Brooke Shields was just 11-months-old when she launched her career in an Ivory Soap commercial while Jodie Foster took her first wobbly steps to fame as the adorable bare-bottomed three-year-old in the Coppertone suntan lotion ad campaign. It’s almost a given that many of today’s superstars started honing their craft before they could speak in complete sentences.
If you think your little diva or prince is an Academy Award winner or cover girl waiting to happen, be forewarned that there is no magic formula for success. It’s a combination of luck, persistence and commitment and when you’re young, looks will only get you but so far.
Judy Battista of Parkside Talent in Florham Park, NJ has been a personal manager for 10 years. She grooms children between the ages of 4 – 12 for musical theater and commercial opportunities. She got her start as a stage mom guiding her own daughter through stints on off-Broadway, Broadway and television. “I look for a child who is outgoing, has personality and they can not be shy,” says Battista.
Photographer Linda Bohm echoes those sentiments, “Personality is more important than looks because it gives you great expression,” says Bohm who specializes in children and animals. “I don’t shoot fashion, I shoot consumer. I’m looking for heart.”
Before you even get to a Battista or a Bohm, you have to decide is this what your child wants?
For Allison Colaluca, the decision was a no-brainer. Her son Austin was 5-years-old when he expressed an interest in performing. “I feel that you should only do it if your child wants to do it,” says Colaluca, a Morris Township resident.
By age 6, Austin, who is also a client of Battista, was on Broadway performing in the role of Michael in Peter Pan. He has appeared in numerous print ads and commercials for Aquafresh toothbrush, Tiger Toys, Tommy Hilfiger, Macys, Rugrats and others.
“He’s always been a confident child,” says Colaluca about her son. “He goes to one audition to the next, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week and he doesn’t care about the part, for him the audition experience was the acting experience. He takes rejection very well.”
Accepting rejection is a major part of surviving the Showbiz Shuffle. “The biggest misconception [parents have is] they all think that their children are going to make it and the truth is very few make it,” says Battista. ” The kids have to know how to handle rejection. That is 99% of this business. I tell them that even the best get rejected. There cannot be any tears if you go into the city and you don’t get the part.”
Being involved in other activities not only helps to have a well-rounded child, but it also helps when coping with rejection. Carly Seyler, 11, landed the role of Grace in A Christmas Carol playing at Madison Square Garden, she also participates in competitive ice skating.
“She’s fine with not coming in first,” says Carly’s mom, Debbie, “we celebrate for the fact that she gets on the ice and she does it and it’s great. With the auditions it doesn’t break her heart if she doesn’t get a part because she’s used to it with the competitive ice skating.”
“The child must be well behaved, the child must be intelligent and has to understand that it’s [modeling] another activity. If you’re going to have a healthy child emotionally, not winning all the time is ok. Modeling is no different than going into any of these competitive levels, you have to have that attitude,” says Bohm of the Monclair-based Bohm-Marrazzo Photography Studio.
Even after the rejections start turning into jobs, it’s not one way down easy street. When A Christmas Carol, Carly had performed in 30 shows while being tutored in a classroom in the basement of Madison Square Garden. The Mendham residents temporarily moved to an apartment in New York to cut out the stress of commuting. Fortunately, Carly’s father works in Manhattan and the family can spend time together.
It’s a different story for Loreen Jacobson, also a Mendham resident who coincidentally lives 10 blocks from the Seylers and they share Battista as a manager, she’s on the road with her 9-year-old daughter Nadine as she tours in the national production of Les Miserables.
“[It’s a] pretty grueling schedule, five shows from Friday night to Sunday evening, you have to be dedicated,” says Jacobson who’s living out of six large suitcases as they travel from hotel to hotel.
When her husband and 12-year-old son come fly out to different cities to visit, “it’s tough to say goodbye. Nadine has to go on stage and she has to shake it off quickly,” says Jacobson. While on the road, Jacobson has missed her son’s first goal in lacrosse and his performance as Joseph in the church play.
“I don’t think they [people] realize how much work it is for the parents,” says Bohm. “They have to go to the go-sees, you have to have time, lots of it. It becomes your career.”
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