Acting can be a lucrative job. Some of the famous actors and actresses make millions of dollars per production. However, it can be a challenging career, especially when it comes to booking roles. To become a successful actor or actress, you require skill, talent, practice, experience, and a bit of luck.
This article will discuss in detail the process and requirements for becoming an actor. It will also look at the job prospect and outlook for actors.
Actor Career Description
The primary role of an actor is to effectively communicate a character to an audience. By taking up the persona of a given character within a storyline, the actor evokes certain emotions and discussions among the audience.
Actor Job Description
The main duties and responsibilities of an actor include:
- Reading scripting
- Rehearsing their lines
- Rehearsing their scenes
- Exhibiting a wide range of emotions and actions
- Researching their characters to have a better understanding to portray them effectively
- Following the director’s instructions and cues
Essential Skills and Competencies for Actors
To become an actor, you require certain skills and competencies, including:
You need to be able to listen to and understand the director’s instructions, cues, and feedback. You also need to effectively listen to other actors.
Excellent Verbal Communication Skills
Acting is a highly collaborative job that requires constant communication among cast members, crew, and directors. You should be able to convey information about the production and your scenes to the relevant parties clearly.
While the script will bring up the necessary details about a character, it is your responsibility as the actor to convey it appropriately.
Acting involves a lot of memorization, and you need to have a good memory of your lines and scenes.
Persistence and Resilience
The reality is you will most likely not land your first acting job after your first audition. Most actors say that they have to go to numerous auditions before landing their first production. This calls for grit, persistence, and patience to keep auditioning and improving your skills even when you get numerous rejections.
The work schedules and settings vary from one project to another. At one time, you might need to work for long hours each day, and other times you are idle as you don’t have a project you are working on. Also, you might need to travel from your home location to the set location. Sometimes this means traveling abroad.
Usually, actors are given scripts to memorize their lines. They also need to read the script for the entire production to understand their character, settings, and entire production’s storyline.
Often, acting requires you to spend many hours on set, either standing, moving around as you produce the scenes, and occasionally sitting. You must be in good physical condition, particularly if you will be on set for a live performance that lasts for an extended period of time.
Types of Actors
When starting a career in acting, you need to decide on the type of actor you want to become. The acting techniques vary with the different types of productions. Actors can be broadly categorized into three according to their medium as follows:
- Screen actors. They act in productions that are showcased through the screen, including web series, films, television productions, and commercials.
- Stage actors. For example, musical theatre, on-Broadway, and off-Broadway productions.
- Voice actors. They mainly use their voice to depict characters in productions such as animations, radio ads, audiobooks, podcasts, and video games.
While some actors opt to major in one type of acting, others move from one medium to another. When starting, it is advisable to consider the type of acting you are most interested in and to develop your skills and experience in that area.
Actor Salary, Job Outlook, and Prospects
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median hourly wage for actors is $21.88.
The demand for actors is expected to grow by 3 percent between 2019 and 2029. Part of the expected increased demand will result from the increase in internet-only streaming services, resulting in an increase in the demand for the number of shows.
Many small and medium-sized theatres and production companies may end up closing due to difficulty getting funding. On the other hand, the number of productions by larger production companies will most likely increase as they have stable sources of income and funding. Acting jobs will continue to be highly competitive as actors scramble for the available roles.
Actor Career Path: Steps to Becoming an Actor
Below are the steps for becoming an actor:
- Acquire the necessary skills
- Take steps to gain experience
- Put together an acting resume
- Seek out an acting auditions and casting call
- Continuously grow your skills and network
- Hire a manager or agent
Training Requirements to Become an Actor
Typically, there are no clear-cut academic or formal training qualifications stipulated for becoming an actor. However, getting some level of education and training will give you a competitive advantage during auditions.
It will also help you work more efficiently on your scenes and collaborate with other cast and crew members as you understand the technicalities involved in production.
Below is a look at the various training options for actors.
High School Drama Classes
High school drama classes offer an excellent opportunity to learn about auditioning, performing, scripting, stage design, and costume design. They also offer an opportunity to perform in front of a big audience during plays and musicals. They offer foundational skills and experience for professional acting.
Various liberal arts colleges in the US offer associate degrees in acting and theatre. While some have a dedicated acting school, others have performing arts schools.
Specialty acting schools have a curriculum that is exclusively designed to train aspiring actors. Students get a chance to work with seasoned actors, producers, and directors to develop their skills and learn the ropes of the acting industry. The programs also teach acting fundamentals such as memorization, improvisation, oral projection, conveying emotion, and characterization.
Performing arts schools offer a wide range of courses for different thespians, including actors, dancers, choreographers, comedians, and singers, among others. They also offer specialized diploma or certificate programs in areas such as costume design, stage management, and directing.
Associate degrees in acting and theatre foster a well-rounded understanding of performing arts. They aim to establish an appreciation for the various art genres and cover topics such as filmmaking techniques, narrative devices, film theory, and film promotion.
The programs go on to provide targeted classes in acting. They form a firm foundation for students whether they want to go into professional acting or further their education with a Bachelor’s degree.
BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) vs BA (Bachelor of Arts) programs
The most commonly offered undergraduate acting programs are either as a BA or BFA in acting. The BFA in Acting curriculum is solely acting-based, while a BA in Acting program often incorporates some courses in performing arts. As such, a BA is more generalized while a BFA is more specialized. A BFA is quite intensive and focuses on both theoretical and practical aspects of acting.
Typically, a BFA has more course work than a BA; therefore, it takes a longer time to complete. Some universities offer extended semesters to reduce the overall program completion time. Both programs take four years on average to complete.
Therefore, if you a looking to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Acting, it is best to undertake a BFA instead of a BA. A BFA is highly regarded in the acting industry. Besides, it incorporates extensive and vigorous acting work.
Since the program is quite rigorous, only students who are genuinely interested in acting enroll in it. Therefore, you get to study and network with like-minded people, which gives room for exploration and creativity.
Master’s Degree in Acting & Theatre
Often, people who pursue a Master’s Degree in Acting & Theatre have had some success as actors and are looking for a way to expand their portfolio into teaching or other areas of acting. The master’s programs come in handy as they offer specialization options such as film, playwriting, theatre, television, set design, drama, acting, and directing. They take 3-4 years to complete.
Acting Classes, Workshops, and Seminars
Acting classes, workshops, and seminars are available in a wide range of terms regarding duration, price, mode of delivery, and content level.
Often, the various acting agencies and local theatres have acting workshops ranging from beginner, intermediate, to advanced level. Some acting workshops cover a given area, while others are general. While some last a few hours, others last 1-3 weeks, yet others last up to 6-months. The more intensive ones cover all you need to know about acting. These are a great option if you are looking to switch career to acting or upgrade your acting skills.
Regarding mode of delivery, some of the courses are administered exclusively in an in-person class setting, and others are offered online. In contrast, others have a hybrid model that incorporates both online and in-class sessions.
Summer Acting Camps
These are a type of acting workshops or seminars that are mostly targeted at teen actors. Students get to learn crucial acting skills and techniques and do intensive acting practicals with fellow attendees.
Several summer acting programs in the US have built a reputation for themselves by grooming reputable actors. For example, Rose Byrne and Matthew Fox are alums of the Atlantic Acting School (NYC), while Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman and Lea Michele are alums of the Stagedoor Manor.
There are numerous free and paid online acting classes available for all levels of actors. You could take online master classes from experienced actors or learn from platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, and YouTube.
Mostly, acting coaches are experienced actors. They not only have a wealth of acting knowledge, experience, and skills, but they also have a lot of connections.
An acting coach can offer you personalized attention to improve your weak areas and polish up what you are already doing well. It is best to work with an acting coach if you already have acting experience. You could also work with a coach on a given production to help you fine-tune your performance.
How to Build Up Your Skills and Portfolio to Become an Actor
As soon as you determine that you want to act professionally, it is important to take steps to build your skills and experience. There are various opportunities to get acting experience ranging from high school drama plays and musicals, participating in community theatre productions, or doing solo production for social media.
Seek small playhouses and theaters in your local area and audition for various roles. Sometimes, all you can get is a role as an extra; take it and do it well. It will give you experience behind the curtain and further exposure to the acting industry.
Maybe, while acting as an extra, you will learn about other available roles for other productions within the theatre, and you could qualify for a bigger role.
Putting Together Your Actor Resume
Think of your actor resume as your personal brand representation. It should be detailed yet concise by providing the most crucial information in a well-presented manner.
An actor resume is different from most other types of resumes in that it contains your headshot and demo reel. These help the casting director determine if you would be a good fit for their production during the short-listing process.
The acting resume should provide your name, agent’s/manager’s name, phone number, email address, union affiliations, training, acting credits, and any special skills. An actor’s headshot should be 8″X10″ taken from your chest up and clearly showing you facial features.
Some casting agencies may require you to provide a section about your physical attributes to provide details about your height, weight, hair color, and eye color.
For easy presentation, break down your acting credits according to the type of production. For example, Film, TV, commercials, Broadway, National Tours, etc. Ensure that each credit lists the production title, your acting role, director, and production company.
A demo reel is also known as a sizzle reel, and it is usually a series of clips that present your previous acting credits. If you had been given your lines for an audition, the demo reel could be a monologue or you acting out the specific scene.
The reel plays a crucial role in the casting directors and producers determining whether they will invite you for the actual audition. Typically, a demo reel is 2 minutes long with shorter 20 to 30 seconds clips.
How to Find Acting Auditions and Casting Calls
Most actors in the entry-level of their career do not have managers and agents. As such, they have to contact casting directors and find casting calls and operations on their own. If you have a large network within the acting industry, reach out to them often to find out if they know of any auditions or casting calls.
Also, the internet has made it easy to find casting opportunities through various online casting platforms. A platform such as Backstage.com lists thousands of vetted opportunities, which they update daily. You can find various productions ranging from smaller ones such as web series and regional theatre to larger ones such as Hollywood productions and films. While some of these online casting platforms are free, others are subscription-based.
Another way of getting auditions and casting calls is putting yourself out there. For instance, you can set up your social media pages to regularly put up videos of your performance.
Make your about page a mini resume by providing details such as your name, phone number, email address, acting credits, and special skills. It may seem like a long shot, but you never know who may stumble upon your work and decide to hire you. You could also link your social media pages with acting-related sites such as Actors Access to increase your chances of being discovered.
Continuously Grow Your Skills and Network
In acting, training is a continuous process. You are really never done. As with any art or skill, practice makes perfect. While you may not need to always enroll in acting classes, make a point of interacting with other actors and fed off their creativity and talent. If need be, hire an acting coach to polish your skills. Take up different roles to expand your portfolio.
Network extensively and build your reputation as a professional. Also, stay up-to-date with what is happening in the industry through websites such as Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Leverage the various actors’ and casting social media pages and groups to find opportunities.
Consider joining an actors’ union. They are a great opportunity for you to network with key industry players and meet seasoned actors. Some unions grant their members access to benefits such as health insurance and vetted casting opportunities. It may be difficult to join large, established actor unions such as AEA and AGVA. Therefore, try out smaller ones such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
There is no set career path for actors. Some opt to stick with acting and building a reputation in the industry. In contrast, others choose to try other career options within the field, such as scripting, directing, consulting, coaching, or teaching. Yet, others go on to set up their own companies and to do independent productions.
Hire a Manager or an Agent
As you continue to advance in your acting career, you may need to hire an agent or manager. This is especially important if you do not belong to any acting Union or live outside the major cities where most acting jobs are found.
Generally, the way that acting agents and managers work is that they find you a job, and you pay them a percentage or a commission from the payment you receive once the job has been booked. Beware of agents, managers, and companies that require you to pay an agency fee to sign you up.
Most mid-level actors only require an agent as they are not big enough to need a manager. Besides, it is more expensive to hire a manager as they get up to 20% of each acting job you land. That would be a lot of money to spend on someone who only works a few times through the year.
Best Acting Schools and Programs in the United States
Below is a brief overview of the best acting schools in the United States:
The Julliard School has a drama division that offers a rigorous and conservatory acting program. Their students train from 9 AM to 10.30 PM on most weeks. Students are encouraged to develop their own processes and explore their creativity and talent. Admission to the program is quite competitive as the school receives over 1000 auditions per year but only admits 20students.
This is one of the most expensive acting schools in the US. Students audition to be admitted, and once enrolled, they are assigned to a studio. Each studio teaches different acting methods, including Meissner, Experimental, Strasberg, Atlantic, and Adler. After two years, the students have an opportunity to enroll in a different studio. Their approach is not conservatory, and students spent 18-24 hours per week in professional training.
This is another New York-based drama school. Its training style is a conservatory with a “toolbox” approach to produce well-rounded actors. Students spend 30 hours per week training, 20 hours preparing for class, and 7 hours for academics.
The Yale School of Drama offers both a BFA and MFA. Yale constantly provides its students with productions to work on to fine-tune their skills. Each season, the school produces 40 productions. Acceptance is quite competitive, with 15-17 admissions out of 1000 applications per year.
The UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television offers both undergraduate and postgraduate acting programs. The programs aim to train actors who can work seamlessly across all mediums. Students have more flexibility in choosing their courses to enhance a holistic understanding of performing arts.
Financial Aid and Loans for Acting School Students
Most universities and colleges that offer acting programs also offer financial aid. Financial aid is usually in the form of student loans, federal and state grants, and scholarships. Some programs also offer work-study programs, payment plans, on-campus employment opportunities, and benefits for US veterans.
Tips for Nailing Your Auditions for Acting Jobs
For many actors, landing an audition or casting call in itself can be a challenge. Therefore, if you land one, you want to make the most out of it to increase your chances of getting booked. Below are some tips for auditioning:
Read your script to have an understanding of the character and scene. Critically think about the storyline and character journey as the casting directors may ask for your opinion about the script. Ensure that your opinion of the script is positive to portray that you are excited to work on the project.
Master your Lines and Rehearse Your Performance
Isn’t that the obvious reason why you are auditioning? You’ll be surprised how many actors think they know their lines and then end up forgetting or mixing them up during the audition. Try testing your memorization of the lines randomly through the day.
Arrive on Time
This will communicate to The Casting directors and producers that you are professional and reliable. It will also give you time to get yourself together before getting in to perform.
Ground Yourself Before Going in for the Audition
The last thing you want is to have come this far and then get too nervous about performing well. Take deep breaths, bring attention to the various body parts, and became present to get grounded.
Bring Your A-Game for the Audition
Bring out the appropriate emotions, tone, and accent when performing the scene. Rehearse as much as possible until you fully master your performance. Groom in a way that represents the character you’re performing but does not put on a costume for the audition. Bring out an emotional depth and range in your performance. Ensure that you are articulate and can be heard clearly; avoid mumbling.
Take Any Critical Feedback and Direction
The casting directors may give you direction about your performance. Listen attentively, take it, and do as they instruct.
Other Career Options for Actors
- Set designer: Set designers work in consultation with the directors and producers to set up a given scene. This position requires additional skills beyond acting, such as knowledge of architectural designs, interior design, and the ability to build and erect set pieces.
- Acting Coach. An on-set acting coach works with actors to help them bring out the various characters effectively using different acting methods and techniques. They provide actors with feedback on their performance.
- Director. The director works with everyone on set, including the actors and producers, to visualize the script.
- Producer. Producers are the project administrators. Their responsibilities include casting, financial management, set design, and other creative decisions.
A career as an actor can be highly rewarding and well-paying. Although there are strict training and academic qualifications, the job is quite competitive. It takes sheer determination to stick with it even when you are getting rejections.
To increase your chances of getting booked as an aspiring actor, develop your skills and grow your network. Consistently look for auditioning opportunities and, if need be, hire an agent.