Kids are sponges. They see it, they do it. So if you are a parent, and you’re an entertainer, it’s in the kid’s genetic code to be one too. My kids grew up in our living room listening to our Carolers sing in 4-part harmony. They watched me create holiday shows for Universal and Disney world. They were on the road with Toxic Audio, (now Vox Audio our drama-desk winning acapella group), watching from the wings as we did jazz chords, improvised songs, and did crazy beat-box drum beats. That’s how we paid the rent, and they knew it. So they mimicked us. I think the defining moment for my oldest son, Julian, was when we were doing a sound check at an outdoor amphitheater in Witchita, Kansas and I was holding him, he was maybe 2 years old, and he grabbed the mic and sang “Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I…” and held the final “Ohhhh” out for a full 5 seconds with a Pavarotti flair. The crowd went wild, and he smiled in satisfaction. I knew right then and there that I’d ruined his life. He would be an entertainer.
Kids In The Biz
Flash forward 20 years, Julian James has been given a full scholarship to NYU to study acting at Tisch. (I will NEVER miss an opportunity to brag about that…low key… FULL RIDE!) My youngest, Jason is studying screenwriting at Chapman in California. (I’m extremely jealous of him) My oldest, Ashley is going to be a doctor. (Lame, right? I have no genetic pull there as she is my step-daughter, so as brilliant and beautiful as she is, my theory still stands.) All three kids have performed in the Frog Choir in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It thrills me that both their cast mates and managers love to see them in the green room. They work hard, sing well, and are easy to get along with. That’s every show-parent’s dream.
“Show kids-they work hard, sing well, and are easy to get along with.”
So when the time came to grab a vocal percussionist for our Vox Audio cruise ship show, Julian was a natural choice. (It also didn’t hurt that the show was in Alaska, and our cruise could double as a family vacation where the boys and I could hike a glacier.)
Since he’d been watching the show since he was an infant and knew all the bits by heart, Julian’s performance was awesome. As a dad, I was so proud when people approached him during the meet and greet and asked him for his autograph. But as a performer myself it was surreal-like that scene from Back to the Future where Marty McFly is looking at himself, but 20 years younger! (If you don’t get that reference, I’m not sure we can be friends.)
I had this strange mixture of pride and fear and I wondered if other show parents felt the same way. Would my kid succeed in life? How far can charisma and talent get you?
My grandmother’s voice was ringing in my head, “You’ll never get a job!”
“The only thing harder than being an actor is being a writer!”
“What are you going to do to pay the rent?”
Had I doomed my kids with my “if you can dream it, you can do it” attitude? (Thanks a lot, Walt.)
I reached out to other show parents for answers.
Keelan Parham, Artistic Talent Group
Keelan Parham is an award-winning artist and business owner whose amazing work is sold around the country. He and his wife, Barbie (yes she was the real live Barbie for the Mattel Toy company, but that’s a different blog) own Artistic Talent Group , a visual artists’ talent agency that represents artists for live events From caricatures to name works and my personal favorite, butt sketches (yes they will capture your good side) there’s something for everyone. The family has over twelve Walt Disney World locations, including The Art Corner, at Disney Springs, where you create your own decorative scarves by marbling (it’s like magic) and purchase some art painted with real coffee. But don’t lick the coffee paintings. (Since my visit they have enacted a very strict “you lick it, you buy it” policy. My bad.)
Keelan’s daughter Brady could draw very well since she was a toddler. Now at 21, she is one of his top-selling artists. I asked Keelan what the most rewarding and challenging things were about working with her.
“It’s the ultimate compliment that they want to do what you do. That means they love the life you’ve made for them, and are inspired by you as well. It’s an awesome feeling. Brady grew up right beside me, watching me draw, and she’s still right beside me, drawing at TOGETHER now, at events and at our retail stands at DisneyWorld.
”It's the ultimate compliment that they want to do what you do. That means they love the life you’ve made for them, and are inspired by you as well. It’s an awesome feeling.Keelan ParhamOwner, Artistic Talent Group
As parents who are working entertainers, my wife and I have worked all of these years making connections in the industry, and honing our crafts. If our kids decide to go into the biz, as Brady has, we have essentially paved the way for them. They will have a much easier, quicker path to success than we had. The challenge really, is that we have to make sure that they are good enough, and not just getting handed stuff because of us and what we’ve done. At our retail stands at Disney, I told Brady many years ago that she had to “earn her chair”, that she wouldn’t just get to work there because of her last name. And she has!
As for fears, I guess as entertainers we all sometimes ask the same questions. “Will the jobs dry up?” “Will I still be able to make a living doing this if the economy changes?”
“What if no one wants what I do anymore?” “Will I be able to do this when I get older?” I ask those questions for myself, but also for her, since she is following in my footsteps. Thankfully, as visual artists, there’s never a time when you’re “too old”, as long as you can still produce good work! Also, I think it’s important for artists to constantly learn new skills, new media, and to reinvent themselves. So being fresh and developing new ways to do what we do, should keep me AND her working!
John McConnell, Book It Entertainment
John McConnell began his career in by impersonating the Dan Aykroyd character, Elwood Blues, creating one of the most successful Blues Brothers showbands in the country. He is the Executive Producer of Book it Entertainment, creating experiences, with impersonators, acrobats, bands and magicians-anything you can imagine. His son, “Ace” followed in his footsteps, but as a close up magician, performing on weekends and working with his dad in the office during the week.
“If you are going to be an entertainer and run a business, you have to be a jack of all trades, but mostly be kind and take accountability for everything, even if it isn’t always your fault.”John McConnellExecutive Producer, Book It Entertainment
The most rewarding thing about having my son in the entertainment field is that he gets to see and develop an appreciation for so many places in the world. Some of his closest friends are from the Philippines. He is working in the office full time, while performing as a magician for corporate events and will eventually take over the company I started 20 years ago. I started the company right after I survived stage 4-B cancer. So, to see him grow up and become successful is the most rewarding thing I could wish for.
The biggest challenge is making sure he understands that after I’m gone there are so many things you have to be good at. If you are going to be an entertainer and run a business, you have to be good at everything; contracts, legal issues, marketing, money, etc. You must be a jack of all trades, but mostly be kind and take accountability for everything, even if it isn’t always your fault. Making sure all of these are engrained in your work ethic is challenging and the most important secret to success.
Shannon Pawlak, God's House Orlando
Shannon Pawlak and her daughter Hannah sing together all them time. They both lead worship at the church, God’s House Orlando to doing events at theme parks and events with their duo, lime and lavender.
“Watching your child do what you do is so rewarding! You are filled with such a sense of pride. They are an extension of you and somehow their accomplishment is yours too. The thing that I love about working with my daughter is building a professional relationship with her. It is wonderful at times to step outside the role of parent and into the role of partner with her. To treat her with respect on a gig and watch her handle herself professionally is amazing. I love to take the time to bond with her as a co-worker and not just my child. It makes the transition from parent to support person in her life much easier.
On the other hand, I try not to live vicariously through my daughter, or push her too hard. I don’t want to be “THAT” mom! I have to let her make her own choices even at times when the younger me is screaming inside and saying, “Gah! I wanted to do that! Why would you turn that down?!”
When that happens, I take a deep breath and reassure myself that her path will be exactly what it needs to be.
”I take a deep breath and reassure myself that my daughter's path will be exactly what it needs to be.Shannon PawlakPastor, God's House Orlando
So there I had it. Three examples of three different entertainment parents saying basically the same things:
- Having your kid follow in your footsteps is awesome.
- They earn their place with the hard work it takes to develop not only talent, but also business sense and ethics.
- You let them make their own choices to pursue their dreams.
- You pray the work keeps coming so they can pay the rent!
Honestly, these kids never had a chance to be anything but entertainers. They had no choice. It was destiny.