The Xmas fac­tor

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Cover Story -

With chil­dren dream­ing of star­ring in the Late Late Toy Show or pan­tos, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber they need to have fun too, writes Ar­lene Harris

IT’S that time of year again when chil­dren up and down the coun­try will be dis­play­ing their tal­ents in Na­tiv­ity plays, Christ­mas con­certs, pan­tos, and, of course, the Late Late Toy Show.

Eimear O’Ma­hony, pro­ducer of the an­nual toy fest, says hun­dreds of per­form­ers are se­lected each year and dur­ing au­di­tions, she and her team look for some­thing spe­cial and unique that show­cases the best young per­form­ers Ire­land has to offer.

“We love see­ing chil­dren who might oth­er­wise shy away from the lime­light but who love to sing, play a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, dance, or per­form,” she says.

“The per­for­mances are a key part of the show and add that ex­tra bit of magic to the Toy Show each year, so we love when a truly unique per­former comes our way. In fact, the Strypes were launched on the Toy Show back in 2010 and a young Imelda May ap­peared on the show in 1986.

“In the au­di­tion process, trad mu­sic is as strong as ever and it’s re­ally en­cour­ag­ing to see so many fan­tas­ti­cally ta­lented Irish mu­si­cians com­ing to us time and time again. The only thing that re­ally dif­fers from year to year are the songs that kids are choos­ing to per­form in their au­di­tion and that’s usu­ally led by what’s pop­u­lar in the charts at the time.”

Be­yond the ex­cite­ment of ap­pear­ing in the Toy Show, be­ing a child per­former is a se­ri­ous com­mit­ment.

Vincent Lambe of Young Artists Man­age­ment in Dublin, who has clients in­volved in ev­ery ma­jor pro­duc­tion in Ire­land, says the ma­jor­ity of cast­ing calls are for chil­dren aged from six to 15 but it’s not just a great singing voice or an abil­ity to carry off the most con­vinc­ing role — de­ter­mi­na­tion is also a big fac­tor.

“It takes tal­ent, but also a lot of ded­i­ca­tion, pa­tience and luck,” he says. “Di­rec­tors of­ten like chil­dren to have some drama ex­pe­ri­ence so a good place to start would be by en­rolling in a drama school, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a re­quire­ment as some­times chil­dren with no ex­pe­ri­ence what­so­ever will take di­rec­tion won­der­fully and can be ca­pa­ble of a very sub­tle, nat­u­ral per­for­mance.

“And for film and tele­vi­sion, that’s very im­por­tant — chil­dren should never try to act or do too much. The au­di­ence needs to be con­vinced by their per­for­mance and they should never feel as though they are be­ing played.”

But putting on a per­for­mance and al­ways striv­ing to be the best can take its toll on chil­dren and Lambe says it’s im­por­tant for par­ents not to put too much pres­sure on their would-be stars.

“It can be very dis­heart­en­ing when they don’t get

“Keep your child grounded, don’t over em­pha­sise looks, fame, or for­tune

cast in a role, es­pe­cially if they have put in a lot of prepa­ra­tion and been called back sev­eral times,” he says. “It’s im­por­tant that par­ents man­age their child’s ex­pec­ta­tions and al­ways pre­pare them for the pos­si­bil­ity of not be­ing cast.”

Fiona Bren­nan of Bren­nan Acting Agency in Kil­dare says a parent needs to know if their child is able to bounce back from hear­ing ‘No, sorry, not this time’. “And af­ter the ini­tial dis­ap­point­ment passes, they should as­sess if their child is happy and ex­cited to au­di­tion again,” she ad­vises.

“Hours on set are reg­u­lated for chil­dren but the re­al­ity of work­ing on set is not as glam­orous as many be­lieve — so they need good stam­ina and dis­ci­pline to work and en­joy the process. How­ever, chil­dren who love acting and have the right ap­ti­tude for it have won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences on set.”

Child psy­chother­a­pist Joanna For­tune and author of 15-minute Par­ent­ing, says par­ents need to en­sure they are not pro­ject­ing their own am­bi­tions onto their chil­dren and should en­sure the ex­pe­ri­ence is al­ways pos­i­tive. “The fun stuff in chil­dren’s lives is sup­posed to be ex­actly that, fun,” says the child and parent psy­chother­a­pist.

“If your child ex­presses in­ter­est in a spe­cific type of ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity, their cu­rios­ity and de­sire should al­ways be en­cour­aged. Some chil­dren might show ex­cep­tional tal­ent and par­ents will face the choice of mon­etis­ing the hobby, if this is where you are at con­sider the im­pact on your child’s en­joy­ment of the ac­tiv­ity. And if they can still draw plea­sure from it then it is no harm.

“Al­ways be aware of whose de­sire you are pur­su­ing, is it your child who wants this or you who want this for your child — or per­haps even for your­self through your child as a way of ful­fill­ing your own un­met de­sires.”

Child psy­chol­o­gist Peadar Maxwell says par­ents need to look at the big pic­ture. “If a child dreams of be­ing on the big screen, make sure their life is also filled with friends, ageap­pro­pri­ate ac­tiv­i­ties such as sports, hob­bies, and, of course, fam­ily.

“Keep your child grounded, don’t over em­pha­sise looks, fame or for­tune. In­stead, en­cour­age their tal­ents and in­ter­ests and re­mind your child that achiev­ing in any sphere re­quires a range tal­ents and a lot of hard work.”

There have been many mem­o­rable child stars over the years — Judy Gar­land, Shirley Temple, Ma­caulay Culkin, Lind­sey Lo­han.

How­ever, chil­dren to­day are likely to ex­pe­ri­ence a some­what dif­fer­ent route to star­dom than the icons of yes­ter­year.

Lambe says the dig­i­tal age has made au­di­tions and the in­dus­try some­what eas­ier. “The cast­ing process has changed a lot with tech­nol­ogy and it’s very com­mon these days for cast­ing di­rec­tors to re­quest ‘self-tapes’ and ask par­ents to record the au­di­tion scene for the first round of cast­ing.”

“They will al­ways have lim­ited au­di­tion slots so by ac­cept­ing self-taped au­di­tions, it means that they can con­sider a much wider range of can­di­dates to­day than they could pre­vi­ously.

“In ad­di­tion, for chil­dren aged un­der 16, the pro­duc­tion com­pany must ap­ply for a child li­cence (granted by NERA, the National Em­ploy­ment Rights Agency) and ad­here to the con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment as set out by the li­cence. Also, a chap­er­one must be present on set at all times.”

Bren­nan, who only uses chil­dren’s first names on her web­site to pro­tect their iden­tity, says there are strict pro­ce­dures in place and that the re­quired li­cence en­sures the pro­duc­tion com­pany fol­lows guide­lines for work­ing with chil­dren. “All chil­dren un­der the age of 16 re­quire a li­cence for their safe pro­tec­tion — in­clud­ing re­stric­tions on work­ing hours, hav­ing a chap­er­one on set, guide­lines on breaks for the child, and a cap on the num­ber of hours they can work,” she says.

“Also the child must be deemed healthy and fit to work and a doc­tor’s let­ter is some­times re­quired to con­firm same.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lambe, the per­mit­ted hours of work vary de­pend­ing on the age of the child; un­der-fives can­not work for more than five hours a day and must be given a rest ev­ery 30 min­utes. Chil­dren aged seven to 13 can work a max­i­mum of seven and a half hours a day, with rest ev­ery 45 min­utes. Those aged over 13 can work a max­i­mum of eight hours with an in­ter­val ev­ery hour.

“When film­ing takes place dur­ing school time, the pro­duc­tion com­pany must get spe­cial per­mis­sion from the prin­ci­pal and make ar­range­ments de­pend­ing on the ex­tent that they are re­quired,” he says.

“And an on-set tu­tor would be pro­vided in cases where their ab­sence from school ex­ceeds one week, but oth­er­wise, their teach­ers would as­sign ad­di­tional home­work to en­sure that their school­work is un­af­fected.”

If, af­ter tak­ing ev­ery­thing into con­sid­er­a­tion, your child is still in­ter­ested in be­com­ing an ac­tor, Bren­nan has some ad­vice on get­ting started in the in­dus­try. “A child needs strong nat­u­ral acting abil­ity, stam­ina, dis­ci­pline, and good lis­ten­ing skills to be able to take di­rec­tion,” she says.

“Many acting agents will take on young ac­tors and their de­tails are read­ily avail­able on­line. Also, many well-es­tab­lished per­form­ing arts schools give their stu­dents the op­tion of be­ing rep­re­sented.

“So if a child has an in­ter­est in acting, per­form­ing art classes are a won­der­ful way of nur­tur­ing their raw tal­ent and build­ing their con­fi­dence in a fun and safe en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lor­raine Barry of Billy Barry Stage School, not ev­ery young per­former needs to have Hol­ly­wood in their sights as the very act of be­ing on a stage is hugely ben­e­fi­cial.

“There is no greater thrill and con­fi­dence boost than hear­ing the sound of ap­plause and this can do so much for a child’s self-es­teem,” she says.

“Not ev­ery­one is go­ing to be hugely ta­lented or gifted but I be­lieve it’s very im­por­tant for chil­dren to be able to ex­press them­selves — I have seen time and time again, chil­dren who were hes­i­tant at first, slowly open up and lose their in­hi­bi­tions in an en­vi­ron­ment which feels se­cure.

“Per­form­ing is open to ev­ery­one on ev­ery level and should al­ways be en­cour­aged.”

Pic­ture: Maura Hickey

Molly Mc­Cann, seven, plays the role of Madi­son in Roddy Doyle’s film ‘Rosie’. Her first acting job was in a McDon­ald’s ad­vert aged five.

Pic­ture: Maura Hickey

Glen Nee, 17, loved drama from a young age but it is im­por­tant not to take it too se­ri­ously or set out to be­come fa­mous, his mother Tina says.

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