9 July 2004
Yesterday, late in the afternoon, just before dinnertime, we were walking down Broadway in Santa Monica. Heading toward the Third Street Promenade, a walking-only street that Damian rightly identifies as an outdoor mall, though one with a certain amount of charm: street musicians and ivy-covered dinosaur fountains amidst the Victorias Secret/ Borders/ Brookstones.
Damian was slightly ahead of us, flying a frog and chattering away, a running game unfolding in his head. We turned the corner onto the Promenade. Damian neared the first fountain, drawn to the splash of water and the possibility of a coin toss or two. We slowed to watch. A blonde woman approached us. Holding a clipboard. She introduced herself and her agency. She was a talent scout, looking for children for commercial work and maybe some sitcoms. Would we consider bringing our son in on Sunday for a screen test?
She liked his bubbly chatter, liked his energy and high affect, liked his independence, found him cute. She thought he was a good candidate, said she has an eye for the kids who wont clam up when they get on camera.
We chatted a bit with her. She gave us a card, urged us to check out their website. Said wed need to bring the card on Sunday; this is by invitation only, its not a cattle call. We promised to think about it and maybe come.
But. Well. Ysee.
Theres this part of me that would love to say Yes! and Of course my son is adorable, delightful and thoroughly charming, how wise of you to spot that and of course hed be perfect for television. And maybe hed enjoy it. He does love being the center of attention. Does pretend sometimes to be staging a show or performing a CD (his word for it. its really more of an impromptu rock concert). He might like this.
But. Theres this little problem.
Its a common fantasy, isnt it? Someone approaches you, your kid is so great, would be perfect. You go to the audition, your kid nails it. Your kid is on TV. You can tell all your friends. Your parents tune in that night with proud smiles. Thats my grandson. Your kid gets special treatment. Hes an actor. The world sees how unbearably cute your kid is. And hey, his very own salary pays for his college education. No more money worries. Life is great.
Well, except for the minor inconveniences of interrupted school time and loss of contact with classrooms filled with classmates, that commonality, that emotional education. Replaced with an undoubtedly artificial environment thats hard for many adults to master gracefully. But hey. Your childs a star, who can beat that? And if you only accept an occasional commercial gig, no recurring appearances on sitcoms, he could still attend regular school. That works, right?
Except. Did I mention? Problem.
Damian is or should I say was? autistic. He still bears some of the markers, still struggles with some of the issues. It still colors his response to the world, though now more often in ways you wouldnt recognize as such.
This makes a simple offer like Bring your child to audition for us far more complex. Far more difficult. Can he handle it?
Lets say he does, lets say hes up that day. He smiles at the camera and talks in a big voice and acts playful and delightful. Which he well might. He often does. Lets say thats what happens on Sunday. And they love him and sign him and send him on a commercial audition. For the sake of argument, lets say he aces that too. Then it comes time to shoot the commercial. Two dozen people bustling about on a sound stage in the middle of nowhere. Damian holds my hand as he walks into the faux kitchen and sits at the table and spaces out, shutting out the world, or more likely he scrunches up in his chair like a turtle looking for a nonexistent shell. And now its time for the cameras to roll and for him to say his one line. Maybe hes memorized this line, knows it perfectly, but now everyones waiting and the lights are so bright and hes physiologically disorganized and it comes out in an unintelligible squeak or maybe he mumbles the words and hesitates and looks away and down, anywhere but at the camera or the actors pretending to be his family for the day. And we all go home, sad and guilty because we pushed a child with uneven skill sets to do something he may not be ready to handle and why? Just because it sounds glamorous? Because it might be fun? Because it might be brag-worthy?
Not worth it.
I think it could be good for him. A chance to do something challenging but with a big emotional reward (people praise kids extravagantly on set and if they didnt, Id smack em around till they did). A chance to get that feedback, that confidence builder. A chance to try something new. And he emotes well. Hes often hyper-dramatic and certainly conscious of how he comes off. In some ways hes perfect for this.
But hes a special needs child. How can he also be a child actor? I know what our floor time supervisor would say. On paper, its a very bad idea. And to do it, to go ahead with this, is in a way to pretend hes a typically developing child who can handle this, who is more or less predictable or at any rate, who can reliably talk in a firm, strong voice and control his bodys response to his emotional state. Its tempting because its such an unusual thing to be offered and because well because I think we all might get a kick out of it. That doesnt make it right.
On the other hand, are we prejudging him because of his diagnosis, assuming hes not up for this and therefore not giving him the chance at something kind of cool? Are we putting him into a box because of his label, not letting him rise to the occasion? Treating him as less able than he may in fact be? Should we at least try this on for size? See if he can handle the initial audition? If he cant, then he will have let us know. If he can, well, we can take it a step at a time. If we do. If we go. If we take that gamble.
Damian, by the way, seems to feel ambivalent about it himself. But then, hes six. He changes his mind about things on a daily basis.
We shouldn't really go to the audition this Sunday anyway. I leave for my week of work in Irvine on Monday. Damian wouldnt be able to focus terribly well the day before Mommy leaves, I suspect, plus we don't need the distraction right now. But I may call and ask if we can come in another time. And if they say yes, we put off the decision until later. Its a tricky one. I still dont know how to feel about it.
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copyright 2004 Tamar