Part Two of an Interview with Bonnie Wallace, Author of the Hollywood Parents Guide
We’re excited to continue our series of interviews with Hollywood parents and industry insiders who share their secrets of success for their children, clients, and families.
In part one of our conversation with Bonnie Wallace (BW), she discussed what inspired her to write her book, A Hollywood Parents Guide, its unique point of view, and how child actors and parents should define success. In the conclusion of our interview, Bonnie defines stage parents and discusses the importance of support systems and professional organizations to the child actor’s successful career.
OLE: How is show business different from, say, the pursuit of team sports, or other after-school activities that children engage in?
BW: In some ways show business isn’t different. It’s an activity that can dominate a family’s life because of its demands, and that could potentially lead to a career as an adult. At its best, it can teach a lot of the same things—responsibility, a strong work ethic, joy in accomplishment.
In some ways it is quite different though. It is in fact a business, and it involves money and contracts and consequences that can be far-reaching. If your child becomes quite successful, they could make serious money and become household names—which can change their lives in many ways that more normal after-school activities would not.
OLE: How do you define a "stage parent"? Are there differences in "stage" fathers and mothers as to how they approach the business on behalf of their children?
BW: I personally define a “stage parent” as any parent who has stepped up to help their child succeed as a performer—whether that means professionally, or in a non-professional arena like local community theatre. I have known some fierce stage parents at the high school level! My experience is that most stage parents are simply parents who show up to give whatever support is needed for their kid to realize their passion to perform. They work hard and often sacrifice a lot for their kids.
I think our culture defines “stage parent” a little more colorfully—as someone who may be a bit crazy and difficult, who thinks their kid is the most talented child on earth and will stop at nothing to see them “win.” More along the lines of what you might find on a reality show. These people do exist, but thankfully, they are a minority! Unfortunately they give the rest of us a bad name.
I’ve seen about 80% women and 20% men in the primary stage parent role for young professional actors, and really haven’t noticed much difference between the genders in how they approach the business. A few are crazy, but most are simply great parents doing the best they can for their kids.
OLE: As children work more and more in the industry, what three steps do you see as essential for their support systems? Suggested categories: Legal? Financial? Educational? Family values?
BW: Kids in the industry need a strong base of values to help them weather whatever comes their way over the course of a career, which is guaranteed to include some challenges. That has to be in place long before success enters the picture! A financial plan to make sure there is money available for when work is dry or they decide to change gears is essential, as is some basic financial education. And while I consider learning to be a lifelong process, too many young actors sacrifice their basic education for a career, and end up later in life without the tools they need to succeed and survive. So an intentional approach to education is very important.
We made the decision to let Dove take the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam), which is the equivalent of a high school diploma, and allows a young actor to work as a “legal eighteen” in the industry. This meant she was finished with school at sixteen. This is not a choice that makes sense for all kids—or even for most kids, and I talk extensively about the pros and cons of this in my book. Agents and managers tend to gloss over the real-life consequences of this route, and simply emphasize the upside (much more likely to be cast during the years of sixteen and seventeen, which can be quite dry otherwise for many kids).
OLE: What organizations, aside from a family's intra-support team, do you consider essential for the well-being of the children in the entertainment industry?
BW: I love BizParentz, which is nonprofit advocacy group. They are amazing. SAG-AFTRA is really helpful as well. Spend some time on the websites of these two and you can learn some very useful information!
OLE: If you could approach the industry differently because of what you know now, either as a writer or as a parent, how would you?
BW: There aren’t many things I would do differently, but a few things I learned the hard way: take a LOT of time researching potential team members (agent, manager, etc.) before signing with them. We love our team as it exists now but it took a couple of changes to get there. And always have an entertainment lawyer review a contract before you sign. I would also not underestimate how challenging it can be to make a living while being a full-time stage parent—it can be extremely challenging, and it’s easy to gloss over that.
Mostly, I would take more pictures and write even more detailed journal entries, because it is just such an incredible ride, and it goes faster than you think it will!
Bonnie Wallace is an author and the mother of Dove Cameron, a regular on Disney Channel who is best known for playing two leading ladies as twins Liv and Maddie. When Bonnie and Dove first arrived in Hollywood, what they didn’t know about the business “would fill a large book,” a book that eventually became Bonnie’s The Hollywood Parents Guide. Learn more about it on Amazon or visit her website, The Hollywood Parents Guide.