How to break into kid showbiz and not get ripped off

Think your kid has “what it takes” and is one easy discovery away from superstardom? Not so fast. Carole Dibo, founder and director of the Actor’s Training Center, talks about the scams that prey on the starstruck, the one-day workshop every newbie actor (and their parents) should attend and why there’s no such thing as “a natural.”

If you go

Breaking into the Business

June 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Actor’s Training Center in residence at the Wilmette Theatre

1122 Central Ave., Wilmette

individual, 5 parent and youth

(847) 251-8710

You’ve given many young actors their starts. What age range is the absolute best to work with?

I love working with kids 13 and up. I love teenagers.

You don’t usually hear that!

I think it’s just a great time to get young people into acting because you’re working with them on finding their own voice. The Actor’s Training Center is a no-judgement zone, so it’s a very safe place for them to be true to who they are. I find that they’re very porous and available at 13. If we don’t get them until 16 or 17, many of their defenses are already in place.

You’re referred to as “the kid’s casting expert.”

(Laughs) I’m the Queen of Teens – that’s what they call me in this business. I’m the one everybody comes to for referrals.

Do you have any favorite success stories?

There’s Katie Chang (The Bling Ring) who, of course, has done really well. She started here. Zoe Levin (The Way, Way Back) started here. Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) was one of my students. Sophie Thatcher, who’s playing Anne Frank at Writer’s Theatre, is one of our students.

I’ve had three of my students come back for a 24-hour theatre program, and they’re all in their junior and senior years of college, and they said, “I grew up here; I felt so safe here.” That’s probably the biggest success story of all.

I’m sure you’ve come across children bitten by the acting bug, and then parents who might seem to want it more for their kids than the kids themselves do. What do you do when it’s the latter?

We had an extreme here recently where a parent brought a child in, and the child wouldn’t even talk to me or look at me. I told the mother to take him home. So much of what you learn here is about listening and responding appropriately, so everything you learn here is applicable to life. But when there’s a parent who’s really pushing a kid, we talk to them. We’ve actually told parents, A – the child doesn’t want it that badly, and B – the kid doesn’t have the chops, and you should just let them be a kid.

Some of the best actors have other interests. They’re soccer players or love music, and casting agents are looking for interesting kids, not just for kids who want to be famous. We’re very honest here. We take our position as the middleman between the actor and the industry very seriously. You don’t want to float anyone through the locks who isn’t ready. And the parents have to be trained as well.

Because everyone wants to raise the next G-rated Miley Cyrus.

I had a parent the other day tell me she wanted her kid to be a YouTube celebrity! I just said, “Well, we don’t do that here.”

Pitfalls are everywhere for the parents of young actors. Can you speak a little bit about the “pay to play” open casting calls?

People will prey on parents because parents are willing to do whatever they need to do to help their child realize their dreams. Those big casting calls (that say they will) make your kid a star! You want to run as far and as fast as you can from those places. Anybody who’s going to charge you to represent you – run. Anybody who has an in-house photographer – no. It’s not how the industry works.

You want to be famous or you love acting? Which is it? You really have to get down to the soul of it. Anything outside of these guidelines, and you’re going to get ripped off.

Breaking into the Business,” your one-day workshop, is full of tips and tricks for getting a foot in the door the right way. What can parents with zero film or TV background expect to come away with?

I’m going to break it down into little bits. I’ll start with a presentation of who hires who. Everybody needs to understand the hierarchy in this business, and how you get through the maze. What does an agent do, how do you get an agent, where do you find and how do you get auditions.

I have a casting director and agents coming in. I have some successful actors who have made it in Chicago coming in. I’ll talk about what makes a good headshot. Everything that would take a parent about a year of knocking around, making bad mistakes (to find out). And I have the people who actually make it happen sit and answer questions. I’ve been doing this a really long time, so I know what questions to fire at them. They want the public educated as well because it makes their job way easier.

Besides buying tickets soon because of its popularity, is there anything else you’d like prospective attendees to know?

I think the most important thing for parents to know is that nothing is “natural.” Everybody needs training. You can’t throw somebody on a stage or on a set. It comes from taking an improv class so you’re free, it comes from text analysis class, so you can find the clues in a script, and if you don’t want to go through that whole journey, then you don’t want it badly enough. I love the journey.

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