What Is the Job Description of an Actor?

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

What Is an Actor or Actress?

Actors and actresses can enter the field through numerous training paths, including participating in plays during childhood and building their skills or earning an undergraduate degree in the field. Their primary responsibility is to portray a particular character in each performance they give. They may act in television, movies, theater and more. Actors and actresses read scripts and choose auditions to attend. Once they have earned a role they may conduct research about their character and begin memorizing lines. They participate in rehearsals with other members of the cast and take suggestions from the director and producer. Their performances may be live or shot in multiple takes. Learn about some of the skills needed for this job below, along with career data.

Training Required Acting workshops/seminars; bachelor's degree is optional
Education Field of Study Acting, theater
Key Skills Reading, speaking, memorization, creativity
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all actors)*
Mean Hourly Salary (2015) $37.47 (for all actors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Might My Job as an Actor or Actress Entail?

Actresses and actors are performers who portray characters in productions, including those for stage, television, motion pictures, radio, and even theme parks and cabarets. As an actress or actor, you might perform research to help you better understand and embody a character's circumstances or traits, especially when preparing for a complex role.

Acting is an intensely competitive field, and it may be difficult to achieve recognition or get steady work as an actress or actor. Few who try to make it in this field become big movie stars; instead, you might work as an extra, a role that generally requires listing by a casting agency and often has no lines to deliver. You might also do voiceover work for animated movies or advertisements. To supplement income from acting roles, you might teach acting classes for a public program or school drama department. The pressure to find work and perform well can make acting a high-stress job that requires patience and perseverance.

Individual acting jobs can vary in length from one day to several months depending on the role. In between roles, you may be unemployed for long periods or work another job to make a living. Some roles require you to work under unpleasant conditions, such as adverse weather conditions. Long, irregular hours, including weekend and evening work, are common for an actress or actor. In some cases, you may need to travel for a role or as part of a touring show.

How Do I Prepare for This Field?

No single path exists for becoming an actress or actor. Innate talent and good creative instincts are typically more important for this field than an education, but some type of formal dramatic training is generally considered necessary to work as an actress or actor. A bachelor's degree is considered the preferred formal degree for this field, and many universities offer Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting programs or theatre programs with acting specializations. You might also consider a training program from an acting conservatory, which typically offer more specialized 2-year degree programs.

You often need to complete a successful audition for acceptance into an undergraduate acting program. In addition to core curriculum in acting theory, history and practice, an undergraduate degree in theatre or acting can include courses in theater, film, drama, broadcasting, communications or even dramatic literature. For a list of nearly 175 theater arts programs, you might consult the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST).

If you want to become a stage actress or actor, you could continue your formal education by completing a master's degree program. In addition to advanced acting workshops and performance requirements, an MFA program in theater arts may include topics in playwriting, directing, stage movement, voice and theater design.

Experience is also important to becoming an actress or actor. You might prepare for this field in high school or college by participating in school productions. You could pursue roles within a community theater group or get a job with a local TV station or college radio station. You might also gain experience and training through acting workshops or by working with a drama coach. When you're just starting out in this field, you may need to take small roles, such as in a television commercial or independent film, before you're considered for larger productions. You could also hire an acting agent to help you book auditions.

Beyond training, experience and innate talent, other traits that may serve you well as an actress or actor include commitment to the craft and patience. In order to succeed as an actress or actor, you also need to be able to adapt quickly to new situations and exhibit grace under pressure. For example, some jobs may give you little time to prepare or may require last-minute script changes. If you perform on stage or in front of a live studio audience, you must be able to ad lib with ease. However, while adaptability is key, you must also be able to memorize lines and follow direction well.

In many cases, you must be physically fit to work as an actress or actor, so that you have the stamina to endure long productions and move about large sets or stages with ease. Physical appearance is paramount in this field, as certain roles demand specific ages, features and body types. Having additional skills, talents or experience, such as modeling experience or the ability to dance, sing, mime or perform acrobatics, may help you get jobs in this highly competitive field.

How Much Could I Earn?

It's very difficult to predict annual earnings for this field due to the intense competition and variety of acting roles available. An actress or actor working on a commercial is generally going to be paid less than one working on a major motion picture, and many acting professionals are unemployed for months out of the year.

With these factors in mind, you might expect to earn about $37.47 per hour, which was the mean hourly wage reported for actors by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). This figure includes those working in the motion picture and video industry, as well as within performing arts companies, but it doesn't include the small percentage of well-known acting professionals who bring in multi-million dollar salaries. The BLS estimated that only about 50 of the roughly 100,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) probably enjoy this level of financial success.

If you belong to a union, such as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Actors' Equity Association (AEA) or SAG, you are ensured a minimum daily or weekly wage. You also receive additional pay when television productions you participate in are rerun or aired in a foreign market. Additionally, you might receive health or pension plan contributions as an actress or actor.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Musicians and singers are a couple of alternative careers that do not require formal education, but some may have a bachelor's degree. These artists create various kinds of music and songs and record them and/or perform them for audiences. Producers and directors are also related, but do require a bachelor's degree. These professionals oversee the creation of movies, plays, television shows and other productions.

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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