A successful career in acting requires equal parts talent and practice with a bit of luck thrown in. Actors at work can be seen and heard everywhere: TV, the big screen, the theater, on the Internet, in videos and on podcasts. They portray characters from the past that have impacted history, and they portray characters that are destined to impact pop culture in the future. Some dabble in a variety of entertainment mediums, while some stick to the stage, use their voice to create new worlds or dedicate their lives to the silver screen. Some make up the cast of extras that round out a production, while some achieve levels of fame that makes them a household name.
This guide serves as a starting point for anyone seriously interested in the world of professional acting. It includes a brief description of the real working life of actors and actresses, a rundown of the skills one must develop to succeed in this highly competitive field, and a list of steps to consider in pursuit of an acting career.
JUMP INTO THEATER IN HIGH SCHOOL
The path to acting careers can actually begin in high school plays and musicals. Drama classes can introduce students to performing, different methods and schools of thought in acting, writing their own material, and different approaches to characters, along with stage and costume design. High school drama classes and productions allow students to develop their skills and experience what it feels like to perform in front of a large audience. They are also very important in preparing students for the inevitable countless auditions that await them once they venture into the world of professional acting or head off to a college or university drama program.
Seek out small playhouses and theaters in the local area and audition for various roles. Even if it’s as one of the extras, it will be experience behind the curtain, which is what matters as acting skills continue to be honed.
Read books and watch Movies
A good way to introduce yourself into the world of acting is by reading books written by actors or acting teachers. You can learn about acting techniques and methods, how auditions are conducted, or what the best ways to get started are.
- Good books to start with might be Sanford Meisner on Acting written by Sanford Meisner and Dennis Longwell, or The Art Of Acting by Stella Adler. These books will help you learn about what to expect as an actor.
Study great performances. While acting classes are a great place for actors to start, you can learn so much from watching classic films. Each film can teach you a different acting skill such as instinct, character development, stage directing, blocking, and physicality. These are just some of the essential tools and skills you will need to learn as an actor, and a great way to begin learning them is by watching professionals practice them. Here are some famous actors showcasing their talent in well-known movies:
- Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther
- Johnny Cash in Walk the Line
- Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada
A college education is certainly not mandatory to succeed as a professional actor or actress, some aspiring performers may benefit from a formal college or university drama degree program. Post-secondary drama programs can be found at almost every major public and private college in the United States, as well as at most community colleges. These classes will not only hone skills, but will help aspiring actors understand what happens behind the scenes, such as contracts and business dealings. Classes might include theater history, stage production, dance, music and the like. College productions may also provide aspiring professionals a chance to be seen by agents and producers who may be looking for promising new talent.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Continue going on auditions and working as much as possible in the acting world. Acting workshops and small theater companies keep performers in top form by providing an environment in which they can stretch their creative muscles and practice their craft. They also provide one of most effective networking opportunities available. Join a theater team, continue networking and be patient; it can take years to get the big break, but it is possible for some actors to receive a steady stream of work.
Make a portfolio
If you’d like to work professionally as an actor, you’ll need to make a portfolio. This portfolio functions as a document that you can distribute to casting director at or before auditions. A high-quality acting portfolio makes you appear professional and hirable, and should emphasize your acting experience and talents. You’ll need to include a professional headshot, an acting resume, and a demo reel that shows the strengths and variety of your acting ability.
Talk to other actors
This will allow you to find out what it is really like to go out on auditions, and pursue a career in acting. Speaking with both working actors, and those who have been struggling to find work, may be enlightening, and help to mentally prepare you for what is to come. You may also learn tips and get great advice from people who have already been down the road you are just beginning. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- “What does a typical day look like for someone who is pursuing acting?”
- “How many times have you been rejected from an audition?”
- “How many auditions do you go on a week?”
- “How much money do I need to get started?”
- “Do you have any advice for someone who is just starting off”?
Be financially prepared
Many aspiring actors are surprised at how time consuming it is to constantly go out on auditions, memorize lines, and develop their acting career. Once you realize how much time you need to dedicate toward acting, you may want to cut back at work, or be tempted to leave your job altogether to focus on acting. Before you make any drastic decisions about your job, make sure you have a hefty savings account to fall back on. You do not want to find yourself looking for acting work, and not able to pay your bills.