The Trials of Tech Week

Top Ten Ways for You and Your Child to Survive

For those of you new to the theatre game, tech week refers to the week prior to the opening night of a play, musical, or similar theatrical production in which all of the technical elements (lights, sound, set, costumes, makeup, etc.) are introduced to the rehearsal process.

During tech week, or tech for short, there is a lot of stopping and starting, allowing the actors to become familiar with the set, see if costumes fit properly, and check time allotted for costume changes. The technical production crew uses these rehearsals to fix any unforeseen problems and the director is able see how his artistic vision has come together, allowing him to make necessary changes prior to opening night.

I remember my very first tech week as a theater mom. My 7 year-old son was in a summer camp production of “Godspell” and camp was to be over at 3 p.m. I went to pick him up and they said, “Oh, it’s going to be a little while longer, we are still working on something.” Ninety minutes later they kids were finally released. This was Monday, and the rest of the week followed suit. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t they tell us? Why is it so disorganized?” I had no idea that what I was dealing was pretty average for a tech week.

Subsequent community theatre shows and working with, shall we say, less organized directors, taught me the true meaning of tech week. Rehearsals that go until 11 p.m. on a school night came to be expected. Last minute trips to Goodwill or the Dancer’s Closet for certain shoes or costume pieces needed for the next day were not out of the norm. It was not surprising in the least for directors, stage managers, crew, and actors to take another person’s head off for something that would have been calmly discussed in the weeks prior. I have seen many adult actors leave the theatre in tears under the rigors of tech week, not to mention parents and child actors who would leave rehearsal crying or looking shell shocked from their first theatrical experience.

To help you and your child survive this challenging time, I’ve come up with a few pointers that will not only reduce your stress but possibly make directors want to work with your child again in the future.

1 & 2, Keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, and do what you are told. I know this may sound kind of harsh, but it is something I have said to my children for the majority of their combined 100+ theatrical productions they have performed in and it has served them well.

1. Keep your head down means mind your own business. If someone is doing something wrong or that they shouldn’t be, it is the director’s job to tell that person not yours or your child’s.  While you or your child may think you are being helpful, with tempers running high due to stress, you may cause a much larger problem than what you are trying to prevent. Plus, it is never appropriate for an actor to give another actor a note, ie. tell them what to do. Let the director and stage managers do their jobs and you concentrate on your own.

Actors need to pay attention to where they are to be, when, and know their lines. If the director tells your child to do something different, even if they have told them ten times to go to stage left and now they’re saying to go to stage right, your child needs to say “yes sir” and do it. They shouldn’t question and should never argue about it.

2. Keep your Mouth Shut. Don’t talk in the wings or while notes are being given. If you are in the green room, keep your voice down. You should never be heard while the other actors are on stage. In addition to it being distracting to others, if you are talking you might miss your cue.

The director hates having to talk over people while they are giving notes. This is incredibly disrespectful and frustrating to them. Not only will he or she have to raise their voice in order to be heard over those chatting, but if your child is talking, they cannot hear the director and might miss something important that affects their performance.

The same goes for parents, if you are allowed to be in the house during rehearsal or notes, refrain from speaking entirely. If you must talk, make sure your whispers are so faint they cannot be heard on stage or by staff that may be watching in the seats. And, this is not a sporting event, NEVER yell directions to your child or correct them if they are on stage. This should be a no-brainer, but believe me, I have seen it done.

3. Be flexible. Tech week rehearsal schedules can fluctuate based upon how much is accomplished during the run. If adding the technical aspects or other production limitations cause the director to not accomplish what was needed, or if a specific section of the show needs “cleaned” i.e., more rehearsal time, then actors might be asked to stay later or come in earlier the next day. The likelihood of this happening increases as the week progresses closer to opening night.

Rarely the converse is true. I have seen a show getting on its feet much quicker than anticipated and the director letting the child actors go earlier so they could get home and get rest, so be prepared to either leave later or pick up earlier if you do not stay at the venue.

Either way, don’t complain to the director about it. I have seen parent’s rip into a director about rehearsal times fluctuating and I’ve seen the director never cast those children again because of their parent’s behavior. And believe me, directors talk. Those children were never cast in another show at that theatre again, simply because the mother was such a nightmare to deal with.

If you have shared custody of your child, please clear everything ahead of time with the other parent. I have seen kids not be able to attend rehearsal, miss a show, or be pulled from a production all together because both parents were not on the same page. It is heart wrenching for everyone involved to watch the child go through this, but more importantly, it is incredibly detrimental to the child.

4. If it’s not yours don’t touch it. I can not tell you the number of times I have heard of an actor being late or going on stage without a prop because a child actor took it off of the prop table or wherever it had been set. Children need to be taught that props are not toys, even if technically they are toys. They need to understand that props are an essential part of the show.

Also, teach your child to set their props before the run begins or check to make sure their props are where they are supposed to be if they had set them the night before. There are many times I’ve seen a child get yelled at for not having a prop that they either forgot to set until it was to late or they set it previously and didn’t check its location, only to find that it had been moved or taken by someone else.

5. Stay out of the way. I know it is enticing for young actors to want to watch the show from the wings, but for the sake of safety and the flow of the production, it is best that they are not in the wings when not needed there. Many elements relating to the production take place in this area and actors, as well as crew, need to have easy access on and off of the stage. A young actor in the wings can easily get in the way and possibly even get hurt.

6. Be cautious. If your child hasn’t performed in a specific theatre before, have them check the stage texture with the shoes they will be performing in before the rehearsal begins. If the surface of the stage seems slippery, put gaff tape on character shoes or spray the bottom of tap shoes with hairspray. You can break new jazz shoes in by rubbing the bottoms of the shoes on concrete or sidewalk.

Tell your children to pay attention to instructions given regarding the set and the safety of certain pieces.  Tell them to to pick up any loose screws that they may come across and to pick them up and give them to the stage manager in order to prevent themselves and others from being injured.

Tell them to be aware of their space when tech is added because they will be working with so many new elements. If not fully aware of the space around them, onstage and off, they could be injured or injure others. This is more important than it sounds. I know of talented children who have been removed from productions during tech week due to this issue.

7. No Jelly Donuts! Do not bring food or drink other than water in the theatre. I know many mother’s mean well and sometimes want to treat the cast or make sure Little Johnny has a snack available to him in the Green Room. But the fact is, with the hustle and bustle of tech week and shows, there is a huge possibility that something could easily be knocked over, spilled, drip or even be handled with dirty or sticky hands. The potential for damage to costumes and sheet music is great. Additionally, many people have allergies, some of which can be deadly. You don’t want to be the cause of a cast member getting sick or worse. So feed your child at home or in the car on the way to the theatre.

8. Be considerate of others. During dress rehearsals and shows, actors can be put in tight quarters together in the Green Room or backstage. Even on stage depending on the show, how large the cast is, and how small the stage is. There may be many times when actors need to be close to one another and nothing makes it more uncomfortable than a lack of personal hygiene. It is important to remind your child to take a shower, brush their teeth, and depending on their age, use deodorant. Also, be sensitive to other cast members allergies or olfactory senses by never using any type of aerosol spray in confined quarters and limit or eliminate the use of perfumes and cologne.

9. Be Patient and don’t take it personally. Tempers and sensitivities can run very high with the pressures the entire cast and crew are under during tech week. I have seen the mousiest, meekest of women walk in the door of the theatre lobby and rip the head off another actor, who was simply sitting there trying to inhale his dinner before the run. So be patient with others if someone does snap at you or speak to you in a stern way, especially if they are normally kind, remind yourself and your child of the stress everyone is under. Be like Elsa and let it go.

10. Leave the place better than you found it. Most community theaters and some professional theaters expect the cast to stay after the final show to help with teardown. Tell your child that if they are not assigned a job, to ask the stage manager what they can do to help. Directors, Stage Managers and the rest of the crew are very appreciative of parents who also help with teardown. Before the final show, ask what will be expected of your child, if you can help, if you are able to, and if so, what tools you can bring to help out.

Even if your theatre company does not require you or your child to help with teardown, it is your child’s responsibility to clean up their area of the dressing room, make sure they have all of their own personal items, and return all costume pieces. Remind them to always leave the place better than they found it so they will be invited back to perform their again.

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Ten ways to Identify a Talent Agency Scam

So you think your kid is talented and destined for stardom. Don’t be so desperate for fame that you fall prey to scammers.

It happens every day, parents who are trying to help their child achieve their dream get taken for thousands of dollars by companies that promise auditions with Disney and other big names but in the end just take the family’s money and don’t deliver on their promises.

I remember the first time I heard about one of these scams in our area. My kids had done a musical with a boy who at that time was about 12. The boy was a nice enough kid but had zero acting training and struggled to sing in key. This was his first show and with it being a community theater production in desperate need for boys, he was cast in a named role. His grandmother thought he was destined for stardom.

A few months later, I saw the boy post on Facebook that he had a callback audition for Disney. I was shocked. How on earth did this kid who had no training or experience get a callback for the holy grail of child acting. Now I know there are those children who have “IT” that natural talent and charisma that can get them discovered and then get the training they need to help them along. I know these kids. I can spot one out of a stage of 70. Unfortunately this boy was not one of those kids so I knew something just wasn’t right.

I remember how the boy was crushed when he and his family realized it was a scam. This company and others like it, go to city’s all across the country and run radio ads for an open casting call at a local hotel offering auditions for Disney. They lure these kids and their parents in with the promise of getting in front of top TV and movie casting directors. When the kids come back for their “callback,” they are told about how they really see the potential in them and if they pay them large amounts of money, they will train them and help them get the stardom they seek.

Lucky for this boy and his family they realized it was a scam and did not loose money on the deal. Many others get taken for thousands of dollars every year by this company that 6-7 years later I still here advertise when they come into our city.

Here are a few ways to avoid being taken by one of these scams:

  1. NEVER pay to audition or for an agent or manger to work for you before you book a job. If you are asked to pay up front to audition it is a scam! Agents and managers make a commission off of what you earn if you book a job. That is they way they make their money. Casting Directors get paid by the production company for finding them talent.
  2. Even if they guarantee a refund it is a scam and or they are not reputable. You might be told that talent experts will evaluate your child’s chances at success in the field and that they accept only a few people into the program, and give refunds to those not selected. What they don’t tell you is that the program takes virtually everyone.
  3. Beware of agents that insist you pay them for headshots or use a specific photographer. If you know of a professional photographer that is used by other professional actors and the agent or manager is not okay with you using them and insists on you using their photographer, that is a red flag.
  4. The same goes for agents that insist you pay them for acting training, Some legitimate agents and casting directors do offer classes through their companies that are reputable. The key is are they insisting that you take classes with their people and implying if you don’t you wont work? That is a red flag.
  5. If the agent insists you pay a monthly or yearly fee to be listed on their website, it might be a scam. Now that being said, there are agents and casting agents that offer services similar to this. The difference is it is optional. If the agent says you must do it or you wont get work, go elsewhere.
  6. A standard agency or manager commission is 10 – 15% if the contract for the agent is higher, that is a red flag.
  7. If you’re told the opportunity could disappear if you don’t act now, let it. Take the time to check out a company before you give them any money or personal information. If an offer is good today, it should be good tomorrow.
  8. If they only accept payment in cash or by money order it’s a sure sign that they’re more interested in your money than your career.
  9. Most states require talent agents and or managers to be licensed. If the company is not walk away. If you or your child have true talent another reputable agency will be interested.
  10. If it sounds to good to be true it probably is. If they talk about big salaries or guarantee you’ll get work put your guard up. Even for successful actors, work can be irregular and no acting job is ever guaranteed.

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It’s Essential To Tell Your Kid They Are Not Perfect

I think it’s fair to say 99% of parents reading this page think that their child is talented. He or she very well may be and of course you should support your child and let’s face it we all are biased in one way or another when it comes to our kids.

But even the most talented kids are not perfect all the time and parents who constantly tell their child they are great when they are not are doing a them great disservice.

I remember after one performance, I asked my then 15 year-old son how he thought he did and his response was, “Eh.” I replied that while he did a good job I had heard him perform that song better. He agreed. An 10 year old girl overheard me and told me I was “mean” because I said that instead of telling him he was great. I explained that it is not “mean” to be honest.

Over the years I have witnessed many of those children whose parents think they are the most talented, most perfect, tell their child they were amazing when they clearly were not. What happens to these kids is they end up with a false sense of self. A false sense of their abilities. They cannot fix what they do not know is broken. They do not work hard to improve on their skills because mom and dad said they are awesome so why should they.

From a very early age I have been honest with my children about their performances. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t come out and say, “Boy that sucked!” Okay, full disclosure, maybe once or twice with my adult son, but that was in a joking manner when he also knew what he was working on was very rough and he agreed with me.

I usually listen to them and watch them perform and then give them an honest appraisal. I try to always find something positive to say about the performance but then hone in on the areas that may be rough where there are pitch problems or they have gotten shouty. I try to do this as much as possible before the actual performance so they have time to make adjustments.

This is beneficial to them for a couple reasons, first they will perform better when the time arrives but they also begin to recognize the areas that need work themselves and tell me what was wrong before I even get a chance to. This has served them well over the years as they have grown up and had to work on new material on their own.

This has not only stayed true at home but also with those they have worked with, instructors, directors, I have always encouraged them to be honest with my children and tell them how to improve their skills and performances. Many have told me they appreciate being able to do their job without worrying that they will upset me or my child.

If my child is not doing what is expected of them they need to be told, period. My children have defiantly benefited from this. Over the years I have often been told by directors how impressed they were with my children being able to take direction and easily make the corrections.

Unfortunately not all parents feel this way and are highly offended when their child is corrected. Often, at a community level and professional level, those children are not cast in shows again simply because the directors do not want to deal with the parent. I’ve seen that happen many times.

That being said, my children only work with those who treat them respectfully. There is a difference in giving a correction and just yelling, outright being mean or degrading. My children have worked with people like that and have refused to work with them again. My then 13 year-old daughter once told me, “Mom I respect myself to much as an actress to work with someone who screams at and degrades their cast.” This director had never treated her personally like this but she watched the way she had treated others in the casts she had been in. I credit her stance to her working with real professionals both on stage, as directors and instructors. When you work with professionals you learn how to behave and how you should be treated.

Another big mistake many parents make is exerting influence over directors to give their child a role, a lead or a title. (This in itself is a topic I will write about at a later date so I’m only touching on it now.) This is in my mind even worse than constantly telling your child they are great because they gain a false sense of their abilities, their type, and their expectations for their future.

What happens to the kids who are always told they are great or get roles they do not earn? They go out into the real world and are hit hard by reality in the face. They go to college auditions at only the top schools, most don’t have second tier or safety schools on their list and they don’t get into a program. Or if they do get into a program, it’s usually not a top tier program, they don’t get cast in shows and they can’t understand why. Many simply do not know how to handle it leading to many problems. In their minds and possibly in reality, they have failed and having never “failed” in getting what they have wanted in their lives or careers before, they are ill equipped to deal with the emotions that come with it.

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An Open Letter to my Son and Daughter about Donald Trump

Editors Note:

Ever since my kids were old enough to hear and understand news reports of celebrities behaving badly, I have tried to talk to them about those situations. I would discuss with them why what that person did was wrong, and explain the results of that poor behavior affecting that person’s career. I think this is important to do with all children, so they have a clear understanding of what they are hearing or reading about. But I also feel the importance is greater for those children who aspire to have a career in the entertainment industry and may themselves someday be celebrities.

When news of the latest Donald Trump scandal broke on Friday, I know as a woman, I was supposed to be shocked by the comments he made about women the most. I have never been one to be offended by “vulgar language” so for me it was not about the swear words. And don’t get me wrong, it is never ok to sexually assault someone or make unwanted sexual advances and the fact that anyone would brag about doing so is appalling. But what upset me most seems to be something that is getting glossed over, the fact that he said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Let that sink in for a minute Donald Trump believes that because he is a “star” he can do anything he wants to including sexuality assault women, which let us not forget, not only violates those women personally but also is against the law. If he believes he is allowed to do this as a celebrity, what does he think being President of the United States will allow him to do? 

As a mother of two children who are occasionally exposed to celebrities and in the future will be even more so, and may even themselves be classified as a celebrity someday, I see this as an incredibly important teaching moment. Not just for me and my children but for all those Momagers and Papagers out there who also have children who are in the entertainment field.

The following letter was inspired by the very real conversation I had to have with my 14 year old daughter after she had read all of Mr. Trump’s and Billy Bush’s comments and decided to watch the talking heads this morning on the news. I could have turned it into a political conversation but instead chose to relate the message in a more personal way.

I want to be very clear that this is NOT a political statement it is a human one.

My dear children,

As I know you both have heard, Donald Trump has been caught on audio tape bragging about making unwanted sexual advances and sexually assaulting women. I want to make this very clear to both of you, it is never ok to make unwanted sexual advances toward anyone nor is it ok for someone, regardless of who they are, to make unwanted advances on you or to sexually assault you.

Now I know you think you have heard this speech “a thousand times” because I have cautioned you about being careful since you were little due to sharing dressing space and been backstage with adults, but this lecture is a little different.  So please bare with me and pay close attention.

Right or wrong, in our culture, with celebrity, comes a degree of power. However being a celebrity does not give you the right to break the law or excuse boorish behavior. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. In fact being a celebrity brings with it a responsibility to try your best to set a good example for those who look up to you. I get that celebrities are people and all people make mistakes, and you my children will make mistakes. We all do. But following the laws of our country and the bounds of human decency are things everyone should aspire to do.

Also being a celebrity should not give someone power over you as an individual. You should never feel that you have to let someone touch you inappropriately or have sex with someone because they are famous. THIS IS NOT OKAY!

Please always remember that no job, role or career is worth tolerating, or suffering abuse at the hands of another, period. Your self-esteem and self-worth are more valuable than any riches that may come from your career. By being strong, saying no and reporting anything that is inappropriate or illegal, you may not only save yourself but possibly many others from enduring the unthinkable. It will only be when people are brave on a regular basis and stand up for what is right that less and less people will be like Mr. Trump and think that being a celebrity gives them license to behave badly, violate others and break the law.

Remember that, despite what you have witnessed recently in our country, being respectful, kind and professional will always take you farther in the long run.

Love,

Mom

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Welcome to Dear Theater Mom.com

Welcome to Dear Theater Mom.com!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Linda Harkcom. I am a theater mom. I became a theater mom in 2004 when I enrolled my son Ben in a musical theater camp at the age of seven.

In the Spring of that year, Ben decided he wanted to sing in a couple of talent shows, the first at his school and the second, an area wide contest. While performing in the second show, it was clear to the judges that he had natural talent. They were shocked to learn he had not received any formal training outside of his school music class and encouraged me to get him voice lessons.

At seven he was to young for most programs I found and the programs I did find, he was to mature for. I finally found musical theater camp at a local community college. While it wasn’t voice lessons, it did involve singing so we gave it a try. From day one he was hooked and there was no going back.

Two years later he began performing with a local community theater and his second show, my daughter Aliya, then four, was asked if she would be in the cast. From that point on I had two on stage. Again we received guidance by one of the experienced actor/directors who was herself a theater mom with three amazingly talented children. She encouraged me to take him to get formal training at one of the area’s top theatrical schools. Thus began my children’s professional training and within a year, Ben appeared in two professional productions with one of the top regional theater companies in the country.

Fast forward to now, with well over 100 shows both professional non-professional, in my son’s credits and coming up on 50 on my daughter’s credits, we pretty much eat sleep and breath musical theater at our house. Both have also have some TV/film and other live performance experience.

For years people have called me with questions from “I have a kid who likes to sing where should I begin” to “We have an audition coming up, how do you make a resume,” “What should I do about a headshot,” and many others.

Last year after spending about an hour talking a father through prep for his daughter’s first professional audition, I first began to think of creating this site. Being a professional writer for most of my life, in one capacity or another, I saw it as a potential way to marry my personal life experience with my professional life.

My decision wasn’t solidified until after navigating the world of college auditions, which are highly competitive and confusing. Its so incredibly important to have guidance or to even know the right questions to ask.  I’m happy to say we came out successfully on the other side of the process with Ben being accepted into three college programs including one of the best musical theater programs in the country, the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music.

I plan to share the information I have garnered over the years with you my readers by writing about topics I have been asked about in the past, things I have observed over the years as well as new topics provided by you, the theater mom, dance mom, acting mom, voice mom or dad. Really any parent who has a child interested in any part of the entertainment industry can benefit from this site.

I hope to fill these virtual pages with information that will be as beneficial to the beginner as to those who have been doing this for quite a while themselves. If there is a topic I am unsure of and sometimes even when I do have experience in a subject, I plan to consult entertainment industry experts for their input. I hope to also utilize my reporter skills to bring you interviews with other parents who have been where you are now as well as children who have been through the process and industry professionals such as directors, agents, casting agents, managers, etc.

Check back here often or follow us on FaceBook at Facebook.com/deartheatermom to be notified about new articles or to suggest a topic.

Many have helped me learn the ropes over these 11+ years and I look forward to helping all of you.

Sincerely,

Linda Harkcom

Dear Theater Mom

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