Denise Simon has coached such stars as Mira Sorvino, Scarlett Johannson, Lacey Chabert, and Noah Schnapp of "Stranger Things."
BEDFORD-KATONAH, NY—The title of Denise Simon’s book, “Parenting in the Spotlight: How To Raise A Child Star Without Screwing Them Up,” might make you think that raising a child actor is a risky proposition. Not so, says Simon, there’s a lot that parents can do to ensure their child actor grows up to be a happy, healthy adult.
During Simon’s 30 years as an acting coach, personal talent manager, and director, specializing in child actors, she has encountered parents who discouraged their child’s desire to act.
“When a child has that dream it’s important to understand how that’s in their DNA, to accept and nurture it,” said Simon. “Young actors don’t have to study acting to become professionals, but as a way to express themselves. I’ve interviewed child actors who became chefs, doctors, lawyers whose confidence increased because of the training and exposure.”
Simon, a South Salem resident, has known some young actors who encountered emotional issues while pursuing their craft, but for the most part, her clients turned into well-adjusted successful adults, and the roster includes a few stars. During the decade Simon worked as an associate with Fox Albert Management, she coached clients such as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, and Lacey Chabert. Although Simon started her career wanting to act, she was “discovered” as an acting coach while working at a kids’ summer theater camp. After observing her rapport with kids, a talent manager asked her to work for him.
“I fell in with a company that was pretty amazing. We represented kids who became huge stars. We noticed that when we coached young actors before they went on an audition that those kids got work, and more and more work; some of those kids became famous. From there I knew that I didn’t need to go back to acting to be creative.”
Wanting to spend more time with her own children eventually prompted Simon to stop managing talent and focus on being a coach. While she coaches actors of all ages, she’s still known for her work with younger stars. A recent protegé Noah Schnapp played the wide-eyed Will Byers in the Netflix hit “Stranger Things.” Simon also created the youth division at Total Theater Lab in New York City and founded Out of Sync, a teenage comedy improvisational troupe. She served as an on-set coach for the award-winning show “Teen Kids News” and for Fox Television’s “The Following.”
“I love children and I’ve always been able to speak to them in their own language,” said Simon.
Preparing young children for acting scenes requires a cautious approach since their real-life experience is limited.
“We’re asking kids to identify with a situation or an emotional circumstance they may not be familiar with. I have to be really careful with that, especially depending on how young a child is. In preparing them I can’t go to a place that might negatively affect them. I have to be careful that it’s not so real that a kid develops anxieties or has bad dreams.”
As a certified life coach, Simon also helps actors and their families set priorities and confirm goals.
“The term life coach is thrown all over the place but life coaching is a specialty I actually also trained for,” said Simon. “Life coaching is partnering with a client to help them find balance or move forward and become unstuck. My training really allowed me to work with parents, to help them deal with the way parenting a child actor affects their relationship, the family, and their working life. You have parents who put their whole lives on hold for that. It’s a tough road.”
One piece of advice she often gives parents is the importance of letting child actors be kids.
“The most important part of growing up is for kids to spend time with kids their own age. Spending most of your time in a business with all adults is not healthy. As a life coach, you work with the family and ask how is your child getting socialized? Suggest ways they can be with other children. For example, put your child in martial arts class. Add something to the mix where there are going to be other kids. This includes turning down an audition to go to a birthday party.”
Simon published “Parenting in the Spotlight” in June to offer parents of young actors some tips and tools. You can find the book at Amazon.com and in many bookstores.
Simon will discuss her book and sign copies from 6:15 to 10 p.m. August 4 at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford. After that, she will be at the Drama Book Shop, 250 West 40th in New York City from 5 to 6 p.m. August 7. For more information on her book tour schedule, check her website.