Ten ways to Identify a Talent Agency Scam

So you think your kid is talented and destined for stardom. Don’t be so desperate for fame that you fall prey to scammers.

It happens every day, parents who are trying to help their child achieve their dream get taken for thousands of dollars by companies that promise auditions with Disney and other big names but in the end just take the family’s money and don’t deliver on their promises.

I remember the first time I heard about one of these scams in our area. My kids had done a musical with a boy who at that time was about 12. The boy was a nice enough kid but had zero acting training and struggled to sing in key. This was his first show and with it being a community theater production in desperate need for boys, he was cast in a named role. His grandmother thought he was destined for stardom.

A few months later, I saw the boy post on Facebook that he had a callback audition for Disney. I was shocked. How on earth did this kid who had no training or experience get a callback for the holy grail of child acting. Now I know there are those children who have “IT” that natural talent and charisma that can get them discovered and then get the training they need to help them along. I know these kids. I can spot one out of a stage of 70. Unfortunately this boy was not one of those kids so I knew something just wasn’t right.

I remember how the boy was crushed when he and his family realized it was a scam. This company and others like it, go to city’s all across the country and run radio ads for an open casting call at a local hotel offering auditions for Disney. They lure these kids and their parents in with the promise of getting in front of top TV and movie casting directors. When the kids come back for their “callback,” they are told about how they really see the potential in them and if they pay them large amounts of money, they will train them and help them get the stardom they seek.

Lucky for this boy and his family they realized it was a scam and did not loose money on the deal. Many others get taken for thousands of dollars every year by this company that 6-7 years later I still here advertise when they come into our city.

Here are a few ways to avoid being taken by one of these scams:

  1. NEVER pay to audition or for an agent or manger to work for you before you book a job. If you are asked to pay up front to audition it is a scam! Agents and managers make a commission off of what you earn if you book a job. That is they way they make their money. Casting Directors get paid by the production company for finding them talent.
  2. Even if they guarantee a refund it is a scam and or they are not reputable. You might be told that talent experts will evaluate your child’s chances at success in the field and that they accept only a few people into the program, and give refunds to those not selected. What they don’t tell you is that the program takes virtually everyone.
  3. Beware of agents that insist you pay them for headshots or use a specific photographer. If you know of a professional photographer that is used by other professional actors and the agent or manager is not okay with you using them and insists on you using their photographer, that is a red flag.
  4. The same goes for agents that insist you pay them for acting training, Some legitimate agents and casting directors do offer classes through their companies that are reputable. The key is are they insisting that you take classes with their people and implying if you don’t you wont work? That is a red flag.
  5. If the agent insists you pay a monthly or yearly fee to be listed on their website, it might be a scam. Now that being said, there are agents and casting agents that offer services similar to this. The difference is it is optional. If the agent says you must do it or you wont get work, go elsewhere.
  6. A standard agency or manager commission is 10 – 15% if the contract for the agent is higher, that is a red flag.
  7. If you’re told the opportunity could disappear if you don’t act now, let it. Take the time to check out a company before you give them any money or personal information. If an offer is good today, it should be good tomorrow.
  8. If they only accept payment in cash or by money order it’s a sure sign that they’re more interested in your money than your career.
  9. Most states require talent agents and or managers to be licensed. If the company is not walk away. If you or your child have true talent another reputable agency will be interested.
  10. If it sounds to good to be true it probably is. If they talk about big salaries or guarantee you’ll get work put your guard up. Even for successful actors, work can be irregular and no acting job is ever guaranteed.

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It’s Essential To Tell Your Kid They Are Not Perfect

I think it’s fair to say 99% of parents reading this page think that their child is talented. He or she very well may be and of course you should support your child and let’s face it we all are biased in one way or another when it comes to our kids.

But even the most talented kids are not perfect all the time and parents who constantly tell their child they are great when they are not are doing a them great disservice.

I remember after one performance, I asked my then 15 year-old son how he thought he did and his response was, “Eh.” I replied, with a kind tone, that while he did a good job I had heard him perform that song better. He agreed. A 10 year old girl overheard me and told me I was “mean” because I said that instead of telling him he was great. I explained that it is not “mean” to be honest.

Over the years I have witnessed many of those children whose parents think they are the most talented, most perfect, tell their child they were amazing when they clearly were not. What happens to these kids is they end up with a false sense of self. A false sense of their abilities. They cannot fix what they do not know is broken. They do not work hard to improve on their skills because mom and dad said they are awesome so why should they.

From a very early age I have been honest with my children about their performances. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t come out and say, “Boy that sucked!” Okay, full disclosure, maybe once or twice with my adult son, but that was in a joking manner when he also knew what he was working on was very rough and he agreed with me.

I usually listen to them and watch them perform and then give them an honest appraisal. I try to always find something positive to say about the performance but then hone in on the areas that may be rough where there are pitch problems or they have gotten shouty. I try to do this as much as possible before the actual performance so they have time to make adjustments.

This is beneficial to them for a couple reasons, first they will perform better when the time arrives but they also begin to recognize the areas that need work themselves and tell me what was wrong before I even get a chance to. This has served them well over the years as they have grown up and had to work on new material on their own.

This has not only stayed true at home but also with those they have worked with, instructors, directors, I have always encouraged them to be honest with my children and tell them how to improve their skills and performances. Many have told me they appreciate being able to do their job without worrying that they will upset me or my child.

If my child is not doing what is expected of them they need to be told, period. My children have defiantly benefited from this. Over the years I have often been told by directors how impressed they were with my children being able to take direction and easily make the corrections.

Unfortunately not all parents feel this way and are highly offended when their child is corrected. Often, at a community level and professional level, those children are not cast in shows again simply because the directors do not want to deal with the parent. I’ve seen that happen many times.

That being said, my children only work with those who treat them respectfully. There is a difference in giving a correction and just yelling, outright being mean or degrading. My children have worked with people like that and have refused to work with them again. My, then 13 year-old, daughter once told me, “Mom I respect myself to much as an actress to work with someone who screams at and degrades their cast.” This director had never treated her personally like this but she watched the way she had treated others in the casts she had been in. I credit her stance to her working with real professionals both on stage, as directors and instructors. When you work with professionals you learn how to behave and how you should be treated.

Another big mistake many parents make is exerting influence over directors to give their child a role, a lead or a title. (This in itself is a topic I will write about at a later date so I’m only touching on it now.) This is in my mind even worse than constantly telling your child they are great because they gain a false sense of their abilities, their type, and their expectations for their future.

What happens to the kids who are always told they are great or get roles they do not earn? They go out into the real world and are hit hard by reality in the face. They go to college auditions at only the top schools, most don’t have second tier or safety schools on their list and they don’t get into a program. Or if they do get into a program, often it is not at the level they expect or if it is, they don’t get cast in shows and they can’t understand why. Many simply do not know how to handle it leading to many problems. In their minds and possibly in reality, they have failed and having never “failed” in getting what they have wanted in their lives or careers before, they are ill equipped to deal with the emotions that come with it.

Have a Question for Dear Theater Mom? Send it to questions@deartheatermom.com 

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Welcome to Dear Theater Mom.com

Welcome to Dear Theater Mom.com!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Linda Harkcom. I am a theater mom. I became a theater mom in 2004 when I enrolled my son Ben in a musical theater camp at the age of seven.

In the Spring of that year, Ben decided he wanted to sing in a couple of talent shows, the first at his school and the second, an area wide contest. While performing in the second show, it was clear to the judges that he had natural talent. They were shocked to learn he had not received any formal training outside of his school music class and encouraged me to get him voice lessons.

At seven he was too young for most programs I found and the programs I did find, he was too mature for. I finally found musical theater camp at a local community college. While it wasn’t voice lessons, it did involve singing so we gave it a try. From day one he was hooked and there was no going back.

Two years later he began performing with a local community theater and his second show, my daughter Aliya, then four, was asked if she would be in the cast. From that point on I had two on stage. Again we received guidance by one of the experienced actor/directors who was herself a theater mom with three amazingly talented children. She encouraged me to take him to get formal training at one of the area’s top theatrical schools. Thus began my children’s professional training and within a year, Ben appeared in two professional productions with one of the top regional theater companies in the country.

Fast forward to now, with well over 100 shows both professional non-professional, in each of my of children’s credits, we pretty much eat sleep and breath musical theater at our house. Both have also have some TV/film and other live performance experience.

For years people have called me with questions from “I have a kid who likes to sing where should I begin” to “We have an audition coming up, how do you make a resume,” “What should I do about a headshot,” and many others.

One day, after spending about an hour talking a father through prep for his daughter’s first professional audition, I first began to think of creating this site. Being a professional writer for most of my life, in one capacity or another, I saw it as a potential way to marry my personal life experience with my professional life.

My decision wasn’t solidified until after navigating the world of college auditions, which are highly competitive and confusing. It’s so incredibly important to have guidance or to even know the right questions to ask. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing a kid or talking to a parent, that is in the midst of it and woefully unprepared. In my opinion, for maximum success and lower stress levels, parents and their children should begin preparing years in advance, by gaining knowledge and proper training.

After going through the process twice, once with a boy and once with a girl, I have learned and experienced so much that I can use to help others. I’m happy to say we came out successfully on the other side of the process. My son now has a BFA in Musical Theater from, one of the best musical theater programs in the country, the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. He is now an Equity actor, living and working in New York City. My daughter is a BFA Acting student at Wright State University, one of the top programs for training well rounded actors who are prepared to do it all, sing, dance, act on stage, screen and even do voiceovers.

I am committed to sharing the information I have garnered over the years to help parents and their children. I combine my knowledge with my years of professional coaching experience to help parents and their children successfully reach their goals, whether that be college, a career or both, through one on one and group coaching.

I also use this blog to  write about topics I have been asked about in the past, things I have observed over the years as well as new topics provided by you, the theater mom/dad, dance mom/dad, acting mom/dad or voice mom/dad. Really any parent who has a child interested in any part of the entertainment industry can benefit from my knowledge and this site.

I hope to fill these virtual pages with information that will be as beneficial to the beginner as to those who have been doing this for quite a while themselves. If there is a topic I am unsure of and sometimes even when I do have experience in a subject, I plan to consult entertainment industry as well as college audition experts for their input. I hope to also utilize my reporter skills to bring you interviews with other parents who have been where you are now as well as children who have been through the process and industry professionals such as directors, agents, casting agents, managers, etc.

Check back here often or follow us on FaceBook at Facebook.com/deartheatermom to be notified about new articles or to suggest a topic.

Many have helped me learn the ropes over these 17+ years and I look forward to helping all of you.


Linda Harkcom

Dear Theater Mom

Have a Question for Dear Theater Mom? Send it to questions@deartheatermom.com 

Interested in receiving one on one coaching with Dear Theater Mom click here for more information. 

*Information contained in this blog post updated April 2022.