The Low down On Becoming An Actor
So you want to be an actor/actress? Well if you’re focussed, determined and prepared to put in the work, then it is certainly possible. Becoming a ‘A’ list actor in multi million dollar movies is probably what every one aspires to. However there are many who earn a reasonable to good living in theatre and radio without ever appearing in a movie.
So what is the main job role of an actor
In essence the role of an actor is to communicate across to an audience a character or situations through movements, body language and of course speech. This is generally done by interpreting a writer’s work under the guise and support of a stage or screen director.
What type of work can you expect to do?
Work can vary tremendously from radio work through to film parts to community theatre, stage classics and soap operas. In addition an actor’s work may even involve going into schools to give training.
During an actor’s career it can involve periods of alternative employment especially in the early days, when regular acting work is slow. When this happens many take on other forms of part time work that allows them to be flexible enough so that they can attend auditions and rehearsals when they need to.
What does a typical actor do?
An actor’s career isn’t all about acting. A lot of their time is spent ‘in between’ jobs. In some cases as much as 80% when they are either preparing or researching for a part. Roles can include:
ñ Networking and job seeking
ñ Preparation and attendance of auditions
ñ Liaising with an agent
ñ Rehearsals and learning scripts
ñ Doing voice overs for audio books or advertisements
ñ Promotional and marketing jobs
ñ Working in TV and film either as a lead role, walk on part or extra
ñ Radio plays
ñ Community theatre promotion
What are the best routes into acting?
This really is the million dollar question, but it’s important to know that there is no ‘single route’ into acting but clearly the most important factor in getting regular work is experience. However when you don’t have this experience then you have to rely on talent, hard work, a lot of determination and even a little bit of luck. If you are looking to start, it may be an idea to get into a local amateur dramatics group to gain vital experience and life skills. A number of now famous UK actors started life working in the holiday camps on the entertainment team, others started life by getting involved in local theatre just to gain that all important experience. There are also HND or degree courses in the performing arts, which again will give you sound knowledge of how the entertainment business works. In addition places at specialist performance and dance schools such as RADA often carry favour within the industry but places are hard to get into. Alternatively it could be by simply being in the right place at the right time.
What about training?
Acting is a business unlike any other in that there is no real form of vocational training that leads to recognised qualifications. Instead the skills needed for this job are developed ‘on the job’ through taking on different roles. This experience can then be added to your CV which you can then take on to your next audition.
Many actors choose to invest in singing classes, dancing lessons or method acting but it is unlikely that an employer will pay for this. However on some occasions an actor may need to learn a new skill which is a must for that role. A director may arrange for a tutor to come in and train them.
If you are a member of Equity (the trade union for actors and other creative workers) then they can negotiate minimum rates for workers. Typically a touring actor in a theatre production is going to receive a minimum of £372 per week. Performers can also claim subsistence allowance depending upon if they have to be relocated for that period whilst touring. Actors who are appearing in the West End can look to command a minimum of £470 per week. There are no rates for radio, TV, and film work and pay can vary widely.
Many actors sign up with an agent and it is their job to do all the promotional legwork that you would otherwise have to do yourself. Agents generally take somewhere between 10 and 25% of your fees for finding you work and the quality of agents vary considerably. A good one can make your job ten times easier and with the right contacts could even propel you into the big time. The downsides to this are that clearly you will be losing a percentage of your earnings.
The bottom line
The reality is that very few people become extremely wealthy through acting and experience and talent don’t necessarily reflect earnings. Working hours can be unsociable, along with early starts and late finishes, and auditions are often held in the larger cities and abroad and often requiring actors to attend at very short notice.
Having said all this, acting can be a varied and fulfilling career and often those that make the choice to become a bone fide actor never regret it, despite all the challenges that the job brings.