Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: How can I stop my daughter following me into acting?

"It’s better to be as much on her side as possible than to take a stand against her"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia 

My husband and I have been in the acting business all our lives, and although we’ve just been able to make a living, we know how hard it can be. Now our only daughter, who is 18, wants to follow in our footsteps and we’re desperate to discourage her. The truth is that she’s not very good and there’s no chance she’ll be able to make any headway. And long periods of “rest” wouldn’t suit her. When we suggest that it might not be the right thing for her to do, she says that we followed our hearts, so why can’t she? Is there any way we can get her to change her mind?

Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

I wonder what happened to you and your husband when you told your parents that you wanted to go into acting? Was there a general celebration, or did they hang on to their hats and advise caution? Because there is hardly a parent in the world, I would imagine, whose hearts wouldn’t sink slightly if their children said they wanted to take up acting as a career.

It’s an extremely precarious business, and acting talent is only one of the skills needed to get anywhere. You need to know how to butter up the right people, how to make the right friends, to work incredibly hard doing rubbish parts – and doing them willingly, efficiently and as well as you can – for very little money to start with. You need to be proactive – take a show to Edinburgh for example, or push your way into a local theatre company – and extremely good with people. A little bit of ruthlessness doesn’t do any harm, either.

So, rather than either agree or disagree with her chosen career, couldn’t you suggest that your daughter took a stage-related course, such as theatre or stage management, or even looked into the technical side? She would be able to get a lot of experience at the university theatre at the same time as getting some proper skills that might hold her in good stead on the occasions when the acting profession failed her. The great thing about acting is that it is, like writing, something you can learn on the job – and whether acting courses (any more than creative writing courses) are actually worth taking three years to go through is certainly debatable.

Your daughter is pretty young – so there is plenty of time for her to have a go at acting and then, if it doesn’t work out, call it a day. Why not give her a year to have a go at it, with your blessing, and see how she does? One thing good about you both being actors is that it’s not just the pitfalls you can advise her about. You can give her positive advice, too – on how to behave at auditions, how to impress an audience or a director and so on.

Perhaps you could try to see her decision as something of a compliment to both of you? After all, you admit that you’re not international stars yourselves, so your daughter must have first-hand experience of what a very risky business an actor’s life can be. But perhaps she’ll find that it’s the theatrical life she’s really after, rather than acting itself – and she can only find out which aspect would suit her best by getting immersed in all aspects of it, rather than picking a particular role right away.

In the end, there is virtually nothing you can do to make your daughter change her mind, so it’s better to be as much on her side as possible than to take a stand against her. And it’s worth remembering that, when they’re young, people’s career plans can change and adapt a great deal as they grow into their twenties.


Readers say...

Help her find her way

We have had a similar experience with our daughter (now 28) who wants to be a writer. When she is able to write, she is transformed. But because we kept telling her that she should have a day job to earn a living, so she could be independent, she tried for six months doing a job suited to her skill set, but which was essentially office-based. By the end of that time, she confessed that she felt the life blood was being drained out of her and she was completely dead inside. She said she would prefer to be poor and follow her heart. So now she lives at home, earns peanuts teaching a few hours a week, but has the time to think and be creative and is a new person.

I know of two other young aspiring actresses, one of whom has gone into drama for therapy and community projects, and the other who is working in the theatre in other roles beside acting. So there are other avenues besides the stage for those who have the motivation and love of theatre but not the necessary skills. Perhaps it’s not so much necessary to change your daughter’s mind as to help her think creatively about how else she can use her passion for acting.

Name and address supplied


Let her follow her heart

Pressure from you will either harden her resolve, or lead to resentment in later life. Please let her follow her heart.

Jeff Berliner, by email


Don’t try to stop her

I remember the disapproval and lack of enthusiasm I faced when I decided I wanted to go to music college. I wasn’t all that good when I auditioned, but they must have seen something in me, and I was given a place. I worked hard and went on to have a successful career as an orchestral player.

The first hurdle your daughter will face is the audition. If she really isn’t any good, she won’t get in anywhere. That will allow her to discover for herself that acting isn’t the career for her. Who knows – she may suddenly blossom and find her niche. If she doesn’t act, she might become a producer, set designer or other associated career. Whatever the outcome, she needs to discover it for herself. If you try to stop her, she’ll blame you for the rest of her life for what might have been.

Celia Johnson, by email

Next week's dilemma

I was so worried about my 20-year-old student daughter smoking that I said I would pay her rent if she stopped. She promised she would, and I have paid around £400 a month for six months. Now my other daughter, aged 26, tells me that her sister has been smoking all along, and has even shown me Facebook pictures to prove it. How can I confront her without telling her that her own sister was the “grass”? Not only do I feel utterly betrayed by my daughter, but, as it is, I can’t afford this money and I’m having to borrow it. I feel very confused and distressed.

Yours sincerely,


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