Is Teaching Kids to Perform Worth the Money?


How much are acting coaches truly worth? With one-on-one coaching sessions running $50-$100 an hour, manager Linda Henrie is skeptical.

"An on-camera commercial class is OK, because kids need to learn the technical approach," she says. "But anybody under the age of 8 shouldn't have anything with scripted lines. They should be in improvisation, because when a producer is hiring a 6- or 7-year-old, they're looking at their personality."

Others disagree.

"Generally, kid actors are extremely smart," says director-producer Sean McNamara. "But they haven't been around enough to understand how things are in the world."

Adds acting coach Michael Woolson, "Let's say a kid has a scene about having lost his father and he breaks down in uncontrollable sobs. I ask, 'What have you lost that has meant everything to you?' Oftentimes, the kid will say a grandparent or a dog. What's damaging is [that] a lot of coaches that work with kids will give kids what's called 'result-oriented direction,' which means they'll say, 'Get really angry' or 'Can you do it sadder?' "

Coach Maggie Haber notes the process should be the same whether the project is a stark HBO drama or a light-hearted Disney Channel series.

"It's all based on the same principle: 'I am a person living this life,' " Haber explains. "But when you're doing theater or a sitcom, the stakes get extremely high and the physicality and the reversals become more important."

As in most things, the key to success and longevity may lie in moderation.

"Sometimes a coach get these kids so mannered and so calculated, the whole reason why they're special gets lost," says coach John Kirby. "You need to know when to touch it and when to leave it alone."