Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children and the Industry

[This post is going to jump around a bit so bear with me, please.]

FreedomFirst responded to my previous post about Julianne Moore's comments on sheltering her kids with this comment:

Given the nature of her line of work, I can excuse that way of thinking more in her than I might in others. If I were in her shoes, I might want to
shelter my kids from the hectic and pressured scene of the film industry.

[FF: I hope you're not offended by my quoting you here. You inspired me!]

Okay, I know, I know, we all hear about the kids in show business who get mixed up in drugs and are self-centered and otherwise clueless. No, I can't blame anyone either from not wanting their kids to be that.

I first moved to L.A. back when I was in junior high for the purpose of attending the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. By some fluke, I had an agent within the first few months of living here, and I had my SAG and AFTRA cards before I started high school. Now, I certainly wasn't in the league of a Lindsay Lohan or anything, but I was surrounded by artistic people.

I'd like to debunk a few myths about both artistic people, and children being raised in Los Angeles.

I went to junior high in El Sereno, which is considered the northernmost part of East L.A. Even being half-Mexican, I was one of the whitest kids there. While it was mostly a Hispanic population, we also had at least a token showing of nearly every minority group. We may have hung out in "like groups" at lunch and recess, but in class, I didn't see any major racial tensions. Our teachers encouraged us to talk about our differences in culture and points of view. I think it would be extremely difficult to hold onto prejudices based on race when surrounded by such diversity. And I think one good thing to come out of all the moving the girls and I have done is they too embrace diversity, and, more importantly, can adapt to most situations.

It's not just the racial diversity that makes me glad that I raise my children in Los Angeles, but also the diversity in the people and landscapes and opportunities.

My girls have spent time in Griffith Park, in Hollywood, in East L.A., downtown L.A., the Valley, the beaches. On field trips, they've gone to the Getty Museum, the California Science Museum, the Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, a DVD premiere party, a Dodgers game, a house in the Hollywood Hills. Sylvia alone has met Mayor Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Burbank, Jason Lee, Jane Goodall, actors in Wicked, and LA Symphony musicians. There's not many places that can offer such a diversity of experiences.

Now, I haven't gotten her in the industry as I was, because (and don't tell her this) I'm not real sure she can handle the emotional highs and lows that come with it. I may have been in touch with my emotions as a child, but I also didn't have the trauma of an absent father haunting me either. Maybe, if her first 6 years hadn't been so hectic, I would consider it, but I don't think it's a healthy environment for her at this point in time.

And maybe that's what goes wrong with some of the children in show business. I know it seems like it's all of them, but it's really not. Anne Hathaway, for example, has done a fine job of maturing from the Disney teen of Princess Diaries to a mature actress. There are many, many more examples of children who came out of it all right, and some went on to do other things. That's just not as good headline copy as the ones who get arrested or seem unable to drive a car without incident.

I don't want to say all the fault lies with the parents, but it certainly starts there. Maybe they start off okay, and then the parents relax a little bit, and that's where the trouble starts. Maybe they're just part of the general population that can't handle life. I know enough of you know about not only my ex, but people in your own lives who have fallen apart; we just don't see them in the news. I don't know exactly why that happens, but I also think that we are enough of individuals that it's not one thing that does it. In other words, I don't think it's "the business."

I went to my high school reunion a few years ago. I was nervous (aren't we all?) about going. I hadn't "made it." I was a single mom. What did I have to brag about? Was it going to be clique-y?

And then I got there, and I remembered what my high school was like. Everyone was great. It was that safe haven that I'd nearly forgotten I ever had.

I think LACHSA grounded me. It was a place where we all felt supported. Sure, there were your usual squabbles and such, but the negative was quickly replaced by hugs and forgiveness. I'd say only maybe 20% were still in the industry professionally, but we'd taken the lessons of teamwork and our love of the arts (and thereby humanity) wherever we went.

I ran into a friend of mine tonight from my theatre days. We were, within minutes, telling each other our happiest and our scariest thoughts. There was little pretense in this old friendship.

Artistic people have a reputation of being flaky egocentrics. There is no harder bottom line in any business than an opening night. Come show time, that curtain goes up. Next to raising children, it's the most disciplined work I've ever done. And nothing prepared me better to deal with the everyday challenges of raising children than having to cover for mistakes on stage. They both demand the most of yourself you have to give.

I would be proud to have Sylvia to go to high school at my alma mater. Now, if she doesn't want that, that's okay, too. But, frankly, I would prefer her to be in a setting that I know will challenge her and support her, and I know she'd get that at LACHSA.

It's easy to focus on the smog, the insecure, and the stereotypes of both Los Angeles and show business. It's so much more fulfilling, though, to live deep within it, and overcome those obstacles. (And a movie set is pretty fun to be around. It's worth it for the food at Craft Services alone!)


FreedomFirst said...

You may quote me any time. :)

It's nice to hear about a good experience for once. Thankyou for sharing that.

Meg said...


I also feel it's important to share the many sides of a parent with a child (with the exception of my blog writing).

Recently I took my daughter to a get together with my old dance/theater friends from college. This particular group loves to touch each other, talk loudly and show off cleavage.

I think it was good for my daughter to see that I'm not the only "crazy" mom out there.

Teen Son, on the other hand, realizes I'm "crazy" and appreciates it. When we were in CA this past June, I took the kids to Venice Beach and Teen was immediately attracted to the diversity (and craziness) there.

Unfortunately, we live in a community where the greatest diversity is whether a kids' parent is a neurologist or a cardiologist.

Sorry. Rambling. Haven't had coffee yet.

Anonymous said...

While we live in a very diverse college town, my kids certainly haven't had the same experiences as yours.

I'm thinking a little* field trip to LA is in order!

*if flying from NY to LA can be considered "little"

Suzie said...

I went to a performing arts high school too. I loved it although I am not still in the buisness but my hubby is

Kori said...

I think that diversity-and being exposed to it rather than just talking about it-makes for better kids, better attitudes, and far more tolerance. I think you are doing a great job of showing your kids about all sort of different lifestyles and people and attitudes, and they will be better kids for it. I also agree with your take on Sylvia-she might not be ready for all that comes with it, but when and if she IS, you will know.

BusyDad said...

April, that's a good snapshot of the good that being raised in LA can bring. Honestly, I've been trying to find that. As you know, I'm a transplant from Boston and I LOVE everything about Boston. In fact, I plan to move back there for the same reason you want to stay - so my son can go to my high school (a very rigorous but well balanced prep school). I moved to LA to be in "the industry" (who doesn't?), but after 2 years of working in it as a publicist, I just got really sick of the fleeting friendships (based upon "what can you do for me") and the general focus on superficial things. Leaving the entire entertainment sphere made me feel a lot more settled, and now I think LA is pretty cool. I love how I can get any ethnic dish I desire, anytime, any country. Love the weather. But I have to say my heart is in Boston, because I grew up there. Which is probably why you love LA so much. I think our childhood really shapes the way our roots, no matter where our adult selves take us. Yikes - sorry for the novel.

Tara R. said...

Sounds like you have a wonderful high school experience. It also sounds like you have a very grounded attitude about your life and how you want to raise your children.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so now I feel bad for saying I don't like LA, but truthfully, it IS the smog. I get a sore throat every time I visit. But I LOVE everything else about it. I've told you that I used to spend my weekends walking up and down the streets of Studio City and Burbank imagining living there in a studio apartment.

I think you are wise with your daughter. I always wanted to be an actress, but never had the gusto to follow through with it. I think, subliminally, it was because I knew I couldn't handle the downs of the business. My mother encouraged me, my father did not, and I think this is one of the few things my dad was actually right about when it came to me.

As far as the whole idea that the business messes up kids, I have never bought it. I think it has a LOT to do with the parenting. look at Lindsay Lohan's mom! I have very little respect for her. Yes, other circumstances definitely come into play, but if you look at most of these kids that end up heavy into alcohol or drugs, you'll usually see less than prime examples as parents.

Jen said...

This was fascinating - both in terms of your wonderful post, April, and also in terms of reading some of the comments.

Like BusyDad, I'm a city kid, but New York was my home, and I still feel more alive when I go there, on many levels. I think you did a marvelous job of showing the richness that can take place when a child is raised in a diverse environment with many opportunities and challenges. I really miss the diversity of my old neighborhood and the amazing experiences I had growing up there.

Anonymous said...

I lived in LA until I was 7 years old. I returned to intern in Hollywood after going to Film School in Boston. At that point in my life, I wasn't strong enough to resist temptation. In fact, I was running full speed towards it. If I had stayed in Hollywood, I have no doubt that I would have been a complete drug addict/alcoholic by the time I was 28. I never went home, I practically lived at the clubs.

I miss LA sometimes. I agree that diversity and worldliness is incredibly important to a person's development.

I also know people who live in LA who have never left Long Beach, or who have shown me they are the most racist people on the planet.

Thank God you are taking full opportunity of your city's amazing assets instead of pissing and moaning about how "it used to be."

P.S. have you read Los Angelista's blog? Its on my blogroll and I think its one of the best blogs out there.

Julie@My5monkeys said...

thanks so much for sharing as someone who wanted to act but never did. your experience helps me feel better.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you had a great experience in high school and that you have been able to pass your craziness, I mean openness, to your kids. I'm still a little disappointed to hear that it wasn't like 90210. Or at least Melrose Place.

Shiona said...

You hit the nail on the head here April. I didn't use to like California until I started visiting L.A. and San Diego. I was never really into Vegas culture (e.g. gambling, going to clubs) but once I had Jayson I started looking at it from a child's point of view and there is really nothing to do there. I've always said there's more culture out here (I guess that's a relative term) but I mean that there's more diversity and more of an opportunity to learn about that diversity.

Anonymous said...

I've never been to LA, but I know some people there. *wink*

No, seriously though. I just love the ATTITUDE of the people out west. They are just so much more CHILL than us east-coasters. Or northern mid-westerners. I have a friend at work who moved out here from San Diego. At first, it took me so long to "get" her. But then I just realized it's her 'tude. It's different, and it's cool.

As for diversity--where I live it sucks. It's either 95% white with some blacks and Hispanics. Or 95% black with some whites and Hispanics. It truly is awful.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Thanks April... it's fun to hear the perspective of someone who has actually lived in that world!

LunaNik said...

My "problem" (I use that term loosely because it's not really a problem per se, but I just can't think of the proper term right now) when it comes to LA is that there are so many people who go there to become famous that there are a lot of fake people with alterior motives. That is exactly why one of my best friends moved there and now, she is so different, and so annoyingly plastic that I can't bear to be around her. Of course, I'm absolutely positive that there are wonderful people in LA that are not like that. I'm totally just making an unfair generalization. And, on top of that, I'm rambling. I'll shut up now.