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.