Industry Voices: Safety, Smart Choices & Stage Names

An interview with BizParentz Co-Founders Paula Dorn and Anne Henry: Part I

How it all began: In 2001, Paula Dorn met Anne Henry. Their sons, both 10 years old and established young performers in the LA area, were working in a live show at Disneyland. Around that same time, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was sponsoring legislation that updated the “Coogan Law,” which requires trust accounts for young performers.

Recognizing the need for more effective communication about these legal changes – particularly for the parents who would be affected – Paula and Anne founded BizParentz. What began as a mailing list to share information about the new laws, quickly grew into a vital industry resource that focused on a wide range of issues to help parents of young performers.

Incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit in 2004, BizParentz Foundation is a grass-roots, volunteer run, non-profit corporation that provides education, advocacy and charitable support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry. On Location Education recently had the opportunity to sit down with Paula and Anne to discuss safety and other important issues related to child performers.  

On Location Education: What advice do you have for parents regarding child actor safety?
 
BizParents: That's a huge topic.  The number one rule is that you should be within sight and sound of your child 24/7. Recognize that if you stray from that, the risk increases significantly for all kinds of safety issues -- physical injury on the set, pedophilia, financial predators, etc. You are the ONLY person who loves your child, and has their best interest at heart.  By not being present, you allow other adults to have influence and control over your child.    
 
Second, recognize that the industry has different motivations than you do.  Theirs are business and money, primarily.  There is very little in the way of background checks in this industry, so predators (scam artists and pedophiles) abound in this environment.  As a parent, your priority is raising a healthy, happy child.  That means you need to be aware of risks and play defense -- protect YOUR interests.  Don't get sucked into the idea that your child is special snowflake and that this is about their "gifts" or "talent." Your child may very well be talented, but this is about business. 
 
Third, make sure you have your family's boundaries defined in advance.  You should know what kind of roles you will allow your child to play, how much you will allow showbiz to affect their education or your other children, and how much you are willing to put into this career financially.  You should also have an exit plan -- when is this going to cross the line into "too much," and when will you stop chasing the rabbit.  Thinking about these things in advance, when there isn't yet money on the table or the stress of a quick decision really helps families to avoid danger and stay focused on the safety and well-being of their child.      

OLE: How can parents of young actors identify and avoid potential scams?

BP: We suggest using a "Listen, Research, Wait" model, and we advocate parents learning to recognize business models, rather than the names of businesses.  Scammers will often close a company and re-open under another name, move to another state, or use a stage name themselves.  So, it is really valuable for parents to learn how to spot the red flags of a scam and learn what industry standard behavior is.  Most scams are operating outside the "real" industry -- at the fringes.   

Note: You’ll find additional information from BizParentz on this subject here: Avoiding Scams.
 
OLE: What are the benefits (safety or otherwise) of using a stage name? What are the cons?

BP: We highly suggest using a stage name.  This is one of those "hindsight is 20/20" things for us personally -- we wish would have done this. It works most effectively if you can do it VERY early in a child's career, before they have credits under their real name.  

There are many good reasons to use one. For example, it allows the actor to participate in normal activities without compromising their location. They can register for public school, little league and other activities under their real name.  If their name ends up in the local paper or on an internet team roster, it doesn't give away their location to predators.  Using a stage name is not foolproof, but it does shield most children from most predators, and those who may wish to invade their privacy. 

In Part 2 of our interview with BizParentz we discuss online safety for your child performer.

To learn more about BizParentz, visit their web site at http://www.bizparentz.org/home.html