Tips For Child Actors From A Top NYC Acting Coach

Tips for Child Actors from a Top NYC Acting Coach

I’m very excited to bring you my interview with Todd Etelson, the founder of Actor’s Technique New York.

ATNY Kids & Teens is one of NYC’s top schools for acting & industry networking.

They have top acting classes in NY for Kids & Teens who want to hone their craft and have exclusive audition technique coaches and Casting Directors whose expertise is strictly casting for kids.

Todd was kind enough to share his wisdom and insights with us.

Thank you very much, Todd!

I really appreciate you breaking it down for us, and being so generous with your time and experience.

Newsletter for Kids in Entertainment

I published this interview a few months ago in my Newsletter for Kids in Entertainment.

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For more articles and resources for young actors and their parents, please click here.

Interview with Todd Etelson, Founder of Actor’s Technique New York

Tell me a little bit about Actor’s Technique Studio; is there a particular method or acting style you work with? Or is it more explorative?

ATNY is a few things. With acting, it’s about the end result. Nobody cares how you get there, you just need to get there. When I say there, I mean believable and engaging. When we teach, we lean towards Meisner Technique. It’s what I know best and seems to be identifiable with the kids. Most kids are new to acting, so there needs to be a method they can ‘label’ and read about. So, we use Meisner Technique.

How did you first fall in love with teaching acting?

I didn’t really fall in love with teaching. I fell in love with the kids. I knew the craft of acting, which gave me the fortitude and opportunity to spend time and relate with the kids. As an acting coach, there’s a big responsibility associated with it. These young professional kids look to you to further them, to help them achieve their current dreams. When I realized how much I shape the well being of the kids, I fell in love with teaching them.

What made you more inclined to teaching children than adults?

I also love teaching adults. To me, they are my kids too. The responsibility is the same, but you can talk to them in a more direct way. However, very few can really teach kids, so that became more of my niche.

How do you determine if a particular role is right for a child?

Usually it’s the agent or manager who will determine if they believe the role is right for the young actor. You need to have a good understanding of the actor’s abilities and sensibilities. Are they funny or are they more serious? Can they identify with the role in any way or do they have a special skill that will make them right for the role. Looks also can play a part of it. Do they look like the parents who were cast? In the end, it’s hard to tell who’s really right for it when you’re dealing with unknown actors. So, you audition and make choices.

What do you feel this training adds to a child’s creativity and day-to-day experiences?

At ATNY, we prepare them for 2 things. Acting auditions and life. We don’t take anything away from them. Rather, we add on. We teach them about being fearless and taking chances. Failure is not only okay, but it’s expected. You fail a lot more times in life than you succeed and it gives you the opportunity to see how you bounce back. Kids and Teens love coming to us because we make it an amazing experience for them, as people and actors.

What is your studio’s most popular offering, and why do you feel children and parents gravitate towards that class?

My guess is improvisation. We are known for very strong On-Camera acting training. We just great at that. But, they love the art of being spontaneous and silly. Improv allows for that. You don’t filter, you trust. And the funniest things happen. They love it.

What are the main differences between commercial, film, and theatre acting for children? How do parents best prepare their child for each?

Commercial acting is a different animal than TV/Film Acting (also called Legit Acting).

With commercial, it’s usually shorter or no script associated. Life was bad until the product [you are selling] came along. Then, life became great! It’s a 30 second story, not a 1-hour TV show or 3 hour movie. The goal is different, it’s to sell the product.

With TV/Film, you need to know how to act. This includes theatre. The difference between Camera and Stage is the audience. You don’t need to play to the back row in camera. It’s right there in your face, so you don’t need to project or ‘act.’ There’s more naturalism and plain ‘living’ the part with camera.

Parents should leave the training to the professionals. Don’t try this at home. If you’re not trained, you shouldn’t be teaching the craft.

How can parents be helpful to children preparing for an audition?

Get an acting coach. If you can’t afford one or there’s not enough time, simply be the scene partner for your child. Don’t try to act yourself, just read the lines plainly. Don’t judge your child’s acting. Don’t give them pre-prepared ways of saying lines or feelings at different points. Actors must live in the moment, so anything canned with not serve them well. The feelings and emotions you use in acting must be your own and real.

How important is it for children to experience the craft they are studying? (That is, to be taken to see theatre and movies)?

I think today, kids see television, film and anything internet all the time. It’s a great idea to take them to a broadway, regional or community production of something. The internet now and streaming video can give them a taste of anything on screen. It’s a great addition to take them in person to see the craft. This is where dreams start.

What is one major piece of advice for children getting into entertainment?

Keep it fun. I know it’s serious business. It’s a grown ups business, even for kids. You need to prove your worth to agents and managers trying to make money off of your abilities, so they can survive. But, in the end, it’s only a piece of life and you need to enjoy the experience of it all. It’s a business for life, whether it be your career or hobby. Enjoy it. Have fun. Don’t let the rejection play with you.

What do you find (if any) is the best age for children to begin their training?

ATNY has kids that start as young as 4. No, they’re not doing Shakespeare. They are doing improvisational games and talking about feelings. They are non readers, so no script. But, they will learn to explore and express themselves. It’s a great class for confidence building and relating to others.

What do you look for in a headshot/ what constitutes a great headshot?

Some things will never change. With a headshot, the right ones will talk to you. They’ll jump off the page and engage you. It’s in the eyes. Don’t glam it up or pose. It’s not a portrait. It’s a marketable expression of who you are. A headshot that talks to you is a great headshot.

How important is it for kids to have an agent and manager? What are the best ways to sign with an agent?

If you’d like to be an actor for life, you’ll need an agent or manager who has confidence in you. Unfortunately, that’s a privilege, not a right. It’s harder for girls than boy. It’s harder for teens than younger kids. It’s harder for caucasians that african-americans, asians, indian or anything else not caucasian. That’s because there’s so many white girls ages 10 – 15 who are already pushing to be a star. So, in the end, the pacing of representation will depend on your looks and talent. You can’t control what god gave you in terms of looks and heritage. You can control your talent. So, study and take the craft seriously. You’ll separate yourself by being yourself and understanding how to play copy. Be confident and fearless. You’ll do great.

Thank you so much, Todd! 

Want More?

If you’re looking for more interviews with industry insiders, you are welcome to check out my interviews with top NYC casting director Julia Samersova.

Julia shares her tips for child models in her extremely popular blog post here and then our round two interview here.

Thanks for taking a look!

Headshots by Daisy Beatty

About Daisy Beatty Photography

Daisy Beatty is a headshot and portrait photographer based in NYC and the Hamptons. She works on location and in her Greenwich Village Manhattan portrait studio.

She specializes in winning headshots of children and adults, from actors to models, to corporate headshots and online dating.

She is also known for her vibrant portraits of families, newborns, and pregnancy.

Her award-winning work has been featured extensively in both online and print publications.

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