A Pragmatic Look at Entertainment Career Dreams

How many parents hear their children singing some of the pop songs they listen to on their iPods or saw in the last week on “The Voice,” “American Idol” or “Glee?” What about when they act out something they saw at the movies, in live theater or just something that has gone viral on YouTube (Rebecca Black’s “Friday” might come to mind). It’s truly a gift when a child enjoys music, acting, or any other form of entertainment – to the extent that they want to perform themselves. But when it comes time to talk about education and career options, many parents are unclear if dreams of an entertainment career are a good or bad thing. Most of us are not “stage mothers” (or fathers) who dream of our children becoming the next megastar. We want our children to be successful, and are vaguely, if not explicitly, aware of the failed careers of millions of people whose talents, looks and luck were insufficient in that industry. Further, we have seen time and time again where even a successful performer experienced a tragic life despite fame and fortune.

Some kids just have a flair for performing. When a child shows this interest, it can benefit her or him to nurture their talents.

These are real considerations. It’s a good parent who looks at this pragmatically.

At the same time, few teenagers are disposed to having their dreams quashed by unsupportive parents. One wonders what might have happened if Kathy Bates’ family had told her to instead study accounting (she majored in theater at Southern Methodist University), or if something similar had been imposed upon Meryl Streep (drama, from Vassar College and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama) or Kevin Spacey (drama, the Julliard School).

The truth of the matter is that few achieve the stardom they seek. But as with all kinds of study and careers, really terrific things can happen in their Plan B. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.9 million people in the country (as of August 2012) were employed in arts, entertainment and recreation.

Not all theater and film work is seen on stage or on the big screen. The industry offers millions of important and well-paid positions for producers, directors and dozens of other performance industry professionals.

These numbers go beyond Hollywood and Broadway to include places like Branson, Missouri and Las Vegas. Think also to the secondary entertainment cities ­– Chicago, with its vibrant live theater, comedy and advertising industries, for example – and at resort communities, which have their own share of performers. Which is an important point to consider: Talent is appreciated and employed almost everywhere. It’s not such a bad gig to work as a performer on a cruise line, where regular employment includes a lot of sunny days in the Caribbean. Or consider the film boards that exist in every single state of the U.S. and most other countries as well. These are bureaus, usually government sponsored, that seek to attract on-location film, television and advertising productions. Part of what they sell is local talent: extras as well as feature performers, plus all the people working behind the scenes.

Whether it’s on Halloween or for a school play, few children don’t enjoy playing other characters. It is generally considered a healthy means of developing skills.

This then brings us to consider all the careers of people who enjoy being around performance but aren’t the performers themselves. There is many a show publicist who got his or her start on a stage. After a point they may find their better options and career success – and yes, financial stability –from working in support positions. Other types of jobs in that 1.9 million number: producer, director, art department coordinator, animal trainer (think of the key importance of this job on ABC-TV’s “Animal Practice”), broadcast engineer, casting director, cameraman, composer, costume designer, editor, food stylist, key grip, lighting technical director, location scout, marketing director, post production supervisor, prop maker, screenwriter, agent, script supervisor, sound designer, sound mixer, stunt coordinator, stunt performer, voiceover artist, and wardrobe stylist ... just to name a few.

The paths to any of these positions cannot be described in a single blog. But suffice it to say that each of these is a demanding career that provides decent rewards to those who pursue them. And in almost every case, the people who work in show business love show business. This love is often rooted in an early-life exposure to shows, songs, movies and programs.

You can expand that exposure for a child before they make that leap to college through summer camp programs. Many of the best film schools that confer university-level degrees also offer theater and film camps. The New York Film Academy offers tweens and high school student summer film and acting camps (programs concentrate in filmmaking, acting for film, musical theater, screenwriting, digital photography, music video, 3D animation, video game design and broadcast journalism) on seven of their campuses, from New York to Los Angeles, Orlando, Boston (Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts), Florence (Italy), Paris (France) and Queensland (Australia). If travel to these locations is not possible for your child, check with local colleges and universities to see if they offer similar programs.

Even for those individuals who ultimately decide upon careers outside of entertainment, the confidence and skills they learn through the performing arts will always be a plus. The marketplace most always favors the person who can light up a room, a meeting or a sales presentation.

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