How To Break Into Voice-over and Acting For Kids & Young Adults

How To Break Into Voice-over and
Acting For Kids & Young Adults

By Kate McClanaghan


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Establishing Your Young Actors’ Career
As A Small Business


“When child actors act well they’re just reacting to situations, and they’re acting very real because their life experience is so short; there’s no history to fall back on.”

—Mariel Hemingway

Let’s assume you’re after what we’re after: to allow your child the opportunity to work steadily as a professional talent, earn a decent living (that may allow for a fruitful future) while letting them scratch their aesthetic itch. It can be done. People do it every day. However, as with any small business, it helps to be as systematic and as efficient as possible. That’s where SOUND ADVICE comes in and why we wrote, How To Break Into Voice-over and Acting For Kids & Young Adults. 

After all, this is a small start-up business you’re embarking upon here. This business requires attention to detail on many fronts: building and maintaining your child’s performance skills, in the production and promotion of your child’s headshots, resume, and voice-over demo (if it applies), in your pursuit of representation, and so on.

 The problem, however, is that far too many people will focus on details that are of no consequence to the overall goal of establishing and maintaining a career in this business. The purpose of this book is to help you maneuver through the industry minefield with greater ease—even if it may at first appear contrary to popular belief or hearsay. (Which is precisely why we have written, How To Break Into Voice-over and Acting For Kids & Young Adults.)


It’s imperative you embrace the technological advances this industry requires in order to run your child’s career and keep you in good, quick communication with agents and managers.  Even if you’re completely up-to-speed and have embraced technology fully, you need to know how it applies to this field. If you resist change, the future of your child’s career will ultimately fail.

Actors are typically taught to rely solely on their wits and physical prowess, which should be true for kids, provided the parents aren’t skirting their obligations of running their children’s careers and forfeiting any real career advancement by omitting the most basic computer and self-promotional skills. 

Part of the beauty of being a young adult or child actor is this truly is the only time the actor can actually walk into the audition or job and simply act.  As an adult actor you must handle all the administrative, financial, technical, communication, and scheduling logistics involved with establishing and maintaining a career in this field.  Instead, all of those duties fall to YOU!  All your child or young adult actor should ever worry about is stepping into an audition, onto a set or booth… and just “play”.   (They don’t call a “play” a play for nothing.)  Allowing your child the freedom to do just that means you’re doing your job well.  And it is a job!   This certainly explains why so few child actors continue in the business into adulthood. They must have had powerhouse parents who flawlessly maintained the administrative aspects of running their small business that gave the child ample opportunity to concentrate solely on performing. When they move on to adulthood, they suddenly discover that 90% of success is administrative.  The rest is showing up and delivering goods.   

With any luck, and with some dutiful application, this trusty reference book will help you discover what you have to do to help your young actor realize their dreams, and ultimately yours as well.

As H. G. Wells once said, “Adapt or perish.” Since the latter really doesn’t appeal, we’ll focus on the former.

Training, Demos, and Headshots

Your young actor needs more than a new pair of shoes every few months.  As an actor, his training is ongoing, his headshots will need to be updated continually and, if he has a voice-over demo (not all kids do), he will need to update his materials with some frequency, especially if his promo doesn’t look or sound like the young performer actually walking through the casting agent’s door. It will be a tough sell to secure a talent agent, talent manger, and book work for voice overs, land commercial acting jobs, or establish their acting career without the proper tools expected regardless of whether they are just starting out or not.

Headshots of babies with sunglasses and cake on their faces are adorable on Facebook, but less than professional, regardless of whether a “professional” photographer shot it or not.  Costumes are not appropriate either.  Neither are “selfies” taken from smartphones. Just honest expressions, with a variety of emotions are all that’s required.  A proper talent agent will help choose a few good “looks.” 

Kids with voice-over demos work—provided they have access to a talent agent that handles both kids and commercial voice-over, and provided the voice-over demo sounds like real, national commercials.  If your child can’t easily re-create what’s on his demo, that demo will be misrepresenting his abilities.  However, a well-produced voice-over demo can act as a remarkably effective tool to better define your child’s public personae and what sort of commercial work he’s best suited to book.  Without the benefit of having a proper commercial on-camera reel, an effective voice-over demo can offer producers and directors a better idea of how vivid your child’s imagination really is and how it applies to a mass medium like commercial work.

Honest Representation

It’s important to mention you will NEVER pay a talent agent to find work for your child or buy access to casting opportunities.  Not in any professional setting anyway. 

Talent agents are paid a percentage (usually 10 to 20 percent) of whatever productions or print jobs your child books.  But no funds should ever be required of you in advance of securing work. 

There’s honestly no real litmus test to determine whether the information you’re getting from a purported talent manager, acting coach or talent agent is true. Even the Better Business Bureau isn’t what it used to be. 

The best advice is seeing and speaking with other parents and children who are getting quality auditions and bookings through this same source.  Determine in advance of signing anything whether these other families are happy with the results they’ve been getting and why.  Have they gotten paid? If so, how recently?  What was it for? How long did it take to get paid?

Ultimately, trust your gut.  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably not a fish.  Poke around.  This is your child.  And always consider where you are.  If you’re in a rural area, is it likely your child will be exposed to steady opportunities—probably not.

You may have to go out of your way, but ask LOTS of questions.  It’s really YOUR job to be your child’s advocate and learn whatever you can to best manage your child’s acting and voice over career.

Copyright © 2014 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.

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