It’s Spring Break here and my daughter insisted we go rollerskating at least once. I looked online for a place in Milwaukee, and when we got there I saw little rooms decorated with themes for kids’ birthday parties. The one that caught my attention had The F Word on the wall.
Okay, it’s not the one you’re thinking of right now. That would be crazy! But it’s a different four-letter word that gets thrown around a lot: Fame. No doubt, that room gets a lot of use as every kid wants to feel like the center of attention on their birthday, right?
When I lived in Houston, I often heard radio ads suggesting anyone’s child could be the next Disney star. These ads were unquestionably misleading and the hosts of anyone-is-welcome-to-audition events at local hotel ballrooms had no actual connection to Disney. But they fed into any young person’s dreams of being famous and tapped into a parent’s desire to make their child happy.
Setting up fame as a goal and not a by-product seems ridiculous and yet I hear people casually refer to young “unknown” actors as stars, superstars, or celebrities. We live in a culture where fame is a concept fed to kids at an early age and can distort their sense of what’s important. They can forget their primary part in this business is serving the needs of productions, not their own egos.
Now we know imagination is essential at any age and especially at young age. Child actors need that sense of imagination to create compelling auditions and characters on screen and on stage. Their imaginations should be developed and nurtured, free from being tied specifically to the end game of success and fame.
When I heard David Bowie died in January, I spent a couple of hours listening to his hit songs from the 70’s and 80’s, including Fame. He’s not recommending it as evident in the line, “Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.” The 1975 was co-written in part by John Lennon who addressed the concept of fame in his song Watching the Wheels released the year after his murder.
“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go”
I work with a 3rd grade student who enjoys performing, participates in a drama class, and will be part of a high school musical next month. When we talk about acting, his focus tends to be on major films and roles in them he would like me to book. I find myself redirecting him to think about the process of getting and preparing for auditions and making choices in seeking roles that allow us to grow as people and as actors, regardless of the size and budget of a project. It’s a tough concept to sell to a 9 year-old.
It’s not just 9 year-olds who need convincing. I meet many adults who don’t understand what acting professionally means. They don’t understand the demands of getting auditions last-minute, they can’t figure out how we learn lines so quickly, they’re confused when we tell them we can take a 2-10 hour round trip to be in an audition room for five minutes. This kind of devotion to the craft has nothing to do with fame for most of us. We love it and it’s that love of it that fuels our journey.
Now some of us will become famous for acting. Perhaps someone you know personally right now has become famous for it. But it’s important to remember fame is usually the result of luck and does not serve you best set up as a finish line in your career. Instead, focus on learning about the business, choosing your potential roles wisely, and enjoying everything, even the struggles and challenges because how you respond to them will ultimately define you more than any success or fame ever will.