Pint-sized players write their own scripts
Yeouido, the center of the local broadcasting industry, is home to countless agencies and acting schools like this one, and the relentless desire to become or create a star is heavy in the atmosphere.
Acting classes like this have opened one after another in recent years due to the growing interest in acting, especially from children. The exact number number of acting schools is not available, according to Lee Ju-deok, an executive at the talent agency that runs this school, MTM Communications.
“There are various routes for adults to launch a career as an actor, such as majoring in acting in college, but options are limited for young children,” Mr. Lee said, explaining the reason the company began providing acting classes for children.
Constant exposure to television from an early age seems to have led more children to become interested in acting and becoming actors. In a recent survey of primary school children, being an entertainer (including acting) topped the list of the most desired careers.
Contrary to popular belief, most children take up acting classes of their own accord rather than at the wish of their parents, though they might have started with only a vague idea or flight of imagination about acting.
“For preschoolers, parents tend to make decisions on behalf of their children, but primary school children more often take classes because they want to,” Mr. Lee said.
Kim Lan-young, 9, one of many young hopefuls in the class, started acting two years ago. She has appeared in programs including the MBC comedy “Hello Francesca,” where she played In-seong’s friend, and historical dramas such as “Seodongyo” and “Sindon.” She wanted to audition after she learned that one of her friends was appearing on TV. “I found it unusual, and wanted to do the same. I was envious of my friend,” she said.
Lan-young almost had to drag her mother to her first audition, she said. “When I told my mom I wanted to go for an audition, she said, ‘Even if you’re rejected, don’t say anything and we will just go home,’” she said.
Jeong Su-mi, Lan-young’s mother, said, “Lan-young asked questions one time about acting schools. Then one day she searched the Internet and found the school herself.”
The aspiring actress passed her audition and has since rehearsed three days a week at MTM Communications.
Lee Seung-eun, 12, makes regular appearances on MBC children’s programs as a reporter. She has also appeared in several programs, such as “Kwaegeol Chunhyang” and “Bimil Namnyeo.”
“I love acting because I can show my talents. I feel great when I am on stage. I feel confident,” she said.
Seung-eun has her career well-planned. “I want to play the part of a villain so I can get noticed. Many stars play villains. Those who play nice characters are easily forgotten,” she said.
Lee Dong-ho, 8, is a different case in that he was first brought to the acting school by his mother, and then fell in love with the craft. Dong-ho has appeared in “Bad Wife” (“Bullyang Jubu”) as the actress Lee Gyeong-sil’s son, and in “The Age of Hero” (“Yeongung Sidae”) and “Wild Flower” (“Deulkkot”). He was nominated for an SBS annual acting award in the child actor category for his supporting role in “Wild Flower.”
His mother, Park Sun-hwa, took him to the school when he was six years old in order to show him a different side of life and broaden his mind.
“My husband and I lived a very ordinary life. He was our only child and a son, and we wanted him to have a wider range of experiences,” Ms. Park said, “though I did not mean to make him an actor.
“I didn’t just want to show pictures of an airplane to explain about an airplane. I didn’t like to be vague. I would rather take him on an airplane and let him experience it himself.
“I consider it as just one of many experiences Dong-ho can have as he grows up. Just like skating,” Ms. Park said.
Child actors often have to skip school because of their filming schedule and to attend acting classes as well. Thus it is often hard to keep up with school or to have private lessons on subjects such as math and English. Most mothers try to tutor their own children during their busy schedules so they can keep up with their classmates. Seung-eun has all her five private lessons ― Korean, math, science, social science and English ― on a Tuesday when she is not filming or at acting class.
Even though they may have to skip school and miss the chance to play with friends, the children feel that acting is worth the sacrifice.
“Acting is more fun than going to school. In school, it is just studying and studying and I have lunch before I come back home. But here I can become the main character of a fairy tale,” Lan-young said.
Lan-young once missed a month of school because of filming and her grades plummeted. Ms. Jeong told her daughter she would have to give up acting if it affected her test results so badly. Lan-young responded by staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. to study and soon began achieving 100 percent on her tests. She even set a minimum test score and agreed with her mother that if her results fell below 90, she would stop acting.
“Lan-young had already come too far. She passed the point where whatever I said would stop her. She only thinks about acting, and becoming an actress. She believes in her dream,” Ms. Jeong said. “Children are much more serious than their mothers could imagine.”
The child actors also realize missing school does not mean being forgotten about.
“Even if I don’t tell my friends about the schedule of the programs I am in, they call my mother and find out. Or they check the schedule on the Internet,” Dong-ho said.
“Some of my classmates were late for class because they tried to watch the drama that I was in,” he added. (The drama “Wild Flower was broadcast in the morning.)
A primary concern most parents have is the amount of stress their children endure. Filming often continues around the clock and it is impossible to know when it will start or end, or when the actor’s turn will come. They can wait hours for a very short scene, often in very cold weather. “Sometimes we returned home before dawn, or slept in the bus when the filming was outside Seoul. I felt sorry for her asleep in the bus,” Ms. Jeong said.
Lan-young, however, said she is as happy as she has ever been. “It is such fun that I am never sleepy. I’m doing what I want so much, so how can I be sleepy?,” she asked.
Recently a SBS program depicted the stories of child actors who went through hardships after they quit acting or were no longer stars, including Kim Seong-eun, an actress who debuted at age eight and played Mi-da-ri in a popular Korean comedy ― “Sunpung Sanbuingwa.”
Five years after the show ended, Ms. Kim wrote on her Web site, “I wanted to stab people who called me Mi-da-ri. I was so confused that I was crazy.”
The program explained that child actors suffer enormous stress during filming, and by debuting at such a young age, have difficulty adjusting to ordinary life.
Many mothers of child actors, however, say the program was exaggerated.
“It was too much of a generalization about a single case,” Ms. Park said.
Even though the parents of most child actors say the TV program dealt with extreme cases, they still worry that their child might have to face the problems highlighted in the program.
“Once you step into it, it is hard to back out,” said Kim Young-suk, Seung-eun’s mother. “Being an actor is hard even for an adult, and much more so for children. Besides that, they learn about adult life too quickly.”
“I was afraid that if Seung-eun came to have high expectations and did not become a star, she would be very disappointed, but then she worked hard at both acting and studying. So I thought it was going to be okay,” Ms. Kim said.
Despite the long schedules, parents noted positive results from their children’s experiences.
“Lan-young became wiser. Before she was winning a lot, but now she cares more about other people and has learned to form closer relationships with other people. And she has a goal,” Ms. Jeong said.
Seung-eun’s mother agrees. “She has done acting and appeared in musicals and commercials. She knows what it is like, and if she wants to continue to do it when she grows up, she will be able to do it,” Ms. Kim said.
by Limb Jae-un