TV Blockbusters Spur Interest in Performing

by June Portnoy

There’s more interest than ever in performing arts and modeling programs because of TV shows such as American Idol and the hit TV movie High School Musical. Although only a small number of kid performers and models become superstars, most kids enrolled in performing arts camps and programs learn skills, have fun and gain confidence from their experience.

The TV Effect
“Many kids watch these shows with a determination that if those kids on TV can perform, they can too,” says Joan Bernard, owner of Barbizon Modeling and Acting in Ardmore, PA and Wilmington, DE.

“These shows give kids who are
instinctively talented encouragement to pursue their interests,” says Bruce Curless, producer and artistic director at the Summer Theatre Arts Day Camp at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, NJ.

“Because of performers showcased on TV channels like Nickelodeon, Noggin and The Disney Channel, there’s now a market for preteens and younger,” says Cindy McCord, director of the Media Theatre’s High School Musical summer camp, a four-week session starting June 25 in which campers age 13-18 rehearse and perform the show. (See sidebar.)

“Kids who are interested in performing are becoming younger because the market is filled with younger performers who seem very glamorous, and kids of all ages want to be like that,” says McCord.

“Thanks to High School Musical, boys now realize that just because they play sports, they can still be in performing arts,” says Bernard. “Boys previously didn’t go into acting or modeling because there was a stigma associated with it. Boys often got pressure from their fathers to stay away from performing arts because it wasn’t the ‘macho thing to do.’ This movie has helped changed that stigma. Boys are more likely to enroll now because it’s becoming a cool thing to do.”

“Kids used to be considered geeks if they were musical, but these shows are creating acceptance of being in plays,” says Curless. “I have 44 sessions of children's film/TV camps that all take place at college campuses throughout PA, NJ, DE and MD.” says Kathy Wickline, owner of Kathy Wickline Casting and its Film and TV Camps.

“Shows like High School Musical are largely responsible for colleges being much more open to sponsoring (non-credit) summer camps in the performing arts,” she says.

High School Musical
Summer Performances

Disney Theatrical Productions will present its new touring stage version of the phenomenally popular High School Musical at the Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, July 11-July 22. This show, part of the Cadillac Broadway Series, is based on the Emmy Award-winning Disney Channel movie. $28-$103,

Summer campers at the Media Theatre will perform High School Musical for four weekends (July 19-22, July 26-29, Aug. 2-5, and Aug. 9-12. $12 adults,
$10 kids younger than age 13.

Managing Expectations
“Many of the TV shows featuring young performers are set up,” says Bernard. “These programs might look like reality, but it’s really show business. You need to be prepared.

“These kids have had training. They have worked in the local market before going into the national market. It’s too much to expect teens without experience to end up on the cover of Vogue. The reality is that you have to be trained.”

“It’s the 15-minutes of fame phenomenon caused by reality TV, like American Idol,” says Curless. “People suddenly become stars. It’s that red carpet syndrome that has nothing to do with the art itself, which is the danger. It gives kids a false sense of reality of fame.”

“We discourage unrealistic expectations immediately,” says Rodney Robb, owner of the Actors Center in Philadelphia. “This is a tough business. Children must really want this, not just for the fame and money, but more for the wonderful time they have performing.”

“As a parent, listen to your child,” says Curless. “If your child has made a commitment to being involved in performing arts, encourage and support that decision. However, do not push your child into doing it, especially now with all the media attention on this industry.”

“When taking your child to an audition, emphasize that she has fun regardless of whether she gets the part,” says Robb.

“Explain to your child that during an audition the art director or producer has a vision for what a child should look like, and that he must fit that niche,” says Bernard. “It often has nothing to do with how pretty or talented your child is. Just because he isn’t chosen doesn’t mean he isn’t talented. It just means that he didn’t fit the role. Nobody starts out at the top no matter how good they look or how talented they are.”

Bernard also recommends that you always remain positive with your children and never give them negative feedback. “Encourage them to do the best they can,” she says.

Traits of Superstars
There’s no question that a superstar is someone with a dynamic presence who appeals to a wide audience. However, there is a lot more to being a child star than simply looking good or being talented.

“Attitude is vitally important,” says Bernard. “No one will put up with a negative attitude in this industry. Also, a superstar exudes confidence.”

“Super-talented kids also have the ability to listen to direction,” says Wickline. “They need to be focused, not fidgety. They must be comfortable with themselves and with interacting with others.”

“These kids have a dedication and a work ethic along with a natural ability, and they seek out master teachers to help them develop their ability,” says Tracy Richardson, program director at the Wilmington Music School in Wilmington, DE.

“A very talented child is someone who has a strong ability to improvise, good listening skills, and is mature enough to manage her own ego,” says Nancy Shaw, director of education at the People’s Light and Theatre Company in Malvern, PA.

For More Info

The Actors Center, 215-925-7060,

Barbizon Modeling and Acting,
610-649-9700 or 302-658-6666,

Media Theatre’s High School Musical Camp, 610-891-0100,

People’s Light and Theatre Company, 610-647-1900,

Rockdale Music Performance
Studio at Hillwood Farm,

Summer Theatre Arts Day Camp at the Ritz Theatre, 856-858-5230,

Wickline Casting’s Film and TV Camps, 877-809-1296,

The Wilmington Music School,

Wolf Performing Arts Center,

Lasting Value
“There is great value to performing arts even if your child doesn’t become a professional artist,” says Shaw. “Children learn to work in a group setting, learn self-expression, and learn about hard work and discipline, all things they take with them for the rest of their lives.”

“Studying music contributes to stronger academics in students,” says Richardson. “We find that many successful professional people study and perform music.”

“Lots of parents enroll their kids in our program for the poise, posture, and self-confidence they will get from this program,” says Bernard. “Everyone needs more confidence. Without this they can’t model or act. Also, it’s a good foundation for everything in life.”

“Only a small percentage of kids will go on to become superstars, but the vast majority who don’t will learn to believe that they can do whatever they put their minds to,” says Robb.

“They learn to overcome the fear of rejection and believe in themselves and keep going in life despite rejection. Self-esteem and confidence is the best thing you can give to kids. It’s better than making them into the next American Idol.”

June Portnoy is a contributing writer to MetroKids.