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How to Become an Actor

Actor Actors must interpret a writer’s script to bring characters and ideas to life. / Credit: Aaron Amat | Shutterstock

Acting is a creative and diverse career that requires a great deal of persistence and talent. While most actors do not become famous, many are able to make a career out of doing what they love.

There are opportunities for actors in a diverse range of settings — from television and film, to state and national theaters. Regardless of where you want to act, there are a few things you should know about a career in this field before auditioning for a role. Keep reading to learn what an actor’s responsibilities are, where they usually find work, and how much money they typically earn.

What actors do

Actors portray characters in films, on television and on stage. They must interpret a writer’s script to bring characters and ideas to life.

But much of what an actor does goes on behind the scenes. Actors are responsible for reading scripts and auditioning for roles, exploring and analyzing a character’s personal traits and circumstances, memorizing and rehearsing lines, and adjusting their performances to suit a director’s preferences.

Most actors work with agents who help them find roles that might be suitable for them. And while some actors become very successful in their careers, others struggle to find work. Many people in this profession have long periods of unemployment between roles and may hold other part-time jobs in addition to acting.

Where actors work

Workplaces for actors vary greatly, depending on the project on which they are working. Television and movie actors may work in a studio but are sometimes required to travel to a particular destination to shoot a film or show on location.

Stage actors typically rehearse in a studio and give performances at a designated theater. Some theater companies may decide to take a show on the road, and actors must therefore be prepared to travel for long stretches of time.

Work hours for actors are typically long and irregular. They may be asked to work in the evenings, on weekends, and during holidays. Actors who are filming on location may have to spend months away from their homes and families.

Some actors who are looking for more steady employment choose to teach acting to others, and may find work as teachers in public schools, post-secondary schools, or colleges.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median hourly wage for actors in 2010 was $17.44. However, the lowest paid 10 percent of actors earned under $8.58 per hour and the top 10 percent earned over $64.04 per hour.

As an actor’s reputation grows, so too does the demand for his or her talent on bigger projects and in more prestigious venues. Some actors choose to switch career paths and instead become producers or directors.

Becoming an actor

Though no formal training is required to become an actor, it often helps one’s career to learn the basics of the craft before auditioning for a role. Many actors choose to attend an acting conservatory or a university drama or theater arts program. Students who obtain degrees in majors related to acting often take classes in music, dance, drama and filmmaking.

Opportunities for improving one’s acting abound in private schools, local park system classes, community colleges, and community theaters. It can take years for actors to develop the skills they need to be successful in their careers, and even the most successful actors usually continue to train by attending workshops and hiring drama coaches.

Actors must be able to quickly learn new skills and adapt to new environments. Different roles require different talents, and it’s not uncommon for actors to be asked to dance, sing, play a musical instrument, or speak with a foreign accent. The proper training prepares actors for these kinds of impromptu, on-the-job demands.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .

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