Julie Stevens knows that there is a life after tomorrow. The former child star who starred as one of the orphans in the Broadway musical Annie is now helping other children realize their own acting dreams. We spoke with Julie at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City to talk about child actors, pursuing your passion, and why her most memorable New Year’s Eve was in 1983.
Let’s talk about what you have going on now, Julie.
I started a management company 4 years ago. The kids are all pursuing film and television in Los Angeles. I coach all of them for auditions. I also teach parents and how to navigate the business and keep the kids grounded. You have to make sure that your skills are competitive. I think a lot of kids come to L.A. because they’re told that they are cute. They have to always get better; it’s like any other skill, they still have to train. It’s a different business from when I was growing up.
Would you say that everyone has to be a triple threat?
I think here in New York City they do, but in Los Angeles less so. There, you have to be a strong actor, but you also have to really want it. You’re always in the car, traveling from one audition to another, so you have to be dedicated, the kids especially. When I speak with the kids, I tell them that I want them to have the best childhood possible. My role is for them to be happy and know that show business can be so much fun. When it stops being fun, and you’re not giving your best, then you need to make a decision to stay in it or not. At the end of the day, we need to work together as a team.
I like the fact that you’re realistic with them.
I think that sometimes a lot of kids don’t realize that. They think, “I had a job; I must be good.” It doesn’t last though, and people forget. Once you’re hot, everyone wants you, and once it’s over, you’re back in the mix with everyone else. I think sometimes people have a hard time; what happened to many of us with Annie was luck.
How can you tell when a kid wants it?
Oh, you can tell. From the enthusiasm to the willingness to learn the material. When I send kids home with material to learn and they call me the next day and they’re ready, I know they want it. When they have excuses, it’s another story.
What would you recommend for kids who are interested in show business?
Try it. You’ll never know if you’re going to be good at it unless you take those first steps. I went to theater camp in upstate New York, and some of my closest friends are the ones I made when I was 13. You need to get out there and try it and be as objective as you can about it. You don’t have to do it all well, but you have to follow your passion. Whatever your thing is, do it well. I always knew that I was a very good vocalist. That helped my self-esteem, because it was something that I could always rely on. But that doesn’t mean that you stop learning. Even now, I’m in classes. I do improv classes, voice classes, and in turn, I understand what my clients are going through. They know that I am a tough critic and I don’t accept average. I tell the kids to call me after an audition so they can learn how to self-evaluate. If you fail, it’s okay, because you can learn from it. But I feel like they trust me, I support them and educate them. I tell them that I do the exact same thing that they are doing. As an actress myself, this is what it takes. Building relationships, being prepared, and being humble.
What are some of the placements you’ve gotten for your kids?
They’ve been on Modern Family, one is doing an animated series, another one is doing LEGO Friends. I have a boy who’s doing a new movie. They are working hard, and these are kids who started with no experience. You have to give it time, and want it.
So we’re standing in front of the Gershwin Theatre in NYC, where you performed in Annie. What’s it like being back here?
Imagine being 12-years-old and this is your home. We had so much fun running around the theater and backstage and under the orchestra. What could be better for a kid? When I think about it now, what an exhausting schedule it was. We did 8 shows a week and I went to school full-time. I lived in an apartment right down the street because I had moved to New York. I remember doing a show on New Year’s Eve and then walking to Times Square to watch the ball drop. It’s my favorite New Year’s; that’s the one I remember most, from 1983.
My daughter loved you in Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper. You did the voice of Singing Erica. “If You Love Me for Me” is one of my favorite songs of all time!
I love doing animation. I love singing, so when I was involved in the making of the Princess and the Pauper, it was fantastic. It was Mattel’s first musical, and I said this was the first and the last time that I would ever get cast as a Barbie!
You’ve also gotten into the tech world.
That’s true. I created instructional cards for actors called Acting Outside the Box. I had just moved to L.A. and couldn’t afford a lot of classes. Actors sometimes can’t afford private lessons. I was living alone and didn’t have anyone to run lines with, so to help myself, I made 3 x 5 cards with suggestions. I had taken a million acting classes and had books and books of notes, and things to think about for actors when they’re working on their scenes. So I made the cards and thought, if this helped me, it would help other actors, too. I created an app for it too, Acting Outside the Box, and went from index cards to the app world. It’s interactive and helpful. It goes back to being an educator and wanting to help other people, and help others become the best singer/actor/dancer/ and person they can be.