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:: Become An Actor ::

Actors, directors, and producers work in theater, film, television, and radio. Actors play parts to entertain, inform, or instruct audiences. Directors and producers plan and supervise shows and performances.

Actors and actresses entertain and communicate with people through their interpretation of dramatic roles. They rely on facial and verbal expression as well as body motion for their creative affect. Making a character come to life before an audience is a job that has great glamour and fascination. However, acting requires persistence, practice, and hard work as well as a special talent. Only a few actors achieve recognition as stars on the stage, in motion pictures, or on television. A somewhat larger number are well-known, experienced performers, who frequently are cast in supporting roles. However, most actors struggle for a toehold in the profession and pick up parts wherever they can. Employment for actors is characteristically unsteady. Most actors experience frequent periods of unemployment, and many take temporary jobs, often as waiters or sales workers, while waiting for their next acting parts to come along.

**Click Here to obtain the official manual on becoming an actor**

Beginning stage actors generally start in 'bit' parts where they speak a few lines. If successful, they may progress to larger, supporting roles. They frequently serve as understudies for the principals. Film and television actors, in contrast, may begin in large roles or move into programs from working in commercials.

In addition to the actors with speaking parts, 'extras,' who have no lines to deliver, are used in almost all motion pictures and many television shows and theater productions. Some actors move into acting-related jobs as drama coaches or directors and producers of stage, television, radio, or motion picture productions. A few teach drama in colleges and universities. Some professional actors employed by theater companies also teach acting in courses offered to the public. Directors interpret plays or scripts and usually choose cast members for stage, movie, television, and radio productions. They conduct auditions, rehearsals and direct the work of the cast and crew. They use their knowledge of acting, voice, and movement to achieve the best possible performance and usually approve the scenery, costumes, choreography, and music.

Producers select plays or scripts and hire directors, principal members of the cast, and key production staff members. They coordinate the activities of writers, directors, managers, and other personnel, arrange financing, and decide on the size of the production and its budget.

Working Conditions

Acting demands patience and total commitment, since aspiring actors must wait for parts or filming schedules, work long hours, and travel often. Evening work is a regular part of a stage actor’s life. Flawless performances require the tedious memorizing of lines and repetitive rehearsals. Performances on television programs often allow little time for rehearsal, so that the actor needs stamina to withstand the heat of stage or studio lights, the long irregular hours, and the adverse weather conditions that may exist 'on location.' When plays are on the road, traveling often is necessary. Actors may face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when auditioning for work.

Directors and producers often work under stress as they try to meet schedules, stay within budgets, and resolve personnel problems.


In 1990, actors held an average of about 82,000 jobs in motion pictures, stage plays, and radio. Many others were between jobs, so that the total number of people actually employed as actors, directors, and producers over the course of the year was higher. In the winter, most employment opportunities are on the stage or in New York and other large cities. In the summer, stock companies in suburban and resort areas provide employment. In addition, many cities have nonprofit professional companies such as 'little theaters,' repertory companies, and dinner theaters, which provide opportunities for local amateur talent as well as for professional entertainers. Normally, casts are selected in New York City for shows that go 'on the road.'

Employment in motion pictures and films for television is centered in Hollywood and New York City, although a few studios are located in Florida and Texas and other parts of the country. In addition, many films are shot on location and employ local professionals and nonprofessional as 'day players' and 'extras.' A number of American-produced films are shot in foreign countries. In television, most opportunities are at the headquarters of the major networks--in New York, Los Angeles, and, to a lesser extent, Chicago. Sometimes employment opportunities are available with a few local television stations.

Training and Other Qualifications

Aspiring actors and directors should take part in high school and college plays, or work with little theaters and other acting groups for experience.

Formal dramatic training or acting experience is generally necessary, although some people enter the field without it. Training can be obtained at dramatic arts schools in New York and Los Angeles, and at about 600 colleges and universities throughout the country offering bachelor’s or higher degrees in dramatic and theater arts. College drama curriculums usually include courses in liberal arts, stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, play production, design, and history of the drama, as well as practical courses in acting. From these, the student develops an appreciation of the great plays and the roles he or she may play or direct.

The best way to start is to use local opportunities and to build on them. Local and regional theater experience may help obtain work in New York or Los Angeles. Modeling experience may also be helpful. Actors need talent, creative ability, and training that will enable them to portray different characters. They must have poise, stage presence, and the ability to follow directions. Physical appearance is often a deciding factor in being selected for particular roles.

Many professional actors rely on agents or managers to find them performing engagements, negotiate contracts, and plan their careers.

To become a movie extra, one must usually be listed by a casting agency, such as Central Casting, a no-fee agency that works with the Screen Extras Guild and supplies all extras to the major movie studios in Hollywood. Applicants are accepted only when the number of persons of a particular type on the list--for example, athletic young men, old ladies, or small children--is below the foreseeable need. In recent years, only a very small proportion of the applicants have succeeded in being listed. Extras in a film have very little opportunity to advance to a speaking role in that film.

There are no specific training requirements for directors and producers. Talent, experience, and business acumen are very important. Directors and producers come from different backgrounds. Actors, writers, film editors, and businessmen often enter these fields. Formal training in directing and producing is available at some colleges and universities. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree or 3 years of experience may qualify for an assistant directors training program offered by the Directors Guild of America. To qualify, individuals must take an 8-hour written test and than an oral exam. However, of more than 1,000 applicants who take the exam every year, only a dozen or so qualify for the program.

The length of a performer’s working life depends largely on training, skill, versatility, and perseverance. Some actors, directors, and producers never retire. Many leave the occupation, however, because they cannot find enough work to make a living.

Job Outlook

Employment of actors, directors and producers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000 as the number of theatrical and motion picture productions increases. Rising foreign demand for American productions, combined with a growing domestic market--fueled by the growth of cable television, home movie rentals, and television syndications--should stimulate demand for actors and other productions personnel. The growth of these recorded media doesn’t seem to be drawing any interest away from live production. People who prefer to see live entertainment are expected to continue to go to theaters for the excitement and aesthetic appreciation. In fact, attendance at live theater performances has been increasing slightly as regional and touring shows are reaching audiences outside of the traditional theater center, New York City.

In addition to jobs created by increasing demand, many more will arise as workers leave this high-turnover field. Nevertheless, the large number of people desiring acting careers and the lack of formal entry requirements will cause keen competition for acting and directing jobs. Only the most talented will find regular employment.


Minimum salaries, hours of work and other conditions of employment are covered in basic collective bargaining agreements between producers of shows and unions representing the various workers in this field. The Actors’ Equity Association represents stage actors; the Screen Actors Guild and the Screen Extras Guild cover actors in motion pictures, including television, commercials, and films; and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents television and radio performers. Most stage directors belong to the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, and film and television directors belong to the Directors Guild of America. Of course, each actor or director may negotiate an individual contract that provides for a higher salary than that specified in the basic agreement.

The minimum weekly salary for actors in Broadway productions was $850 in 1990. Those in small 'off-Broadway' theaters received minimums ranging from $300 to $535 a week, depending on the seating capacity of the theater. For shows on the road, actors receive an additional $73.50 per day.

Eight performances amount to a week’s work on the stage, and any additional performances are paid for as overtime. Actors usually work long hours during rehearsal. Once the show opens, they have more regular hours, working about 24 hours a week.

In 1990, motion picture and television actors earned a minimum daily rate of $421, or $1,468 for a 5-day week. For extras, the minimum rate was $98 a day. Television actors also receive additional compensation for reruns.

For shows on the road, the minimum rate was $70 extra per day.

In 1990, motion picture and television actors and actresses earned a minimum daily rate of $382, or $1,331 for a 5-day week. For extras, the minimum rate was $93 a day. Television actors also receive additional compensation for reruns.

Earnings from acting are low because employment is so irregular. According to data from Actors’ Equity Association, about 24,000 of their members had no earnings from acting in 1990; about 4,600 made less than $2,500; about 6,600 earned $5,000 or more; and only 690 members earned more than $35,000. The Screen Actors Guild reports that over 80 percent of all performers who worked under SAG contracts in 1990 earned less than $5,000 from acting jobs, while 29 percent of their members earned no income at all from acting. Therefore, many actors must supplement their incomes from acting by holding other jobs.

Some well-known actors have salary rates well above the minimums, and the salaries of the few top stars are many times the figure cited, creating a false impression that all actors are highly paid.

Many actors who earn more than a set minimum per year are covered by a union health, welfare, and pension fund, including hospitalization insurance, to which employers contribute. Under some employment conditions, Actors’ Equity and AFTRA members have paid vacations and sick leave.

Salaries for stage directors vary greatly. The top money is on Broadway--$20,000 for rehearsal period, which usually lasts 5 weeks. Small dinner theaters and summer stock pay much less--$500-$600 per week--but offer the most employment opportunities.

Producers seldom get salaries; instead, they get a percentage of a show’s earnings. Sometimes producers work for a set fee for their services.

Related Occupations

Actors and actresses entertain people through their interpretations of dramatic roles by facial and verbal expression and body motions. Related occupations for people with these skills include dancers, choreographers, disc jockeys, drama teachers or coaches, and radio and television announcers. Other people working in theatrical occupations related to acting are playwrights, script writers, stage managers, and set designers. Occupations involved with the business aspects of theater productions include company managers, booking managers, and actors’, directors’, and playwrights’ agents.

**Click Here to obtain the official manual on becoming an actor**

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