Everyone grudgingly admits that raising children can be an emotionally rewarding experience, but the best reason to have kids has nothing to do with the joy of one day creating a good conversationalist and competent personal chauffeur — the best reason to have kids is that they can make you buckets of money, especially if they're photogenic.
A dream-exploiting company called "The" (and pronounced "tay" in order to lend it the veneer of linguistic sophistication that Hollywood is famous for) has capitalized on the masochistic urge some gullible parents have to raise little movie stars by hosting pricey workshops and talent showcases that promise to make aspiring child actors more appealing to talent agents and casting directors (workshops like the one held at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando can cost $10,000 after transportation and accommodation expenses, though "The" has no affiliation with Disney). "The" advertises free auditions on radio and television and, once it lures in some would-be Joe Simpsons, its sales force employs the same "aggressive marketing" tactics that have kept the timeshare business going for so long, pressuring parents to buy expensive workshop packages that "The" claims give children the sort of exposure they need to become famous. Not that fame is guaranteed — "The," like any self-respecting grad school, is careful not to promise acting work to any of its hopefuls, though this hasn't prevented legions of disillusioned parents from filing complaints with state attorneys general and the Better Business Bureau.
In many cases, parents who've sent their children to "The" workshops aren't spending some extra pile of fun money on a trip to Disney World and a "what the hell" dice roll at fame. Zino Macaluso, a national casting director for the Screen Actor's Guild, says, "I've talked to parents who've spent their children's college fund to make this dream a reality and have nothing to show for it," which actually might not be that terrible of a decision considering how out of vogue college degrees are now. In 2009 "The" — now more dramatically called "the Event" — paid $25,000 to the state of Connecticut to settle an investigation into the company's business practices, and also agreed to offer refunds to 350 parents who'd paid for a talent competition in Stamford. Though the Event is a privately-held company and therefore not obligated to disclose its revenue, Connecticut's then-assistant attorney general Brenda Flynn said that the company "appeared to use high-pressure marketing tactics" and charged excessive cancellations fees to squeeze some extra money out of parents, wrongdoing that the company denied in the wake of the suit (after, of course, revising its talent show contracts). The New York studio that operates "the Event" is incorporated, like any good, tax-fearing company, in Delaware, received a "F" grade from the Better Business Bureau based on the growing mountain of complaints filed against it.
With the explosion of children's televisions shows and the mega-popularity of child stars such as penis-cake jokester Miley Cyrus and Bieber-beard Selena Gomez, the urge for parents to make their kids famous has paved the way for a company like "the Event" to offer the most valuable and elusive commodity of all — a path and formula for achieving stardom, the American equivalent of royalty. A company like "The" — which comes from a long line of specious talent and modelling schools such as the Beverly Hills-based John Robert Powers school founded in 1923 — is no different from a generous "book publisher" that promises hopeful authors the impossible dream of seeing their novels in print or a financial planner that guarantees clients a higher-than-average return on investment — all these swindling organizations have identified a weakness in their clients' psyches, a peculiar vulnerability to the myth that there exists, somewhere in the inscrutable landscape separating the ordinary masses from fortune and fame, a secret Northwest Passage that anyone can find for a quantifiable amount of money.
How much does it cost? The legal annals of "The" are littered with stories like those of 57-year-old cleaning woman Betty Cook's, who was forced to take out a second mortgage on her home after the company refused to refund the $5,000 fee she paid to send her daughters to "The's" Orlando talent showcase. And though these talent showcases sometimes boast lists of semi-famous casting directors and American Idol finalists such as Kimberly Caldwell and Kevin Covais, Bruce Prieur said that his children described the acting instructors as so obviously unqualified that even their starry child eyes could see that the workshops were total bullshit.
Profiting off aspiring child stars [LA Times]
Image via xavier gallego morell/Shutterstock.