The inside scoop on being a child actor—from people who've been through it
Have you ever wondered what it was like to grow up underneath the spotlight? These four incredible young artists tell all about their experiences with auditions, coping with rejection, and balancing a career at such an early age.
Jamie Mann is a Connecticut-based 18-year-old actor who began his career doing ballet at his local dance studio. He spent a lot of time in the city as a young kid, and he started auditioning in third grade. He spent time touring regionally with the cast of Billy Elliot, and in between gigs and auditions, he spent time doing local productions with his friends. He plans to start at the University of Michigan in the fall, where he'll be studying musical theatre. You may know Jamie from Country Comfort on Netflix!
Kirrilee Berger started acting professionally when she was four years old, appearing on Sesame Street. Both of her parents are in the industry as well, and when she was nine, she became the youngest girl to play the role of "Jane" in the musical Mary Poppins. She toured with the original cast of the first national tour, and then toured with Billy Elliot as well. She then began to transition into TV, where her breakout role was a recurring role on Just Add Magic on Amazon. She's also done work from Netflix, CBS, and Disney Channel!
Brooklyn Shuck stars as Lynn Bouchard on EVIL, which returns for a second season this June on Paramount+. She arrived in New York City with her family at the age of 7 to play an orphan in the revival of Annie on Broadway. Her additional Broadway credits include the title role in Matilda the Musical, Tuck Everlasting, Les Misérables, Lily Potter Jr. in the original Broadway cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the recent Tony Award-winning import from England, The Ferryman. Shuck's television credits include a guest-starring role on INSTINCT, on the Network, and a recurring role on Rise.
Gabriella Pizzolo made waves appearing in the season 3 finale of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things as Dustin's long-distance girlfriend, Suzie. She made her Broadway debut in the title role in Matilda the Musical. She went on to play the lead role of Small Alison in the Tony-winning musical Fun Home on Broadway. Her proudest moment was representing Fun Home when singing for Michelle Obama on the television special Broadway at the White House (TLC). She later was cast as the younger version of Idina Menzel's character CC in Lifetime's remake of the classic film Beaches. Currently, Gabriella can be heard voicing the series regular character Cricket on Nickelodeon's popular animated series Butterbean's Cafe.
GL: Tell us about your experience with auditioning growing up! How did it affect your mental health?
Jamie: One thing about auditioning as a kid that's really nice in hindsight is that as a kid, you're very resilient. I very quickly was able to establish a mental ability to block out rejection. I was very good at walking into a room, doing what I had to do, and leaving. That was very easy; doing your best and then forgetting about it. However, for a long time, I wasn't booking anything and that was a very hard time--trying to find self-confidence in the theatre world. I never walked into a room and *wished* to get the part, I went into a room and wished to do my best.
Kirrilee: I was so young when I started acting that every audition I did, I believed that I had done the job. That's how young I was. Starting out so young, in a lot of ways, was less destructive to my mental health because I didn't start auditioning with any understanding of money or competition. In my adult life, things started picking up for me and I started booking a lot more when I changed to this mentality where my only goal was to walk out of every audition room and be able to say "if I could have gone back, I wouldn't have done anything differently."
Brooklyn: I've been acting since a very young age so it was never really until I got older that acting became more than just a fun activity that I did. I don't think I fully understood the acting business until my older years. I'm my best self when I'm constantly busy, so I've always liked this sort of lifestyle. And yes, there have been times that it hasn't been great mentally like everything is at certain points.
Gabriella: I got into the whole theater industry not from my parents or my family, just from people who recommended it in my community, so I really had no idea what to expect going into it. I feel like part of that was really great for me as a child because not knowing what to expect made it a lot less nerve-wracking. As I kind of learned the industry, it's kind of scary as a child because you're basically being judged by adults. But I think that for me, I always tried to keep in mind that whatever happened would happen and if I wasn't right for something, that didn't mean that I was bad or not valuable in any way, just like any other person.
GL: What was it like balancing school and normal life while performing?
Jamie: What was harder than missing school was missing rehearsal and when I had prior commitments. It's just hard to do. You have to decide what you want--my goal was to work, and you're not always going to work, so sometimes you forget that that's your goal. It was obviously difficult to learn extra stuff on the side, but I had to miss a rehearsal for my audition for Country Comfort, and if I had decided, "oh, whatever, it's not worth my time..." I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity. It all comes down to sacrificing your time and figuring out how badly you really want it. That can be really difficult, especially when you have a lot of things going on.
Kirrilee: I was homeschooled for high school, but I went throughout the public school system for more of my educational journey than not. Balancing the amount of work was never difficult for me. It wasn't so much balancing the amount of work because for me, going to dance classes and auditions was my safe haven. School itself was really difficult because they didn't understand that I was an actor, they didn't get what that meant. School actually became more damaging to my mental health than the industry did. I went to public high school for three days, and I was so severely bullied that I sat my parents down and I said, "I'm going to school so I can get high marks and go to school for what I want to do, and I'm NOT putting myself through this--I'm not damaging my mental health like this. I'll do whatever we need to do so I can pay to be homeschooled."
Brooklyn: Very difficult! But my school has always been very flexible and just really helpful and accepting. I've found that it can be really difficult to schedule things and miss things. When you have to reschedule things, you have to do it with every teacher and that's hard. And keeping up on work has always been hard. When I was doing The Ferryman, the cast was doing a taping at Lincoln Center because they do those for every Broadway show with the original cast. The day that that was supposed to happen, I was also supposed to take a Regents exam. There wasn't any other near the date that I could take the exam. That was a hard decision to make because I really did not want to miss the Lincoln Center taping because that was very important to me, but also it was going to be a pain to have to reschedule the exam.
Gabriella: It can be really hard, but I was really lucky to have really great friends. I stayed in public school throughout all of my years and also was working, so I would be learning sides in class and then leaving school and driving to the city, doing the audition, and coming back to school. But also, when trying to find that balance, I learned a lot more about myself as a person. Taking help from the people around me and not putting it all onto myself was what really got me through it all. That balance helped me to better optimize my time as a now-adult person living my own life. And there's so much that I learned from doing stuff like that as a child that helped me dramatically later on.
GL: Any fun stories about finding out about getting a role?
Jamie: When I found out about Country Comfort, I was at a rehearsal for my high school play and my Mom found out before me because my agent called her first. She texted my friend because she wanted to get my reaction on video and so there's a video of me that my friend is taking, but when my friend was taking the video, she was pale--it looked like she was about to faint because she had found out before I did. So there's a video of me going up to her being like, "are you okay, do you need water?!" It looked like someone had DIED.
Kirrilee: The same casting directors of Just Add Magic were also the casting directors of Malibu Rescue and Grown-ish. I did my audition for Malibu Rescue and then a week later, I went in to do my audition for Grown-ish for the role of Heidi, and the casting directors go, "OH MY GOD--YOU BOOKED MALIBU RESCUE!" And I was like "huh?!" I'm about to turn around, and they were like, "we still need you to do your audition for Grown-ish..." but I was on an adrenaline high and needed to take a minute to collect myself and remember my lines. I guess it worked out because I booked that too!
Brooklyn: I remember specifically for Matilda, when we were finding out about that, my mom knew that I had gotten it and she was waiting to tell me at dinner. She was actually gonna tell me and my sister at the same time because we had both booked things. But little impatient me was walking on the street with my mom like, "I didn't get it, did I? We would know by now! I didn't get it, right?" And she was like, "oh my god, Brooklyn, you got it."
Gabriella: Whenever I would find out that I was getting into something, I think it happened with both Fun Home and Stranger Things. I was in my dance class because I did dance most weeknights. My manager would always be trying to call my mom and she would always be helping out or driving or watching in on observation classes. We would always be like, "wait, wait, hold on" and he would be like, "no, it's really important." And that's when we'd know to step out of the room. I think that it's just a funny coincidence that I was always in the same exact place.
GL: Do you think learning how to cope with rejection at such a young age gave you tools for the real world?
Jamie: I now have a sort of resilience and mindset that I always go off of. That just helps with rejection, because it makes it less personal. My mindset is; if you go into the room and you do your best, you've won. That's all you have control over. Rather than feeling like you're going to be rejected every time, you kind of juice the small accomplishments for what they're worth.
Kirrilee: 150%. It is one of the things that I have some of the most gratitude for with being a child actor. My Mom gave me the analogy, "if Merryl Streep read for the role of Regina George in Mean Girls, she would've given the best performance that anybody had ever seen, but she never would have booked the role because she simply wasn't right for that part." As adults, we deal with rejection every day--you don't get a loan, you don't get an apartment you apply for, dating, even--being a child actor raised me with the mentality of, "well, this wasn't meant to be. Onto the next one."
Brooklyn: I think for sure, it definitely did. But at the same time, it doesn't really get easier because when you're experience rejection, it's like you've poured your heart into something. When it doesn't really go your way, that's always going to be difficult even if you've been doing it for a long time.
Gabriella: Rejection has definitely helped me in many ways. There are obviously many ways that it could be really hurtful too, but I try my best not to focus on that because it is really part of the job so I had to just train myself to know that that was what I was in for. But I think that having a very real-life while being an actor is really important because having real experiences with people around you is what's going to make you a better actor and person.
GL: What advice do you have for young people looking to pursue a career in acting?
Jamie: The people in the art world are incredibly special. When I look back at all of the work I've done, I don't think about the auditions or the rejections; I think about the relationships and connections I've made with a multitude of amazing people I met. You find so many people who are doing the same exact thing you are and don't take that for granted. Every time you meet someone new, take that as another accomplishment and another benefit of being in the audition world.
Kirrilee: I don't want to sugarcoat this answer, but frequently, I don't hear an answer to this question that feels honest to me. My answer to this is maybe a little bit harsh--if you genuinely could not fathom to picture yourself doing anything else, then this is what you are meant to be doing. In this industry, if you have something to fall back on, you WILL fall back. If you could picture yourself in anything else, explore that. If you genuinely could not picture yourself doing anything else, this is what you're meant to do.
Brooklyn: I'd say give it your all. Put a piece of yourself into everything you do, and do everything wholeheartedly. Stay persistent because you get a million no's before you get a yes and it's really hard but it's worth being patient. Really be patient because good things come to those who wait. And also, stay true to who you are!
Gabriella: Definitely, if you want to do this, get involved in your community and the theater and art that is all around you that helps make it possible! Especially as we're starting to see that theater is coming back and we're able to all be together again, it's going to be really important to get involved in your community, as well as anywhere else you decide you want to bring your talents to.
Interested in stepping on stage or in front of the camera? Follow @girlslifemag for more interviews with amazing young actors!