Rosie Klepper grew up in Hollywood in a family of movie buffs. They poured through movie fan magazines and hunted autographs at movie premieres and the Academy Awards. As a teen, Klepper even landed extra work in films like “Logan’s Run” and “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”
“It was always a lot of fun,” remembers Klepper, 37, who now lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband, Hap, 41, a clothing manufacturer, and their two children, Nicole, 5, and Jeffrey, 8. “I got to meet people and it helped my self-esteem by getting me in front of the camera.”
Klepper eventually found a career in the garment industry in downtown Los Angeles, where she worked for 10 years. But three years ago, she realized she missed being home with her children.
“I just wanted to find a way where I could be home with the kids and still do something,” says Klepper. “I remembered how much fun I’d had on movie sets when I was a child. And I also figured that if they started doing commercials, I could be working as their manager.”
So began her second foray into show business. Klepper mailed photos of her children, then ages 2 and 5, to a list of children’s agents she’d obtained from the Screen Actors Guild. Meredith Fine of Coast Kids, the children’s division of Coast to Coast Talent Group in North Hollywood, was the first to respond.
“I met her and we got along great, so I went with her,” says Klepper. “Other agents eventually responded, but I felt the most comfortable with her.”
Rapport, plus knowing which agents are legitimate, are the two most important things to consider when shopping for representation, says Klepper. “I hear stories all the time about parents running across so-called agents who demand money up-front for photos and classes.”
Fine began sending the Klepper kids on auditions. Rather than leave her job immediately, Klepper waited to see if her children would work. During that trial period, Klepper’s babysitter, the mother of a close friend, shuttled the children to calls. Nicole landed her first job and shortly thereafter, Jeff booked a commercial. After 18 months, the two were working enough to enable Klepper to quit her job and manage them full time.
This June will mark the Klepper family’s third year in the business. These days the siblings go on a total of three to five auditions a week and have booked more than two dozen commercials.
For Klepper, it means sticking to an efficient schedule. She rises at 6 a.m. and drops her children off at school by 8. Except on Monday mornings, when she volunteers to help in her daughter’s class, she immediately heads to the gym and then embarks on errands. At 2:30 p.m., she picks up the children from school and takes them to auditions.
California child labor laws require that auditions be held after 3 p.m., when most schools let out, and production companies provide on-the-set tutoring for jobs requiring work during school days. Even with all this, the Kleppers continually stress the importance of education, even if their kids decide to pursue acting into adulthood.
“School has to come first,” Rosie Klepper says. “We will stop the acting if the grades slip. They have to be able to have good grades to go to college if that’s what they choose.”
Fine usually calls Klepper with interview appointments by 6:30 p.m. the day before the audition. But sometimes, Klepper only gets an hour’s notice. If the children have auditions at the same time, or if Klepper has to accompany one child on an out-of-town shoot, her babysitter or husband help with the driving.
If only one child has an audition, Klepper leaves the child without one at home with the babysitter. “Some parents take all their kids to interviews,” she says. “But the people at the casting places don’t like it and I don’t think it’s fair, because it’s so hard for the children to wait.”
Parents and children may have to wait as much as an hour before they are seen for an interview, depending on the casting director’s schedule.
“Usually, I bring a snack and some video games and coloring books,” says Klepper. “Or, they can do homework if it’s quiet enough. When the child’s name is called, he or she meets with the casting person alone and is out in a couple of minutes. Callbacks are a couple of days to a week later. Then you either book the job or you don’t.
“It’s a lot of work and I can never make plans in advance for myself or the kids,” she adds. “We sort of take it day to day. But it’s the best of both worlds. I’m with my children, I’m working and we’re earning money for their college educations. They’re going to be lucky, because they’ll have money for college, or to buy a car. They’ll have a head start, which I never had.”
While reluctant to disclose her children’s earnings, Klepper says actors in their age groups can earn $ 20,000 to $ 60,000 a year. Klepper takes 15% as a manager’s salary and to cover such expenses as headshots, which run about $ 500 every two years, car maintenance and gas, special props and wardrobe for auditions, and acting and commercial workshops. In turn, the children also must pay taxes.
One unanticipated benefit this experience has had on the youngsters is their early understanding of the work ethic. “When I was growing up, I thought everything was free,” says Klepper. “I’d look in the refrigerator for food and there it was. My kids know it costs money for things like food and toys and rent.”
Looking down the road, Klepper would like to see her children audition for film and television roles, and is thinking about enrolling them in an acting class this summer. When they started auditioning, both took a commercial class, the Judy Elkins Commercial Workshop, to learn basic on-camera techniques.
“I think classes are important because kids often have no clue as to what to do,” says Klepper. “Directors and producers don’t want to fool around with kids who don’t even know to look at the camera. Plus, I don’t think you can ever know enough.”
But even armed with a little technique, a child has to have the right temperament for the demands of auditioning. “Children have to be a certain type to be able to wait a long time for an interview, walk into a room by themselves and follow directions from the casting person,” says Klepper.
“Most parents either know their children can do it or they just try it and see,” she adds. “Usually, if they listen at school, are outgoing and like to perform, they’ll be able to audition. I thought my children had potential, but if they hadn’t booked anything within a year, I would have quit. I don’t think it’s good for kids who are very competitive. My kids are still very young, but when they get to ages 12 and 13, they may start to feel more competition and stress. Then we’ll take it from there.”
Keeping auditions fun
So far, Klepper has taken pains to keep the audition process as fun and light as possible for her kids. “I don’t like them to be competitive,” she says. “I encourage them to play with the other children while waiting for interviews. I tell my children they’re a team, so when one gets a commercial, they each get a toy.
“I tell them they can’t get all the jobs, because there are other kids and every one has to have a turn, so they don’t feel rejected if they aren’t chosen for a job,” she adds. “Jeff feels worse if he loses a baseball game than if he doesn’t get a commercial. I think that’s healthy. I want my children to have a childhood.”
Unfortunately, not all parents have that approach to the business. “There are parents who take their children from school to work to home and that’s it,” says Klepper of the more over-zealous stage mothers who, sadly, have always been a part of the industry.
“I just feel badly for their children, because it’s not a way of life for their kids. My kids aren’t living my dream. I had fun acting, but I felt I got everything I needed out of extra work. Now that I see my kids doing it, and they’re better at it than I was, I’m glad I’m not doing it.”