Theater Acting Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a theater actor. Learn about the educational and training requirements, necessary skills, job outlook and salary information, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Acting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Theater Acting?

Theater actors study scripts, develop characters and then perform in front of live audiences. Theater actors may have to participate in numerous auditions before landing a role in a play. Once they have earned a part, they may conduct research to help understand and create their character. Theater actors also work closely with the director and other actors to deliver the best performance possible. They make adjustments based on the director and/or producer's suggestions. Some theater actors may be required to sing, dance or learn a new skill to perform on stage. The following table provides detailed information for this career:

Degree Required No formal education required, bachelor's degree recommended
Training Required Continuing training, workshops
Education Field of Study Drama
Key Skills Creativity, persistence, dedication
Job Growth (2014-24) 10%* (all actors)
Median Hourly Wage (2015) $18.80* (all actors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need For a Theater Acting Career?

Although acting does not necessarily require a formal education, aspiring actors and actresses frequently pursue postsecondary degrees. Many universities and private fine arts schools have drama programs that grant bachelor's degrees. These programs generally include general education requirements, as well as focused studies in acting, theater writing and direction. As a theater student, you'll have frequent opportunities to audition for school productions to gain experience and build your resume.

In addition, some actors and actresses pursue advanced credentials in their field. Many graduate schools boast programs that offer master's degrees in drama or theater. These programs emphasize workshop experience and require a high level of skill, rather than focusing on basic education.

What Kinds of Skills Should I Develop?

Theater acting requires the charisma, talent, passion and imagination needed to give life to a role. You must be dedicated to the craft of acting and often willing to endure financial strain and the stress of rejection to begin a career in this field. You'll also benefit from networking skills that can allow you to build relationships that could lead to new opportunities for acting roles.

What Will My Work Be Like?

Acting often entails long, irregular hours. Your rehearsals may run very late and fall on nights or weekends. The work environment of a production often depends on the theater and its budget, so you could be working in settings that are well-furnished or quite austere. You'll be expected to invest a great deal of time to crafting your performance, knowing your lines and memorizing the on-stage progression of the production. Acting is also known for its high stress levels; you may be expected to perform your best while coping with the difficulty of landing your next role after your current production ends.

The competition for jobs in theater is very high. You may begin by taking parts in the productions offered at smaller local theaters or participate in large productions in notable theaters around the country. You'll usually find that building an acting career is a gradual process that requires you take small parts initially and move up to major roles. Because of the difficulty of finding consistent work, many aspiring theater actors take part-time jobs in other industries while establishing themselves.

What Kind of Pay Can I Expect?

Because of the disparity between the salary of actors and actresses that work in motion pictures compared to those that work in theater, wages for workers in this profession can vary greatly. As of May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median hourly wage for all actors and actresses was $18.80 (www.bls.gov). The top 25% of actors earn above $48.79 per hour, which is the highest level at which the BLS documents salaries. The bottom 10% of workers made hourly wages that were $9.27 or less.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Musicians and singers are related careers in the arts that do not require formal education. These performers play instruments or sing a variety of music. They may perform for audiences or record their work in a studio. Film and video editors; camera operators; and producers and directors are a few other related jobs in entertainment, but require a bachelor's degree. Film and video editors and camera operators change or adjust the images that an audience views, which adds to the telling of the story. Producers and directors are the ones who make decisions and oversee a performing arts production.

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