This week, in Toronto, it's Fan Expo time! I'm super excited for a number of different reasons (one of which is the fact that some of the best Star Trek people are gonna be there). But, we've also made the decision to go Friday morning with H.
We went to Fan Expo last summer with H when he was 6 months old. This worked pretty well for us because he was a little guy still, and we just brought a diaper bag and the baby carrier. He slept most of the time on my chest, or faced out so that he could see the world. That was SUPER easy for us. This year, we have a toddler. It's gonna get interesting.
Check back here on the weekend to hear about how we did with H and the Expo. Hopefully, I'll even have some tips on how to navigate for you guys for the cons coming up in the spring (Toronto Comic-Con, Vancouver Fan Expo etc).
Anyone have any tips for toddlers and conventions? Spill it!
With school rapidly approaching, many of us are starting to look at what extracurricular programs we can put our kids into that will provide them with stimulation as well as a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes it's swimming, and sometimes it's dance. And every once in a while, we think that our kid might just have that oomph, that wow factor that could put them into the movies. With this in mind, I spoke with actress, writer, singer, painter and mother Cynthia Dale to get her take on the dos and don'ts of getting your child involved in the world of an actor.
And for a woman who started in the industry when she was just starting public school, who's starred on stage and screen, she's seen it all and knows her stuff.
Can you start by talking a little bit about your experience as a child actor?
I started when I was five; I worked a lot as a kid. A lot of commercials and tv work. I was the regular kid at the CBC for all their music shows and stuff like that when they needed a kid. I was really lucky that I worked a lot. There weren’t a lot of kids in the 1960s working. I have very mixed emotions about it all.
Many parents think that their children have “what it takes” to be a star—what do you think stands out among child actors, and how can parents recognize this versus natural parental love?
The thing is, even if you are a "Mama Rose," you can’t get your child a job. You can get them an agent, you can get them all the auditions in the world. They have to have spark, talent, something to get the job. You can think your kid is fabulous, but there has to be something innately there and I believe you have to be born with it. I also believe you have to be born with the desire.
There’s a lot of kids who mimic, and mimic quite well, and have a great career mimicking. But as far as longevity, and actually being able to act, that’s a different thing. That’s not mimicking. That’s a raw, innate thing that a director sees in a kid that is beautiful.
Do you think acting lessons are important?
It depends on what you are trying to achieve—if you are trying to expose them to many different things: soccer, acting, fencing etc. that’s fine. They will become more self-aware individuals. If you do it from the “We want Timmy to make a lot of money” perspective, then that’s a problem. You cannot teach talent. You cannot teach it when they’re 7, 17, 27. You can refine it, hone it, foster it, shape it, honor it but you cannot teach it at any age. And you’re not teaching a craft necessarily to a child, you are teaching self-awareness, you’re teaching discipline, you’re teaching them how to listen. All these things are hard for kids.
You don’t need to take acting classes if you want to do commercials. That’s a different thing. You don’t need to get your kid to get into TV acting workshops for the odd modeling or commercial gig. You really don’t.
What should parents look out for when thinking about signing their child up to a talent agency?
You want to be really careful about people who want to approach your kid or you and say, “Your kid is really cute, they could be in the business”. You want to be careful. That doesn’t mean that everyone is shady, but those who say, “It’s going to cost you $500 for photos, $250 for workshops” you’re in the hole, your kid hasn’t made any money, and you’re stuck. You don’t need to spend a tonne of money to start off. If, in 6 months to a year, if little Timmy has 5-10 commercials, and this looks like something you want to invest in, THEN maybe you spend the $250 on the head shots. Off the bat, you don’t have to. Any agent who says yes is shady.
Also, look at what the agency takes. Is it 10%? 15%? What is their track record. You want to talk to other parents of kids they represent. You want to talk to casting directors. You don’t want to sign anything. You, as a parent are a glorified taxi driver. You are gonna drive your kid to every audition they send you on. You’re gonna pay for parking in downtown Toronto. Do this for 6 months and if it doesn’t work, whether it’s not getting work, or the percentage is high, then you can reevaluate.
What do you think the most important role is for a parent helping their child into the world of acting?
Stay grounded. If you don’t get the job—which 75-90% of the time that will happen. It’s not about personality. You have to say, "It doesn’t mean you’re not pretty, it doesn’t mean you’re not loved. None of that stuff is why you weren’t picked." You really, really have to, at any age, but especially when they are young, you really really have to talk to them a lot about what’s going on.
And never ever use the terms “bad” or good. (You say) “Not right for this job” that’s different. And I also think it’s not something that you talk about with all your friends, because most of the time you will not get it.
Also, when I was growing up, I was never allowed to know how much money I made. My money was put into a bank account and that money was used for me, for new clothes, dance lessons whatever. I was never allowed to know whether it was 300 or 3,000. It was more about allowing me to do something that I loved.I really think you have to be really careful about the money situation. Kids don’t know how to put that into context. And then they brag about it with their friends and teachers and that won’t go over very well.
I was made terrible fun of as a kid but kids make fun of what they don’t understand. I was made fun of because they could see me at school all day and then they would go home and see me on TV. I was treated with respect in the business because I did a job. It’s not the same now. There are way more kids who do it.
How can parents protect their children?
ACTRA has a very very strong children’s union. Very strong. Every parent should call and talk to them. Ask questions like: What’s required? Agents? Salary? You do your homework.
Parents are always supposed to be on set, or there is a child minder. Always. If you aren’t doing a union gig, you have to be very protective and proactive. You have to be a mama bear about it. It’s their prerogative to take advantage of you and it’s yours to protect your child.
It can be an incredible experience for a lot of people. It was for me.
What words of advice do you have for aspiring actors?
You know, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a joyous life, but it’s a difficult life. And don’t be at all embarrassed if you do it for a while and decide you want to quit. It’s a lot of work. Like any job. It’s not all stars in your eyes. When you are working, you are working hard. You don’t always have the job.
You’re unemployed for 6 months or 6 years. It’s not all work all the time.
I’m really happy my child doesn’t want to do it. It’s a hard life. Now, if it’s a calling, you cannot change that. And you want them to honour that and do what they love, but most of your life you will be in rejection. And you don’t want to watch your child go through that over and over again.
As far as when you get a little older, I would say to any individual who wants to do this, get a business degree. Even if it only means you know how to pay your taxes, or balance your budget when you are not working. This is a business. 10 years later when you want to start a theater company, you’ll know how to do it. It will also give you many more opportunities to handle and equip yourself in the world. It’s not just enough to sing and dance.
And it’s not about having something to fall back on. It’s not an either or world. It’s an “and” world. And now-a-days, lots of people have more than one career. I’m not talking just job, I’m talking career. Different at 20-40 and even again at 60.
People are realizing at different stages of their lives that they have different desires.
And you should expose yourself to philosophy and history and yes, acting and singing. It will make you a better individual, and therefore a better actor, but really, a better person.
And isn't that what we want for our kids when we enroll them in all these extracurriculars? For them to be better people? I think this is sage advice for all of us struggling to find a good fit for programs for our kids. Expose them to all sorts of things from academia to drama so that they get the experience to become better people.
Last night, my dear friend Ari and I went to see Disney's The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it's got the right mix of comedy, drama and magic that is a perfect little piece for both kids and adults.
The story centres around Cindy and Jim Green, (played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) a couple in a small town who are told that after years of trying, they are unable to conceive. Obviously, the parents are heartbroken. One night, over wine, the pair start talking all about the child that they can't have. The begin scribbling notes down on paper and then bury the notes in their home garden.
That's when a little night magic happens and they wake up to find a sweet boy who says his name is Timothy (perfectly played by CJ Adams) is in their house, calling them Mom and Dad. Timothy seems to be very wise and very curious....and he's got some small leaves growing out of the bottom of his legs.
At it's core, this movie is about the fear and failures we face as new parents. About learning to let go, not get too involved and watch as our children grow. I was an emotional mess throughout the movie, as there were so many sweet little nods to parenthood throughout and CJ Adams has one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen on a child.
Garner and Edgerton are supported by an excellent supporting cast (Rosemarie De Witt as Cindy's uptight sister Brenda is a fantastic and polar opposite to Cindy's parenting style), and I can't say enough good things about CJ "Timothy" Adams. Jennifer Garner had this to say about CJ; "CJ is so perfectly cast...he is a lot like Timothy Green and he has a lot of the really mystical, beautiful qualities that Timothy Green has. CJ has this openness of his heart; he’s just pure sweetness. He is patient and kind and tender, and Timothy is like that as well."
Although summer's not over yet, I do think this one is worth taking an afternoon and heading into the theatre with your kids (I'd recommend kids over 8 or 9 because of some themes that may be over little guy's heads including death and first love). The kids will learn that it's ok just to be who they are and you'll learn that making the mistakes we all continue to make every day are universal to all parents.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green opens Wednesday, August 15.