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Raising a TheaterMaker

Written By Melvin Tunstall III

Q: I have no idea what I am doing. I’ve never been that mom that pushes their child on people. It all has come together so organically. But again I have no idea what I’m doing LOL. How do I support my son in his goals and dreams of working in theatre? What role is it that I need to play? Do I need to move to New York for my son? Do I need to put him in acting school after he graduates beyond his musical theatre in high school? Is that the right move? 

 

First, let’s debunk your theory that you “have no idea” what you’re doing. You reached out to TheaterMakers Studio, so you know way more than you think!

Most importantly, you know TheaterMakers Studio is here to help you along the journey of raising a theatermaker and avoid becoming the next “Momma Rose.”

Stage Mothers (and Fathers too) have gotten a bad rap over the years as over-eager, aggressive, and too often clueless parental figures do the exact opposite of this week’s questioner and constantly push their child on people, convinced the fruit of their loins is indeed the “Next Big Thing.”

Not to say this technique doesn’t work. Pop icon Beyoncé Knowles-Carter shares many stories about forcing the women in her Mother’s hair salon to sit through countless “shows” while they waited for their hair and nails to dry- though in defense of her mother Tina Knowles, much of the aggression was from a pre-teen Beyoncé herself. However, when her father, IBM Executive Matthew Knowles, saw the potential his daughter possessed, he took his place amongst the greats in the Stage Parents Hall of Fame, eventually working his way into the offices of Columbia Records.

My personal experience was pretty much the opposite of Beyoncé’s. I grew up with a Father who, although always supportive, encouraged me to go to college and study something that would lead me to a “real job.” You should know that I come from an insanely talented family- I would say approximately 90% of my family sings. I kid you not, I- the Broadway performer- consider myself the worst singer in my family. I say this to give my Dad some slack for not being too impressed by my singing ability and thinking he had the next Michael Jackson when I belted “I’ll Be There” at the family reunion.

It was only after I won a local talent competition during my freshman year of high school that my parents saw that I could possibly have a chance at not only pursuing my dream but being successful at it. Seeing me excel when up against other talented students sparked something, especially in my dad. Within weeks I was in voice lessons and had my sights on auditioning for the famed Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. And when I received my first production contract with the original Toronto company of Rock of Ages, you better believe Mr. Find A Real Job was the first on his feet, tears streaming down his face. Here is the entire Tunstall family at the Rock of Ages Opening Night party!

And a bonus pic of me in my fave wig and costume to inspire you for Halloween!

Which leads me to my first piece of advice. You asked, “How do I support my kid’s dream of working in the theater?” I think your first clue is right there within the question: Instilling in them an understanding that theater is WORK. 

A few weeks ago I shared my favorite quote from the late, great tap dancer Gregory Hines: “I never wanted fame, I just wanted to work.” In an era when fame is easily attainable with one TikTok video and fleets faster than Sha’Carri Richardson, giving your child a true understanding of the reality of the work it takes to perform 8 shows a week, the countless rejection that comes with the business, and the amount of training it takes to make Broadway look easy, will save them from a lot of frustration and heartbreak.

If you are fortunate enough to be in an area with an Equity theater, then always look for opportunities for your child to work with actual working professionals. Most Equity companies will search locally when needing to fill a role for a young character. Even if there are no roles available, there may be Master Classes offered to students. Having a chance to experience the process and discipline of professional actors will give your child an education that even some universities can’t provide!

Speaking of universities… To answer your other inquiry, I think training is paramount after high school if your child wants to pursue a professional career. That being said, I don’t believe you have to complete a formal training program to compete in audition rooms. Many up and coming performers are foregoing the collegiate experience to create their own curriculum by utilizing the vast choices for continuing private training in New York City. 

If your child does want to go the more formal training program route, then check out the Hollywood Reporter’s Annual List of the Top 25 College Drama Programs!

Lastly, about making that BIG move to New York. That, obviously, is a huge decision that should not be made lightly. Before making the big commitment to a move, I would suggest testing the waters with virtual submissions for major castings. So many casting offices are able to search for new talent on a national level due to advancements in virtual technology. If you find your child getting down to final callbacks and trips to New York (or any other major acting hub) become a necessity, that would be the time to consider a move. 

The best part is, no matter where you are in the world, TheaterMakers Studio is one click away and our tribe expands the globe. We will be here for you and your child in any way we can to help them reach the next level of their career! 

Join us at the TheaterMakers Summit where we’ll be hearing from actors on how they collaborate with the other creatives in the room among 50 other panels, presentations, breakouts, discussions, and other programming. Click here to learn more.


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