A Career as an Actor

Institute for Career Research

A Career as an Actor
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A Career as an Actor

Institute for Career Research

JUST ABOUT EVERYONE AT ONE TIME OR another has fantasized about being an actor, picturing yourself on a stage in front of a live audience, envisioning your close-up on the big screen at the movie theater, or accepting an Oscar or a Tony Award. There are some people for whom such thoughts are not a fantasy but instead a burning desire. For them the need to perform is a calling, something they must do. This is important because without that desire it is very difficult to put up with all the twists and turns experienced by most people who embark upon this wonderful but daunting career. If this describes you, then you may be ready to consider a career as a working actor. Remember, just like athletes, actors enjoy the thrill of victory, but also suffer the agony of defeat. While there are numerous examples of people achieving overnight success, they represent only a tiny fraction of all those who seek a professional acting career. Most actors are faced with the stiff challenge of making themselves stand out among a great many other talented and dedicated professionals. Despite the challenges, there is nothing else they would rather be doing. Approximately 66,000 people in this country consider themselves professional actors. Many of them spend many months with no income from acting jobs, working only sporadically. It is common, at least when starting out, to have jobs outside the profession to pay the rent. Of course, the upside is that there are many actors who earn millions from their work in movies and TV shows. Many others manage to sustain long careers with moderate incomes. Naturally, you want to become a star, but if being an actor is all you want, you may have to think about what you want to do to make ends meet when you are between acting jobs. Some actors are fortunate in only needing to work at their craft and not have to have a day job. Even if they only work a few weeks or months out of the year, the pay can be sufficient to carry them through between acting assignments. This could include having a featured role in a TV show that takes a week to rehearse and shoot; two days spent taping a commercial; a speaking part in a movie that provides a few days' work; a one day voice over in an animated feature; and a month performing in a leading role in a regional theater or summer stock production. You could also have a major role in an independent low-budget movie. You could also wind up playing Zombie Number Three, but many actors would agree that any work is work. You might find yourself inside an animal costume in a theme park or singing the praises of a vacuum cleaner in a musical extravaganza at an industrial trade show. For a working actor, all these add up to a good year in which they did not have to do temp work in an office or wait on tables. Some actors point to the need to be more employable at non-acting jobs as a reason to go to college. Others go beyond that to note that in college you can learn the basics of acting and also get a solid background in how things work backstage in the theater (which boosts your value when looking for work in summer and regional theaters), and on a movie set or in a TV studio, as many schools have programs focusing on film and TV production. College is also the place to learn about theater history and dramatic art, which will help you to understand plays and movie scripts not set in the present day. You can also take psychology classes, English classes, and study a foreign language, all of which can be of great value in your career. College is a venue for networking. Many actors get their first breaks from friends they have worked with in college theater. Students may form their own off-campus theater troupes, and these have gone on to become professional companies.

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