Where are they now? Child actors at Chapman

child actors

Sophomore screen acting major Ethan Bartley’s headshots from 2014.

Rachel Kelly checks the red lipstick she applied seven hours ago. It’s smudged in the corner, so she dabs it with a napkin to ensure it looks camera-ready. She’s been acting in a thesis film for the past six hours, and as much as she loves acting onscreen and on the stage, she could use a break.

Kelly, a sophomore theatre performance major, is no stranger to the intense demands of the acting world. She’s been in the business for 16 years, 20-year-old-Kelly said, but she doesn’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.

“All through my life, no matter what was going on, I knew that I could lose myself by transforming into a character,” Kelly said.

For Kelly, college is the best place for her to continue her career as an actress, rather than burn out and turn into another failed child actor, like Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes, she said.

Because of the nature of show business, child actors are exposed to sex, drugs and alcohol at an early age, Psychology Today reported in 2011, putting them at high risk of becoming emotionally unstable, or turning into sex, drug or alcohol abusers. Along with this, young actors must constantly cope with rejection, jealousy, self-scrutiny, obsessive thoughts and the relentless need to be perfect, according to the article, but Chapman is a different environment.

“During my audition (to get into Chapman) I didn’t feel judged,” Kelly said, “I felt that all the teachers wanted to know me and help me grow into the actress I could be,” Kelly said.

Gemma Wheeler, a freshman screen acting major, said she has been acting since she was six years old. Acting runs in Wheeler’s family: her mom, Maggie Wheeler, played Janice Litman Goralnik, Chandler Bing’s on-and-off girlfriend, on the NBC sitcom, “Friends.”

“Ever since I could talk, I have loved playing pretend,” Wheeler said. “Dress-up and imagination games were my two favorite pastimes.”

That inspired her to continue acting through middle and high school, she said, and eventually, she decided to pursue it as a career.

“I want to become known as an actress in film and television, then add in writing and directing. If I gain financial stability from that, I want to start a magazine or a foundation committed to empowering young women,” Wheeler said.

But not all Chapman students are thrilled by the demanding environment of screen acting and theatre. Some, like sophomore Maddie Sueltz, became a child actor before they realized how the job would negatively affect her.

“When you’re acting, there’s just too much pressure put on people to be perfect,” said Sueltz, an environmental science and policy major.

In high school, she said they acted in advertisement campaigns for “Got Milk?” and a commercial for Hint Water. Sueltz debated majoring in theater in college, but was ultimately turned off by the high-pressure atmosphere, Sueltz said. Now, she said, she prefers the science lab to the stage.

Ethan Bartley, a sophomore screen acting major, began acting right before his freshman year of high school, he said, and wants to be both behind and in front of the camera.

Bartley has acted and worked on multiple films. He has been featured as an actor in the 2015 film “The Boat Builder,” the 2017 film “Touch,” and the 2018 film “Lost Levels,” according to his IMDb profile. He is also credited for co-producing and cowriting “Lost Levels.”

Since going to college, Bartley said his professors have started to break down habits that he formed when he was younger. He believes this is helping him become an “instrument of creative expression.”

“I’ve been on some (Advanced Productions) and thesis films the past few semesters,” Bartley said, “and I feel that the way I’ve acted has changed drastically.”

Grace Eberle, a sophomore screen acting major, said she moved across the country from Long Island, New York, to pursue her career as an actress at Chapman.

Eberle, who also has her own IMDb page, sang on national television with her high school choir and Emmy award-winning Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, and she’s been in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as in a commercial. After college, she intends on auditioning as much as possible, she said.

“My parents want me to get a degree first and foremost before I give my all into auditioning,” Eberle said. “After that, I will move to New York City and audition my butt off.”