How to Become an Actor


If you're considering a career as a professional actor, this career guide can help you answer some crucial questions that you may be asking:


• Do I need a degree from professional acting or fine arts school?

• Do I need to hire an agent or a manager to help me find acting jobs?

• How do I gain practical acting experience?

• What kind of jobs can I get as an actor?


Below, we've provided in-depth answers for these questions; information that will help you get started on the path to becoming a professional actor. We've also included helpful career information for actors, such as how much you can expect to earn as an actor, a list types of acting jobs you can pursue, and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Actor

In a talent-based occupation such as acting, having a related education does not guarantee success; nor is formal education and training typically a requirement for acting jobs.


However, a very large and increasing number of actors have undertaken formal training in acting or the performing arts. Versatility is a definite asset, and pursuing formal training in acting, singing and movement can certainly increase an actor’s potential for success in this highly competitive field. 





General Job Description

Actors and actresses are responsible for performing dramatic or comedic roles in stage, radio, television, film and advertisement related productions. They must communicate a character and/or situations to an audience through speech, body language and movement, according to their director’s instructions.


Most actors are self-employed, and a large part of their job involves attending auditions to get acting roles, and negotiating their performance contracts. 



Typical Job Duties

• Spend a significant amount of time building a network of entertainment industry contacts, including casting directors and producers

• Develop a portfolio of work, including photographs and a list of prior roles

• Audition for roles in theatre, television or film productions

• Portray roles in video or motion picture productions, television shows, theatre productions, radio dramas, commercials and other productions

• Study and rehearse lines and actions for roles

• May be required to sign and dance, depending on the role

• Liaise with directors, producers and other actors



Career Paths for Becoming an Actor

There is no set path for becoming an actor; successful actors have taken many different routes into this highly competitive field. Many have pursued formal post-secondary training, while others have not.


Some actors go into the field directly, whereas others get into the field from other related areas, such as signing, dancing, modeling, and stand-up comedy. Most actors however, regardless of the path the take, try to get as much acting experience and training as they can, in order to hone their skills and increase their job prospects.


Whichever path you end up taking to become an actor, and no matter how successful you become, it’s important to realize that an acting career almost always incorporates periods of unemployment, underemployment and supplementary employment.



Experience Needed

It's important to gain as much acting experience as you can, as it allows you to perfect your craft.


Gaining experience will not only allow you to improve your acting skills, it will also help you meet other people in the industry. Networking with those you meet is a great way to get your name out there and open doors to future jobs. In addition to these benefits, gaining experience as an actor allows you to add to your resume. 


There are several ways you can gain experience as an actor, both paid and unpaid. One of the most common ways to get your feet wet is to join your school or local theatre group. From there you can try to land small parts in television or radio commercials, or small television or film productions.


Alternatively, or in addition to the above efforts, you can try joining local comedy group (such as an improve group), or you can try finding work as a holiday camp, cruise ship or resort entertainer.



Skills Needed to Succeed

Becoming an actor is more than just pretending to be someone else; it takes a finely tuned skill set to make a living from this craft. These skills include:


Creativity and Imagination: Actors must be able to convincingly portray the feelings and motives of their characters, in order to portray them in the most compelling way.


Versatility and Adaptability: Actors require the ability to learn quickly and adapt to a director’s interpretations.


Memorization Skills: Actors need excellent memorization skills, as they must memorize lines for an audition, and before filming begins or a show opens. It is not uncommon for an actor’s lines to be revised at the last minute, and actors must be able to memorize those changes on short notice.


Physical Stamina: Actors need enough physical stamina to endure working long days, such as when filming a television show or movie, or when doing live performances (which may include several performances per day).  They must also often work under hot stage or studio lights, and do so while wearing heavy costumes, and must be able to overcome those conditions during their performance.


Physical Coordination: Oftentimes actors must have enough physical coordination and dexterity to perform predetermined, sometimes complex, movements with other actors in a scene.


Reading Skills: When auditioning for roles, an actor must be able to read a script and properly interpret how a writer has described their character.


Speaking Skills: In order for the audience to understand them, actors must be able to pronounce words properly and speak clearly, all while projecting their voice.



Characteristics & Traits Needed 

The following traits can help actors achieve longevity in their careers by allowing them to take enjoyment from their jobs, and by helping them to persevere through hard times:


• A strong imagination and a creativity personality

• A natural talent for creating roles and characters

• Patience, and the ability to persevere when looking for work

• Able to handle rejection 

• A willingness to accept, and learn from direction and feedback

• Punctuality and reliability

• A commitment to continuous skill development

• Enjoy working with others in an ensemble

• Should take enjoyment from having variety and creativity in work




How to Find Paid Work as a Theater Actor

Once you have gained enough amateur acting experience, and have finely tuned your skills, you can begin looking for paid jobs.


Periodically, the artistic directors of professional theatre companies hold open auditions, which gives them a chance to see as many new actors as possible. Stage actors commonly use these open auditions as a means to finding paid acting work. Be sure to follow this lead and do the same.



How to Find Paid Work as a Television and Film Actor

Getting on the radar of producers and casting directors is crucial for finding paid work in television and film. Sending a resume and headshot to these professionals is a common way to accomplish this, but without an agent, you may limited success.


From this point, you may be called to audition for a variety of roles, roles that may be small at first, but can increase in responsibility as you gain experience and become more well known.



Should You Hire an Agent to Help Find Paid Work?

While it’s not necessary to hire an agent when starting your career as an actor or actress, representation by an experienced and reputable agent can increase your odds of professional success.


Hiring an agent is not something you do if you want to become a theatre actor. If you want to become a film and television actor however, hiring an agent is definitely something to consider.


Agents are an actor’s direct connection to the professional show business world. They work very closely with industry professionals, such as casting directors, and for the most part they are the only people with access to movie, television and commercial auditions.


If you are considering hiring an agent to help you get started in your acting career but you are scared of the cost, don’t be. Reputable agents only charge a commission on acting jobs you get, they don’t typically charge you up front for their services. Locating a reputable and skilled agent, and having them agree to represent you, are the real challenges of hiring an agent.


It is important to keep in mind however, that in terms of helping you find paid acting work, agents only submit your name, resume and headshot for auditions; landing the role is your responsibility.



Who Creates Jobs for Actors?

Jobs for actors come in many forms. In addition to finding work with television, film, theatre and radio productions, actors can also find the following types of work:


• Voice-over acting for video games

• Theatre-in-education productions

• Educational and training video productions

• Commercials (radio, television and print)

• Museums and historical sites (as interactive guides and interpreters)

• Corporate events and private parties


Most jobs for actors are on a short-term contractual basis; finding ongoing work is quite rare for actors. Because of this, you should be prepared to find different types of work while you are trying to establish yourself as an actor. Jobs with flexible schedules are ideal, as you will need to take time off, often on short notice, to attend auditions.


Such jobs may include:


• Temporary employment in shops and offices

• Casual work in the hospitality and catering industries

• Working as an extra in film or television productions 



How Much Do Actors Earn?

There is no set income for actors; their earnings can vary quite drastically. Many aspiring actors have a hard time finding well-paying work, and only the most well-established actors earn a high income.


Actors work primarily on a contractual basis, and are paid a fee for each performance. The amount they are paid can depend on the following factors:


• The region in which they work

• Their ability to find suitable and well-paying acting jobs

• How established they are in the acting community


Income Level - Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Actors and Comedians occupational group earned on average from $14.87 to $16.88 an hour.


Income Level - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for American workers in the Actors occupational group is $18.80 per hour.



Paid Acting Jobs

Our job board below has "Actor" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.





Typical Work Environment

Working Conditions: Actors may experience a wide variety of working conditions. Some elements remain universal among acting jobs though. For example, actors must often work closely with a variety of production staff, such as directors and other actors. They are often required to wear make-up and costumes, which may not always be very comfortable.


Working Hours: Most actors work irregular hours that include evenings, weekends and holidays. Hours may be irregular. When working in theatre performances, actors are likely to work in the evenings. When working in television, film, and related productions, they typically work very long days.


Work Setting: Work settings can vary significantly form one job to the next. Work often takes place in a studio or a theatre, although it is not uncommon for actors to work outdoors on productions. 


Travel for Work: Actors may need to travel to attend auditions or to find work. They may also be required to travel as a result of getting an acting job, such as when they land a job touring around the country with a play, or when filming at different locations. 



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Actor, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Casting Director

Interpretive Guide

Music Video Director


Talent Agent

Theatre Director



References for this Career Guide

The following resources were drawn from in the preparation of this How to Become an Actor career guide:


• “Occupational Profile: Actor.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved August 12, 2016.

• “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Actors.” (May, 2015). United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved August 12, 2016.

• “Job Profiles: Actor” (n.d.). National Careers Service. Retrieved August 12, 2016.



Relevant Scholarships

Looking for Canadian or American scholarships to help you on your way to becoming an actor? We’ve got you covered! Here's how to find the best-suited opportunities:


• On, our scholarship listings are sorted by major

• The “Relevant Majors” section below shows what majors apply to this career

• Search scholarships for becoming an actor on our Theatre Scholarships, Fine Arts Scholarships and Film Studies Scholarships pages


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Majors

Studying one of the university/college majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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