How to Become a Professional Actor in 5 Steps

Acting is a challenging and competitive career that requires talent and persistence. Read on to learn about how you can prepare for this field through practical experience opportunities and formal training. Schools offering Acting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Do Actors Do?

As a professional actor or actress, you may perform in theater, television, film and a variety of other industries. Your main role is to artfully portray real or fictional characters for entertainment purposes. You may use body language, facial expressions and speech patterns to transform yourself into these personas. A director usually supervises your performance as you work closely with other actors and film staff.

Some actors and actresses begin their life of acting by working in plays locally or regionally. Formal training may be an option, but most actors and actresses start this way. A summary of career information can be found in the table below.

Education Required Long-term training, but postsecondary classes or a bachelor's degree is suggested
Education Field of Study Acting, theater, film
Key Skills Public speaking, memorization, reading, physical stamina
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all actors)*
Median Hourly Wage (2015) $18.80 (for all actors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Skills Do Actors Need to Succeed?

Aside from possessing acting talent and experience, an acting career demands good communication skills, since actors and actresses work closely with directors, producers and numerous other entertainment professionals. Perseverance is another important quality in this field, since auditions don't always lead to an actor landing a coveted role, and rejection is common. Stamina is often important as well, since actors may need to endure long performances or shoots.

Step 1: Know What to Expect

It takes a lot of time and work to land lucrative, glamorous acting gigs. As you try to land bigger and better roles in major films or Broadway plays, you can carve out a living working as an extra, filming commercials and doing voiceovers. You may have to spend a great deal of time and energy seeking out acting roles, since regular employment can be hard to find.

Step 2: Gain Acting Experience

As an aspiring actor or actress, experience may be one of your most valuable assets. You can start early by participating in your high school drama department or performing in shows. You may also join a local community theater company and learn from more seasoned actors or actresses.

Step 3: Pursue Formal Training

You can complete a formal training program through an acting school or college to gain further experience and networking opportunities. You can choose from degree programs in acting, film and theater to better understand your role and processes as an actor or actress. As a student in one of these programs, you may study improvisation, movement, voice control and singing in addition to theater history, script interpretation and dramatic literature.

Step 4: Obtain an Agent

Finding an agent to represent you can be a major asset for your career advancement. An agent can help you find work, negotiate contracts and manage your career. Your agent typically earns a percentage of your pay for each part he or she helps you obtain, but can be instrumental in helping you gain exposure.

Step 5: Audition for Jobs

There can be intense competition for available roles, so you may have to attend a great number of auditions before getting your first job. You may want to have an up-to-date headshot and resume that you can send out to apply for these auditions. Keep in mind that, while you may find acting jobs all across the country, most opportunities are centered in the entertainment hubs of New York and Los Angeles. You may need to join the Screen Actors Guild to seek certain unionized roles.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a lot of jobs in the entertainment industry that relate to the acting field. Voice over actors may work on commercials and animated series, while editors and camera operators handle the more technical aspects of the business. These positions often require an undergraduate degree for entry. Those with a lot of artistic experience and talent may find work as dancers, choreographers, musicians, and singers. None of these career paths require a college education, but many students do pursue college training to further hone their skills.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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