Helping Child Stars Shine

Helping Child Stars Shine by David Lias Karin Olson Farrell knows how grueling show business can be.

The Vermillion native has played in Broadway orchestras, touring with such acclaimed shows as Evita, Carousel, and The King and I.

She also knows how tough it can be for a child actor to find the proper balance between his or her career and academics.

Farrell's involvement in On Location Education is helping to make life for young stars just a bit easier.

Farrell, daughter of Jan and David Olson of Vermillion, is a 1988 graduate of Vermillion High School. She received a music degree from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, and after working in Minneapolis for a year, she was beckoned to New York City.

"I moved out to New York in 1993, and immediately went on tour with the Broadway show Evita, and that's where I met my husband, Kevin, who is a musical director," she said.

Her next tour was with the National Theatre of London version of Carousel.

"I taught the children in the production," she said. "I was their academic teacher, which is interesting because it's now what I do."

After touring with The King and I, and serving as teacher for the cast's children, she joined Evita once more, but this time as an actress and singer.

When she eventually got back to New York, she was contacted by On Location Education. One of their staff members was leaving for a month, and they wondered if Farrell could fill in while she was gone.

"That was in September of 2000," Farrell said, "and I didn't ever leave. I'm now co-director of that company, and I work with all aspects of the entertainment industry, but primarily I work with recording artists, celebrities and film and television."

On Location Education hires teachers to educate the children who appear on Broadway, who are on tour, who star in movies and television, and who are involved in the recording industry.

At any given time, the company may be involved in 70 to 100 different projects, with three directors and an education staff.

"We also do the academic teaching and tutoring of the children of many celebrities," Farrell said. "I talk with production companies, negotiate with them to find out what services they need for the time period, and then I find appropriate teachers for whatever the kids' academics are."

On Location Education worked with the cast of the film School of Rock for over three months last winter.

"I had three different teachers going in to work with all of the kids in that show," Farrell said.

She said her experiences in the past three years have helped her realize that she enjoys teaching and working with young people.

"But not more than performing," she quickly adds. "I like performing much more, but I discovered I have a really good business sense.

"I'm able to combine all three of those aspects � entertainment, education and business � and put them all together," Farrell said.

Things have changed a great deal from a few generations ago, when major motion picture studios often would overwork young actors.

"Laws have been put into place," she said. "The strictest state for child actors and labor law is California, I suppose, because most of motion pictures

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and a lot of television shows and sit-coms film there."

Those regulations require that a portion of a child's salary be put into a trust fund. "The actual production company, not the parents, is dividing that salary and putting part into the fund and giving the rest of the paycheck over," Farrell said.

There's more than just finances to worry about when dealing with young actors.

"There's an emotional side of it," she said. "I think parents have to be really careful and take signs from their children that indicate whether they really want to be in show business."

Often times, Farrell said, those ambitions rest solely with the parents.

Many of On Location Education's clients � such as Hallie Kate Eisenberg, the curly haired youngster who appeared in recent Pepsi commercials � truly enjoy being involved in all the trappings of performing before a camera.

"Hallie loves this business. She's young, but she knows what she wants to do," Farrell said. "She's definitely in this business because she wants to be."

California mandates that child movie actors must be educated on set and must be taught by a studio certified teacher who is also certified as a welfare worker.

"They're on set not only to teach the kids but to uphold the child labor law and make sure nothing happens to the children," she said.

The Screen Actors Guild and other unions mandate that there be education on movie and television sets.

The setting that child actors are taught in depends on the type of entertainment in which they're involved.

"When I've taught on the road, and when we send teachers out with Broadway shows that tour for a year or two or even five years, indeed we try to make it as formal a classroom setting as possible," Farrell said. "But, it changes, of course, whenever the show travels."

Teachers are encouraged to make a least one room during their travels look like an actual classroom.

"We want it to feel like a real classroom and make it the one stable thing for the kids in that year of touring," she said.

Such a setting helps the young actors clearly know it's time to concentrate on education rather than performing.

"On shorter term projects, such as Law and Order and Third Watch, the children in those shows are usually on only one episode, so they're maybe in for one day to two weeks tops," Farrell said. "What happens there is the teacher goes to set, and actually follows the production, and sometimes they are literally teaching from a park bench in Central Park."

Young actors who are constantly exposed to the rigors of performing aren't treated with kid gloves in the classroom.

"In the movie The Emperor's Club with Kevin Kline, the principal boys, there were about seven of them, are all incredibly, incredibly bright," she said. "We were teaching embryology and fetal development and advanced physics and chemistry, European history and about five foreign languages.

"I had 12 teachers coming and going on that shoot," Farrell said. "They were able to take a room of the big building they were shooting in and make it their permanent school room."

On Location Education relies heavily on each child's home school to help set educational standards.

"No matter what the school district is or who the child is, we simply take what the school is giving us and administer it in whatever way they want us to," she said. "We really rely heavily on the home schools to let us know how they want the materials presented. "If they don't give us any guidance, we just tell the teachers to take the materials and work forward and do their best they can," Farrell said.

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