The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Growing up in the Spotlight

Students and teachers discuss the appeal of spending free time acting professionally and the challenges associated with starting at a early age.

The television is on, and in between shows, a commercial plays. It is a medical commercial, the type where someone takes the medicine and then runs through a field of poppies with their golden retriever as a sped-up voice reads out a seemingly endless list of side effects. In the background of the commercial, Mellow Eaton ’25, then 11 years old, stands with an adult woman. Eaton, a professional actress, said this was her first commercial, which she did with her mom, who is also an actress.

“[The producers] had me stand next to my fake mom, and they’re like, ‘Actually, you’re taller than her,’” Eaton said. “So, they fired her. And then they got my mom to [play] my mom. We’re in the background, and I don’t think you could see us, but we were there.”

In Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of America according to, actors are everywhere. According to the Max (formerly known as HBO) documentary “Showbiz Kids,” “Every year, over 20,000 child actors audition for roles in Hollywood.”

Many students, like Eaton, have been professional actors over the school’s history. Shirley Temple, the namesake of the sparkling grenadine drink, graduated from Westlake School in 1945. The school continues to house her graduation outfit and diploma, according to the Westlake School Archives. Other notable alumni who acted while at the school include Greta Lee, who starred in 2024 film “Past Lives,” and Lily Collins, who acted in “Emily in Paris,” and “To the Bone” and “The Blindside.”

Nate Arnold ’25, who has been acting since he was three years old, said his first professional acting experience was with his father, who is also a professional actor. Arnold said he has been acting less since he started at the school because he needs to balance his schoolwork and acting.

“We wanted to take a pause on acting, so I only really got back into it last year,” Arnold said. “I am employed probably only three times a year. When I got this job on Family Switch, I was [acting alongside] a bunch of kids my age who are so much more successful. I was kind of like, ‘Maybe if I [hadn’t] stopped acting, I could have been like that.’ I am happy with the decisions that were made, but a little part of me wonders what would [have] happen[ed] if I stuck with it.”

Eaton said the frequency of auditions decreased due to the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strikes in 2023.

“Before the writers’ strike, I got one to three auditions a week,” Eaton said. “It was a lot, but then the writers strike happened. Now that the writers’ strike is over, auditions are sort of streaming in. Right now, it [is] one audition every other week.”

Jaiden Mathews ’25, who has been acting professionally since he was four years old, said that the number of auditions he gets varies from month to month.

“There are definitely points throughout the year that I get more auditions than other times,” Mathews said. “Usually, the most I’ll get is three or four a month.”

Money earned by actors who are minors is subject to the regulations of the Coogan Law, which was initially enacted in 1939 and revised in 2000. In California, the Coogan Law requires employers of child actors to put 15% of the minor’s earnings in a trust account to save some of the earnings for the child to use in the future, according to SAG-AFTRA.

Eaton said some of the money she makes is saved, some is used to pay for expenditures and some she gets to spend however she wants.

“I put it in a savings account and then [use it to] help with other stuff, like if I need new headshots or [need to] pay school bills,” Eaton said. “If there’s some left, I use it to buy new packs on [The] Sims 4. It is pretty nice.”

When minors act professionally on screen, they often miss school to be on set. Because they are missing school, minors have to do schoolwork for at least three hours a day, and legally there must be a tutor on set to help them, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Eaton said she worked with a tutor on the set of her most recent commercial who was very helpful.

“I just did a Lay’s commercial, and the tutor there was so great,” Eaton said. “I told her I was doing [a] Gatsby essay, and she was like, ‘Hey, I have a friend. Call him, and he’ll give you a bunch of notes on Gatsby.’ I didn’t because I forgot [about it], but it was really nice. She was cool.”

Arnold said the school is always accommodating when he has to miss class.

“I have a work permit from the school saying I’m doing fine in school and that I can work,” Arnold said. “I have to email my teachers, Mr. Preciado and my dean [to] let them know [when] I’m working.” They’re always very supportive the times that has happened. In acting, because I’m under 18, I legally have to [keep up with] school. So for three hours, I just do homework.”

Upper School Performing Arts Teacher Sabrina Washburn said the Performing Arts Department supports students with professional aspirations.

“We teachers try to make ourselves available to students who want extra coaching for outside auditions,” Washburn said. “It is on the students to ask for extra support, but we are always happy to help students meet their goals, whether for school or in some professional capacity.”

Arnold said he feels he has learned a lot about resilience from acting.

“Acting has definitely taught me a lot of lessons about life,” Arnold said. “It’s taught me the skill of being able to communicate and interact with different types of people and personalities and how to kind of become not totally crushed with failure because all of acting is going out on auditions and getting rejected. After every audition, I was like, it went well, I’m proud of myself [and I am] probably not gonna get it because it’s something that you have to accept and just move on with your life.”

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Zoe Goor, Print Managing Editor

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