Stage Dad: “What I Wish I Had Known…” by Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook

Occasionally, I get questions from others whose children are interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts. Usually, they want to know how to pursue an agent or manager, and what they should expect.

Often I will point them to the BizParentz Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that provides “education, advocacy, and charitable support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry.” The foundation has a wealth of information about child labor laws and regulations as well solid, common sense advice for parents.

But in conversation, I also have developed a list that I’ve titled, “What I wish I had known…”  And here it is:

Simple facts of your new life

  • This is a job. Just because your child has a manager and/or an agent, their success will not mean less work for you. If anything, it will mean more. They will not drive/fly/walk/train your child to an audition/callback/rehearsal/show. You are responsible for that.
  • “Entertainment” is first and foremost a business. Your child may be pursuing this because they love to entertain, but the goal for the producers/production companies ultimately is profitability and sustainability. You could be working on the best project in the world today and be on the unemployment line tomorrow. Be prepared to prepare your child for that inevitability.
  • Training is a costly – and necessary – proposition. Kids who perform professionally are expected to be able to sing, dance, and act. Not being able to do so is to their disadvantage, and that becomes readily apparent the minute they walk into an audition. So start looking for people who can help you, and be prepared to pay. (Advantage: Training is a tax write off in most cases.)
Illustration by Judy Stadt.


  • Auditions are tough, no matter how prepared you are. Look at how your child handles difficult, stressful, and/or trying situations. Do they hate auditions? Are they making progress from one to the next? Are they more comfortable? Do they feel like they’ve learned anything new?
  • Reality Check #1: Be prepared for disappointment. Know going in that auditions are a crapshoot. Chances are that you won’t get the part nine times out of 10, but all it takes is one.
  • Audition spaces are not as fancy as they look. If you think auditions and rehearsals are held at beautiful, spacious Park Avenue studios, think again. Don’t let the appearance of the place you are going deceive you; professional shows have been cast or rehearsed in spaces that ordinarily would be classified as dumps. That said, be sure to be on the lookout for troubling signs that your child is not safe or in good hands.
  • On time means early, even if you have to wait. Chances are pretty good that arriving 15 minutes early means you will have to wait 45 minutes to be called, but it may not. Someone scheduled before you might not show up, and you need to be prepared.
  • Reality Check #2: You will drive three hours for five minutes with someone who may or may not give you the time of day. That’s one of your biggest adjustments, given the amount of prep time your child must put into a project.
  • Arm your child with the tools necessary to be successful. This means headshots, shoes, sheet music, notebooks, water, etc. They need to be prepared for every possible scenario, without being overwhelmed. For parents, wear comfortable clothes and bring a book/e-reader/hobby of choice. You never know when you’ll be stuck for two hours with nothing to do.
  • Don’t court distractions. It is natural for young performers, especially novice, nervous ones in a room with other, equally talented kids, to want to show off their skills. Save your best for the audition instead. This goes for parents, too. Don’t spend your time talking about your child’s talents, no matter how multiple and varied they might be.
  • Reality Check #3: You likely won’t get feedback. Even though you’re dying to know what your child could/should have done better, chances are that you’ll hear nothing. Casting directors, in most cases, simply don’t have or take the time.
Ben Cook is in preparing to play the role of Billy in The National Tour of 'Billy Elliot.'

 That’s my list, but I’ve saved the most important for last:

Have fun!

You have a rare opportunity to do something that could end up being amazing (or not). Yes, it’s a roller coaster, but it has a tremendous upside, so enjoy the ride.


  1. Bravo Mr. Cook!!! Wish my mom had this list for me – way back when. I’ve reposted your words of wisdom. Hopefully many will be able to receive this knowledge. Especially the part about it being a business!


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