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For career day this year, my daughter was a movie star. Ugh! I thought. Here I am trying to cultivate creativity in children and my own daughter had fallen prey to the superficiality of fame – at only 6 years old. Try as I may to educate her on thespianism, she still donned sparkly star-shaped sunglasses and every furry, shimmery thing she had in her closet. At drop-off, when the teachers asked who she was for career day, I quickly answered, “an actor”. But she just rolled her eyes, flipped her hair and declared, “I’m a star!”.
But it takes more than star shaped glasses to be a star. And no one knows that better than Nicole Duncan-Smith, successful manager-mom of Eden Duncan-Smith (Annie, Lion King, August Wilson’s Fences).
Starting Saturday, April 2nd, Nicole is sharing her knowledge, insights and contacts in the mega 5-part series, “Kids Got Talent: The Stage Calling Their Name?”.
The series is an intensive workshop covering subjects from how to identify talent, how to get representation and what type of representation is best for your family. The series also includes audition tips and then the finale..kids get to showcase their talents in front of industry professionals. The entire series is $160 and is held conveniently on 4 consecutive Saturdays.
Nicole is also multi-talented force to be reckoned with, not only is she Eden’s manager and an entertainment professional, she has a Masters in Divinity.
We sat down with Nicole to discuss the series and how and why she became an expert in the parent/manager field.
Tell us a little about you. How long have you been a manager and why did you decide to become Eden’s manager?
My name is Nicole Duncan-Smith. I'm 42 and I live in Brooklyn, but I am originally from Philadelphia. I come from a big family that loved music, art and drama. That was displayed in all kinds of ways growing up: from crazy to creative. I have a bachelors in sociology from Spelman College and a Masters of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary. Currently, I am a licensed minister teaching Christian Ethics and Theology both at the church and graduate level.
That is one side of me... the other is that I am a "creative"... always itching for something new and always looking for talent. So imagine how shocked I was to see that my kid had "it"! What is "it"? Well, you can't define "it", you just know what "it" is when you see "it". This kid of mine got whatever that "it" was. It seemed as though the child was wired to be what she is. We tried to get her in sports when she was younger (really tried tennis, track, golf and basketball), to no avail. She tried really hard but was not clicking at any of it. So we watched her and noticed aside from sesame street, all she ever wanted to do was watch Shirley Temple. We were like "oh Lawd", not one of those. But in fact she was. Wait let me back track... I had worked in the entertainment industry since I was 14. Whether at a label, magazine, a management company or a combination of all of those, I had seen young artists from the day they walked in the door to the day they made huge splashes. At Spelman in 1992, can you imagine how funny it was to see Usher walk in unpolished and now to see this mega star? Or to have worked with Miss Lauryn Hill early in her career and to see what she is now? Also, I worked with the Bring It On Girls and Blaque, on their first album. I have also seen people who have not done so well (like Maia Campbell) and noticing nuances in both narratives. That sociology kicks in and combined with studying under greats like Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen and the late Steve Salem, I was able to identify something special in my own kid and cultivate her gift once it got to a level where she was able to articulate "I want to be a star".
Check out the Agenda:
April 2, 2016
Session 1: What is Talent and How Do You Know Your Child Has It?
Conversations with Manager Nicole Duncan-Smith, talent agents and parents from of your favorite child actors, about how to identify, cultivate and promote your child’s talent.
• Substance over Smoke and Mirrors
• Examples of Do’s and Don’ts about working with children
• Showcasing your kid
April 9, 2016
Session 2: How to Get Representation?
Discuss with Talent Agent Shirley Faison and Manager Nicole Duncan-Smith whether you should get an agent vs a manager.
• What is an agent? Talent vs. Casting, Commercial vs. Theatrical/Legit
• What is a manager? Personal, Business and Career
• How to obtain representation? THE STEPS
• Can you do it yourself?
Management is about cultivation, not making stars. Russell always told me "a star is born, not made. You can't hide a star or a hit, they will always make their talent known." I think he would add to that, that sometimes they need someone to nurture and guide that star before it fades and no one gets to see it." And so we first secured Eden an agent. But as time went on and opportunities arose, I started to step in with ideas to help the agent and her idea for Eden's career. I thought I was just "mommying".
But there were skills that I brought to the table and a passion that I brought to the table that no other person, big time manager and most certainly none of the other moms did. So that is why I decided to be her principal manager. I've great examples too. I've watch Sonia Norwood, The Palmers, The Hills, Jonetta Patton and saw that the one thing that they had in common (other than tremendously talented superstars) is that they were known in the industry as being fiercely protective of their brand but fully aware of who their child was and the very particular needs Black children need in an industry that has a tradition of eating them up and devouring. They fight for their kids value and that is a very hard thing to do in this space. I also believe in collective thinking and brand building, so occasionally other experts come in and join Team Spagh-Eddie. But for the most part, it is all me.
Why are you hosting, Kids Got Talent Series? Goals?
There are a few goals in hosting our Kids Got Talent Series. There really is not a day that I don't get an inquiry about how to get their kid in or how do I do it. Most people think that it is an overnight thing. It is not. It actually is disrespectful to wake up and just assume that your kid has it and it should just happen. It requires work and I want to be a resource to help navigate the "work". Like they say show business is 10% show and the rest is all business.
What will a parent get out of this series?
I believe in the four workshops and one showcase, a parent will have access to professionals who know about the business and will give them valuable hits that money cannot buy. You will learn that everything your child does might be cute, but is not or may not be "talent". We will talk about substance over smoke and mirrors, the do's and don'ts with working with kids, the different types of agents and managers and how to get them. How to prepare your kid for auditions and how to market your little (or big) star.
For us novices, what exactly does “smoke and mirrors” mean? It comes up a lot in the series.
Smoke and mirrors are the things that distract you from the real deal stuff. Like extreme marketing but limited talent. Smoke and Mirrors is hype. It is when you tell us that your kid is a star, instead of showing us.
What are the topics that will be covered?
The topics covered will be as follows: What is Talent and How Do You Know Your Child Has It; How to Get Representation; Audition Protocol and Tips; and Creating Your Brand.
Is this suitable for parents of kids who are studying other artistic disciplines besides Theater? Who is it suitable for?
I think we will have useful information for all creatives: Actors, singers, dancers and models. A lot of this is parenting 105 on steriods. We have fun but we are intense about winning and if you want your kid to win, there is an intensity (a fire) you have to have.
How much experience should a child have for a parent to consider coming to this series?
No experience is needed. You are there to learn.
Without giving too much away…Why should a parent consider entering into the entertainment biz?
I have no idea why a sane parent would consider entering into the entertainment biz. I ask myself that all the time. I mean the hours are long, the people are crazy, your kid hears "no" way more that she or he will hear "yes" at first and the pay is not always good (at least not at first) but then their is this crazy thing about love. My kid loves what she does and I know that I would do anything to make sure that she has the opportunities that her arts and passion could afford her. In this business, your kid needs armor and aside from God, I consider myself kind of a breastplate protecting her from the harm of the industry. I am also the momma and no one is gonna love and watch out for her more than I will.
Is there really such a thing as a triple threat? Do kids today need a multidisciplinary approach or mastering one is enough?
Absolutely there is something as a triple threat but there is also a quadruple threat and a quintuple threat and so on and so on. You bring your natural threats to the table (some people are just beautiful... that's a threat... and are tall or really small... those are threats). But then there are the threats that I always say can get better or one can learn. So get in those voice lessons, acting lessons (minimally at first until your kid finds out who they are and there is a secret about that), dance lessons, comedy improv, instruments, martial arts... all of those things and more give you an edge and make you a threat. Being smart is a threat. Mastering one is enough if you are clear on what you want to do and that this is the only lane you want to be in. It is not cut and dry. I believe master many.
My daughter couldn't be dissuaded from being a "movie star" for career day. I love the arts and if she does pursue a career there, I’d like her to take it more seriously. From a parent’s perspective, there's a yuck factor associated with today's stardom. Do you agree? Can it be avoided?
There is a yuck factor. I believe it cannot be avoided. That's why we [parents/agents] are here to counter that conversation. I remember our first TMZ story. It seemed to linger on for weeks and weeks. We had to think strategically and counter that conversation with the abundance of really cool things and philanthropic things that she does on a day-to-day basis (those things that she has been doing all of her life). You have to be smart and not fall into the yucky things out there. It is my hope that Kids Got Talent Series will help parents in this respect, by showing you examples of others who have done it.
Is education a factor in pursuing a professional performing arts career? Can you have both…a good education while pursuing a professional performing arts career?
I absolutely believe it is. In fact, you have to have a certain grade point average to be allowed to work professionally on a gig. I love seeing kids like Yara Shahidi. That girl has a 4.5 GPA. I also love the heritage of Tatyana Ali and Jody Foster (Ivy Leaguers), Viola Davis... there are so many smart people out there. I remember Denzel Washington told Eden that he did not want to see her not getting her degree. He said that this business will be out here for her. And this is true. So she will be going to Spelman in 2017.
Your daughter, Eden Duncan-Smith, was in Annie, the film, and on Broadway in August Wilson’s Fences and the Lion King. At, 16 years old, she's seasoned. Is her career in cruise control or are you still in the driver's seat?
Like I said... We are always cultivating her and I am always "itching" for something new. So no cruise control over here. As far as the driver's seat... well... as long as I am momma...