My Stint as a Stage Mom

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Ever since Kennedy was a baby and it was clear she was a redhead I heard from people that I should get her into modeling.  Yes, she was cute.  But, what they didn’t know is that she was also crazy.  She did not take direction at all so her temperament was not right for a career in modeling.  As she got older and graduated from the terrible two’s she fell in love with dance.  The first time she went on stage you could see something change in her.  She loved it.  It was like seeing a different kid up there.  She loved an audience.  Kennedy was also at a dance studio where a lot of kids worked.  She saw the girls she danced with on TV and said she wanted to be on TV.  She had the unique look.  She had the personality (most of the time).  So when she was 4 we decided to look for an agent.

Kennedy had her very first audition on her fifth birthday.  Disney casting agents sang her happy birthday, which is pretty surreal.

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First audition showing off the gift she got from the Disney casting agents!

Kennedy was lucky to book a lot of the auditions she went on. Her first job was a print ad for Kohls.

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We were so excited for this ad to come out, but then we only got to see her behind! 

Then she went on to work for Nickelodeon, American Girl,  and Educational Insights.

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Her biggest job a promo for Nick Jr that’s still airing and everyone has seen on TV but us! (Be sure to watch until the end).

 

 

Once Kennedy started losing her teeth I stopped updating her head shots and sizes with her agent.  She got a few auditions here and there, but we weren’t actively pursuing it.  And now that Kennedy is in second grade and dancing 11 hours a week (that’s a whole different blog post!) there is just no time for modeling anymore.  Something would have to be sacrificed.  I won’t sacrifice school and she won’t sacrifice dance, so it had to be modeling.  I officially pulled the plug with her agent last week.  It was a little bittersweet, but I feel good about the decision.

I get asked a lot of questions about Kennedy’s modeling and I have to say I learned quite a bit during my short stint as a stage mom. Here are some bullet points if you are thinking of going down this crazy road with your kiddo.

1) Agents say snapshots are fine for the submission process, but I found otherwise.  I initially submitted pictures of Kennedy to a few agents right after she turned 4 and I never heard from any of them.  I am a professional photographer so the pictures were good, but I can’t take a head shot to save my life!  It’s just not my style.  When Kennedy was still asking to model I booked a session with a head shot photographer.  I figured if anything I’d have some nice pictures of Kennedy that I wouldn’t otherwise take since the style is so different from my own.  With those head shots she got meetings with every agent I submitted her to.  So, if you are serious about getting your kid an agent I would invest in a good head shot photographer. They know what agents want to see.

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Photo by amazing head shot photographer Amy Wenzel

2) If your child is over 5 they will be expected to meet with the agent themselves and to go into auditions by themselves.  Kennedy and I met with potential agents a couple of months before she turned 5 so I was with her for all meetings.  We did meet with one agent after right after she turned 5 and they wanted to speak with her by herself and Kennedy was not feeling it.  She wanted me there.  The agent wouldn’t agree to sign her if she wasn’t willing to go in by herself.  Part of me gets why.  The child has to be able to go into auditions and work without their parents in the same room.  At the same time, she’s 5.  This agent wasn’t particularly understanding so even if they would have wanted Kennedy I wouldn’t have signed.  You want an agent that understands these are kids they are working with. And Kennedy actually ended up being sick when we met with that agent, which was why she was so clingy to me at the meeting.

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3) Our agent gave us the option of what jobs Kennedy would be submitted for.  There’s print, commercial and theatrical (movies / TV shows).  I made the mistake to submit her for all 3 areas initially.  Why not, right?  Well, Kennedy wasn’t ready for commercial and theatrical.  She hated the idea of working with adults actors and would not do any audition where she had a pretend mom or dad.  Her first commercial audition was for a scene where it was a big family dinner party.  She was auditioning for the daughter.  She went into this room with all these adults sitting around a table acting crazy and she was terrified.  An adult actor came out and told me that Kennedy declined to participate.  There’s nothing more fun than driving 2 hours to LA, sitting in a waiting room for an hour, and then driving 2 hours home and your kid wouldn’t even do the audition.  After that I asked her agent to only submit her for print work with no adults.  They weren’t happy about that but it was a huge waste of time for everyone if Kennedy wasn’t comfortable.  Eventually I asked for her to be submitted for commercial work with no pretend moms and dads when she said she was ready for that.  You have to listen to your kids and find out what they are comfortable with.  And this could come from a little trial and error.

4)  You might not get sent on auditions right away.  After you get an agent you are excited to start the process.  You are ready.  But, it takes time for agents to start sending your child out on auditions.  When we got started it was summer.  LA is slow in the summer, while it’s busy in NYC.  So if you don’t get auditions right away be patient.  There will be a time where you are getting more auditions than you’d like so enjoy the slow time.

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Behind the scenes at Nickelodeon

5)  Because your kid could be going into castings without you and sometimes working with you not in the room, it is imperative that you sign with a reputable agent.  I wanted to know that her agent was doing their due diligence and sending her on castings with reputable casting agents.  I wanted to know that she was safe.  There are so many parents eager for their child to get work that I sometimes question their parenting decisions.  Anyone can get their child work these days.  Any kid can be a “model” with Instagram (you guys, I could write a whole post just about this craziness).  But do I want my kid in seductive poses wearing inappropriate clothes?  Do I want my kid working for free?  Absolutely not.  It’s not worth it.  There are plenty of parents eager to have their children be famous on Instagram so let them take those jobs.  I only wanted Kennedy to work as long as she was having fun and she was doing jobs that were age appropriate and safe.  A good agent will never ask your child to work for free or put them in an unsafe environment.

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Walking to set for American Girl

6) And just because a photographer or crew doesn’t want you on set doesn’t mean that you can’t be on set.  You are your child’s advocate.  They may not feel comfortable speaking up so you will have to do it for them.  If I was not allowed on set I was always within ear shot.  Some kids work better when their parents aren’t there.  I get that.  Kennedy certainly did sometimes.  But I always wanted to be sure I could hear what was being said to her.  That I could hear that she was laughing and having fun.  And if I thought she needed something I was sure to speak up. But don’t be a “stage mom” mom.  Don’t go into the bathroom and berate your kid because they didn’t do a good job (because we can all hear you).  Let the professionals do the job.  Don’t be competitive with other parents.  It’s way more fun if we are all friends and that isn’t going to help your kid out.  And be easy to work with.  If someone doesn’t like working with you they won’t book your kid again.

7) Being on set is a lot of work for parents.  There is a lot of down time.  It can be super fun depending on the other kids and set teachers.  But, it can be super boring too.  It’s your responsibility to keep your kid’s energy up and make sure they are fed and happy.  I would be absolutely exhausted after days on set.

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Early morning in the makeup trailer for American Girl

8) If you’re kid is big for their age they may not work as much as smaller kids.  Kennedy is tall for her age.  She is the second to youngest in her grade and one of the taller girls.  She started losing her teeth early.  Kids who are small for their age and look young book way more jobs.  This is because of child labor laws.  When you turn 6 you can work 8 hours a day.  2 – 6 year olds can only work 6 hours a day.  So a casting agent would rather book a 6 year old who looks 5 or even 4 so they can work 2 more hours than a kid who is actually 4 or 5.  We found that Kennedy’s size was for sure a disadvantage.

9) If your kid has a unique look they won’t go on as many auditions.  But there will be less competition at those auditions.  Kids that are ethnically ambiguous are the most successful.  Kids that look like they could be Caucasian and Hispanic and Pacific Islander and Asian AND African American will get the most auditions.  If your child has a unique look (like red hair) they will get less auditions, but have a better chance at booking the job because there are less kids with that look.  We always had fun running into Kennedy’s redheaded friends at auditions.  And honestly, I appreciated having to go on less auditions.

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A rare time when two redheads got the job! Kennedy and her favorite redheaded actor friend, Avery.

10) You are expected to drop everything for auditions and jobs.  I understand this.  But Kennedy has a life.  I have a life.  She hates to miss out on playing with her friends.  And school.  And dance.  And soccer.  AND Girl Scouts.  She’s the type of kid who needs down time.  Time to just play by herself.  And I have another kid too.  I felt like Brayden was suffering from not having me around.  We only live 30ish miles from LA, but for one audition we would be gone 6-8 hours depending on how long we were there and just how bad the traffic was.  I started to dread seeing the text message pop up from her agent that she had another audition.  I like my life to be organized and planned out so when an audition came up it that organization out the window. Direct bookings (jobs booked directly from their head shots with no auditions) are amazing, but few and far between.  So be prepared to spend a lot of time in your car and never be able to make plans.  You are able to “book out” with your agent meaning that you can let them know if there are days you aren’t available, but they frown upon doing that too much.

11) Kennedy worked hard so after every job she got a little money to go spend on WHATEVER she wanted at Target.  I had no say in it.  She got to pick whatever she wanted, even if it was a stupid Minnie Mouse purse thingy.  I always gave her cash so she understood that she was paying for it with her own money.  But the rest went directly into her savings account which she isn’t allowed to touch until she’s 18.  Maybe 21 depending on what kind of an 18 year old she is ;) If you are expecting to be able to quit your job and live off of your child’s income, good luck.  It’s not that much money when you take into account how much time you spend driving to auditions, fittings, and spending time on set.  And, honestly, I would feel awful taking any of her money.  I probably should have paid myself back for her head shots and gas, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it and we are lucky to be in a financial situation where that wasn’t necessary.

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I do miss spending so much one on one time with Kennedy.  I always tried to make the long drives and trips to the “Big City” an adventure.  And I always tried to make everything a learning experience.  What did Kennedy learn from all of this?  Responsibility.  She understood that if she committed to a job she had to do it.  No mater what.  Even if her best friends birthday was on the same day.  She was working and getting paid so she had to be responsible.  How to be humble.  Before every audition and job I told Kennedy “Being pretty is easy.  You did nothing to be look the way you do.  Being kind and smart takes effort.  Always be kind to everyone and show them that you are smart.  Being kind and smart is always more important than being pretty.”.  She learned how to work with adults and how to have confidence (although she already had plenty of that!).  It was definitely a positive experience for us, but I sure am happy to not have to do that drive to LA as much anymore!

And if you’re still reading this and interested in learning more I would suggest following Brandis Ohlsson on Instagram.  She is the owner of Ohlsson Model and Talent and I love her frank and candid take on the world of child modeling / acting.  She does a great job on educating parents on all things modeling.  Perhaps if she ever opens an LA branch I’ll submit Kennedy to her.

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