reassurance and comfort in the fact that there is no ‘wrong way’ either! The best thing you can do to help your child become an actor is to be supportive, assist them in identifying their options and normalise the ups and downs that come with the actor’s life. Help them celebrate victories, and understand that their failures seldom mean they, personally, are at fault. Be the voice of reason and encouragement—they’ll have self-doubt and second-guessing more than covered without you. And whether it’s on-stage at the Oscars, at their students’ showcase, or simply in a quiet moment you both share, know that they’ll thank you for everything one day.