Op-Ed: Kids in Showbiz
On camera: Not particularly safe for kids.
I’m never enthusiastic when a parent asks me about getting their kids into professional on-camera acting. The question should always be, “How does it benefit the kid?” In the long run, the answer is, “It rarely does.”
Doing plays, musicals, choirs can be a great learning experience for a kid. You get to work with and learn from grown ups in a sort of “voluntary family” way. It’s supportive and the emphasis is on making a show, making collaborative art for the fun of it.
But I’m extremely leery of throwing children to the wolves of professional on-camera showbiz (which involves money). It’s not a world that values what I would call normal healthy relationships. Isolated from the socialization of school and family home life, it is an isolated and artificial world. The on-camera version of success ultimately leads to a life with no boundaries, which in my view is not well suited for kids. It’s seductive and basically not all that safe.
Parent/child roles are often reversed far too early when the child becomes the big bread winner and the parents are reduced to being personal assistants or managers with dollar signs in their eyes. The parent/child dynamic becomes more about money and fame. The last thing a child needs is a world where no one is left to say “no,” and that is precisely where on-camera leads. Examples of what I’m talking about are all over the news on a daily basis.
Big fame and money that always seem waiting at the end of the on-camera rainbow offers a world where the only boundaries left are the internal ones. This is fine if you have those in place. But kids don’t (a glance at People magazine apparently shows that most grown ups don’t either). It is generally not a world where a child can find what they really need: love, parental presence and a grounded sense of connection and “normal.” Quite the opposite. It strikes me this is why many talented young on-camera performers implode after reaching success- they are defenseless against the onslaught of fame and paparazzi. Would you want your child hunted like a animal by the press? Me either.
The way I see it, you only get one shot at a childhood. On-camera showbiz strikes me as a great way to lose out on that. This is the trap that awaits many parents who naively strive to feed their own children to the Great American Fame Machine.
Voice overs, on the other hand, is more contained and cordoned off, in a sense, which is much better for a child: The money can be good, but isn’t crazy, sessions are relatively brief, and TMZ has no interest. It is comforting to me that I’ve never seen an “E! True Hollywood Story” about a voice actor. This is perhaps the best indicator of all.
Why I’ve chosen voice overs as my career:
I stopped doing on-camera acting a number of years ago and couldn’t be happier just doing V.O. Voice acting is quick, air-conditioned and you don’t have to memorize any lines. You’re in, you’re out. One can work a few gigs in an afternoon and still have time to get home and spend time with family and cook dinner. That’s more my style. Voice overs also potentially offers an actor a life long career. Unlike on-camera, you can still work as a voice actor when you’ve lost your youth or you grow out of a specific physical type. You don’t have to worry so much about being typecast or cast according to your age, appearance or even species. You have a much greater variety of work available. There’s very little exclusivity in V.O. either– work all the shows and networks you can at once. Also, there are none of those parasitic on-camera paparazzi chasing you or your family around. No toxic fame to manage. You can actually have a normal life with normal relationships and relative privacy.
I’ve tried on-camera. I can honestly say it was fun, but at this chapter in life for me, on-camera acting means an awful lot of standing around and waiting while eating too much of what I shouldn’t at craft services– away from those I love– so, no thanks. I’ll stick with voice overs.
What can I say that hasn’t already been finely expressed by everyone, this site has been a tremendous guide for a novice like myself that loves Voice Over! well written with honest advice.
Without writing too much, I have been a fan of voice acting for the past 10 years or so and unfortunately it’s taken me awhile to get my bearings… living far away (PR) from “work” and coming from a modest low-middle class family, at times it’s frustrating and overwhelming knowing so many things about this world that I can’t participate yet but I’m thankful that the internet brings the information that much closer and makes me study up and feel like I can make this dream a reality inch by inch.
I could go on but once more thanks a bunch! Blessings and continued success!
Cigarettes keep burning up in my fingers and my coffee gets going cold because I can’t seen to put my phone down while reading through this. I can’t believe all the info and time you put into this! This and stuff like Rob Paulson’s podcast are so great and offer so much about voice acting and everything else. If this info wasn’t readily available I wouldn’t know where to even start… Now I can’t imagine doing anything else! Thank you, Mr. Baker. Hopefully I’ll get to work with you and so many other great actors someday!
This website has really helped me visualize what I want to do with my life[…] I cannot thank hardworking people like you, Rob Paulsen and many others for opening up a new world to me.
Do you have any tips for a teenager who wants to stand out in this sort of field? Especially since My family has low income and I live in a small town in the Midwest. […] I just don’t want to be naive or stupid when it comes to what I know for sure I want to do with my life.
My approach applies to any age wherever you live (check my FAQ and Starting from Zero pages). It’s a long process of learning and testing, failure and fun.
You have an advantage starting your exploration of acting without money being tangled up with it. I grew up acting/creating for fun in a small town. But I had other interests as well and still do.
Most creatives currently earning a living in “The Big City” didn’t start there. Most found their path over many years after unexpected twists.
Don’t put the pressure on yourself of having to find “what you want to do with your life.” You are exploring, having fun, seeing where it leads. The stakes are no more dramatic than this at this point. You can’t tell if this works for you until you give it a good try.
And, as I say, your path will not be like others. There is no one way to try/learn acting and VO as an amateur, nor is there one path (or school, or class, or guru) that will offer some “golden key,” to a successful career.