My son, three and a half years old, is cautious. Pretty much from birth we had no reason to worry that he would put something dangerous in his mouth, because nothing went in his mouth unless he knew exactly what it was. This made getting him to eat a colossal pain in the buns, but at least I was never the least bit concerned about finding pennies, or worse, in his you-know-what.
My not-quite-two-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is ridiculously and terrifyingly fearless. Like Amelia Earhart or Alex Honnold (google him) fearless. Forget her brother, there is nothing that an adult can do that she can’t do herself. She recently scaled, to my horror, an almost two story high inflatable ladder at a funhouse (she should not have been on that ladder). She routinely picks fights with wild turkeys that are easily twice her size (our neighborhood has turkeys. It’s a whole thing – they’re terrible).
The two of them, as a weird little tag team, have taught my wife and I more in the last couple of years than we ever imagined we didn’t know. So, while I am by no means yet an expert on children, as my friends with older kids like to remind me, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two, as that awesome actor says sometimes in commercials.
Which brings us to the relevant part of this entry. At Slate, we do a lot of kids casting. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something that we pride ourselves on being very good at.
Working with kids requires a completely different toolbox than working with adults. Sure, adults are all unique. We have distinct experiences, varying levels of talent and education, diverse viewpoints, etc. But adults who come in to audition for us, from the most accomplished trained actors to “real people” who have never been on a set before, all at least understand what they are doing, why they are there, and what you are saying when you give them direction. And they are capable of sitting still for more than .0003 seconds.
Kids…not so much. With an adult, you can tell them what you want. With kids, you have to show them. Phrases like, “bring it down” or “bring it up” or “use a British accent” or “give me full valley girl” draw only blank stares from a six-year-old. Instead, you have get on your knees and demonstrate. If you want them to be sad you have to show them a sad face. If you want them to be excited, you have to be excited. You have to jump up and down like a fool, dance with them, sing with them, and play with them. More than anything, you have to make the audition room FUN.
If that is not exhausting enough, you also have to take into account what my children have taught me. No two kids are alike. At all. Some kids just need a high five and few seconds of silly music. Others need a little time to adjust. If I was auditioning my son, I would let him watch other kids from the back of the room and wait for him to let me know he is ready. For my daughter, I would just throw her in front of the camera and hope that in her frenzy she did something approximating the action. They would both do great, but getting them there would require totally different approaches.
You don’t have to be a parent to be good with kids. Some people are just naturals. But you have to be patient, you have to be observant, and you have to be willing to participate on their level. My little lunatics have helped me immeasurably to understand that.
Now, if I could only get some sleep…