As a kid, I used to whisper my menu order to my dad so he could pass on what I wanted to the waiter. In class, I’d practice what insight I wanted to share about the day’s reading in case the teacher called on me to speak. So when I begged my parents to enroll me in summer theater camp at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon, they were surprised.
But I was in third grade, and had just gotten bitten by the theater bug after watching a stage production for the first time, a high school performance of “Little Shop of Horrors.” As the lights dimmed and the curtain went up, I forgot we were actually in the school gym. When these high school actors transported me to Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop, I realized I also wanted to be on that stage one day.
The stage, I sensed, is where I could uncover my voice.
My parents nurtured my new passion and enrolled me in the summer theater camp, where I learned that I loved performing in plays and musicals as much as I enjoyed watching them.
Whether your child is a natural performer, or a soft-spoken introverted kid looking to come out of their shell, here are some ways to help them land the part and, more importantly, let them shine.
Go to the theater with your kids
L.A. mom and curriculum specialist for Green Dot Public Schools Mindy Melgar took her 5-year-old daughter Amelie to see plays regularly before introducing the idea of performing. “She had a lot of interest and curiosity about how actors prepare, costumes and set design,” Melgar says.
“She had seen productions put on by casts of children in K-12, but also adult casts (including Broadway), so she had been exposed to very high production value,” she says. “It was already something we did together as mom and daughter, so it was a very special thing for her to become part of this herself.”
Be your child’s biggest fan
“One of my biggest tips is for parents to truly be their biggest supporter and cheerleader,” says Nic Brannen, vocal instructor at Green Brooms Music Academy in Santa Monica. “There’s critics everywhere — including in their head, most likely — so they need you to be positive every step of the way.”
Putting yourself out there can be a very vulnerable experience — whether that’s for an audition, a performance or even speaking up in class. Rooting for our kids can help boost their confidence to step into the audition room for the first time, or to return after not landing the part.
“Even if they don’t land the audition or the part they want,” Brannen says, “discuss the positives with them once they’re ready to talk about it. In addition to what could they improve on, what were they most proud of.”
Help them prepare
Practicing before the audition or show is what gives kids the space to have fun once they’re in front of the director.
When Melgar’s daughter was nervous about her stage debut, she uploaded practice tracks with only Amelie’s part so they could listen to them in the car every day. “She got there by the second week and ended up having a very beautiful and affirming debut as a little actress,” Melgar says.
Local actor Lana McKissack, who has been performing since her on-screen debut across Antonio Banderas in the 1995 dark comedy “Four Rooms,” shares, “For those who do want to give it a shot, do the work ahead of time, then allow yourself to enjoy the audition experience as a performance opportunity.”
Make sure to have fun
Amidst the nerves and stress of memorizing lines or practicing songs, it’s easy to forget that performing should be fun.
“Remember, they call it ‘play’ for a reason,” says L.A.-based director and arts educator Ani Marderosian.
McKissack echoes this sentiment. “So, play, and view the audition as an opportunity to have fun and let your creativity go wild! While it’s important to do the work and be professional, once you step into the audition room, that’s your chance to be free and have fun. If you get the part, amazing! If not, you still got to do something you love.”
She also suggests doing something fun after the audition. “Putting yourself out there can be daunting, especially for kids. It is very common for them to leave the room and start thinking about mistakes they may have made or things they could have done differently. Having a play date or a fun adventure of any kind immediately afterward helps them shift out of that mindset.”
Whether or not our children land their dream role, auditioning and performing can help them gain confidence and grow their appreciation for the arts. After supporting her daughter through the process of trying out, rehearsing and performing, Melgar realized that “few things, maybe nothing else, can do that quite like being a theater kid.”
Southland shows this fall/winter
If you have a theater kid, make a date for one of these shows:
New York City Ballet principal dancer, choreographer, actress, author, curator and designer Tiler Peck presents her new self-directed show “Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends” on Nov. 4 and 5 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The West Coast premiere features four works with their own unique style. $29 and up. scfta.org
The Wallis and For the Record Live presents “Love Actually Live,” a multimedia concert celebration in honor of the 20th anniversary of the 2003 film. From Nov. 22-Dec. 30, audiences can be transported to London through iconic scenes from the movie performed live on stage at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. $69-$139. thewallis.org
Artistplus Productions and Pasadena Civic Ballet presents Little Women Ballet, an original immersive experience at Heritage Square Museum Nov. 17-19. The coming-of-age-story by Louisa May Alcott is reimagined by choreographer Emma Andres into a family-friendly holiday event that takes audiences inside the museum’s classic Victorian homes. $60 and up. littlewomenballet.com
Center Theatre Group presents “Dog Man: The Musical,” based on the best-selling book series by Dav Pilkey. The 90-minute family-friendly musical adventure follows Dog Man, who has the head of a dog and the body of a policeman, as he fights crime, chews on furniture and tries his best to be a good boy. Runs Nov. 21-Jan. 7 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Recommended for ages 6-10. $35 and up. centertheatregroup.org
A Noise Within presents “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 1-24, its festive stage adaption of the Charles Dickens’ novel. The annual tradition features whimsical costumes, original music and merriment for all. Recommended for ages 5 and up. $5 and up. anoisewithin.org
The songwriting team behind “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land” brings “A Christmas Story: The Musical” to the Ahmanson Theatre Dec. 5-31. This Tony Award-winning, feel-good comedy musical based on the classic 1983 movie will have the whole family smiling. $40-$169. centertheatregroup.org
The Broadway hit “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” will delight both kids and adults alike Dec. 6-17 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. The touring production features classic songs such as “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and eye-popping sets and costumes inspired by Dr. Seuss’ original illustrations. For ages 5 and up. $45 and up. broadwayinhollywood.com
Kerry Irish Productions’ “An Irish Christmas” returns to the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks Dec. 20-21 with an award-winning cast of dancers, musicians and singers performing Irish dances and classic carols such as “Silent Night” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” $50-$70. bapacthousandoaks.com
Nina Harada is a mom, artist and Digital Editor of L.A. Parent.