20 September 2012

Actors bring characters to life on stage with their performances, using speech, movement and expression to act a script or improvise their roles.

Many actors specialise in theatre work, but within theatre there are lots of types of work.
Many actors specialise in theatre work, but within theatre there are lots of types of work.

What is the job like?

Actors are often expected to be able to work across theatre, film, radio and TV, although these areas demand different ways of working.

Many actors specialise in theatre work, but within theatre there are lots of types of work. Theatre work can involve:

  • large-scale ensemble work for companies such as the National Theatre
  • theatre-in-education projects, such as workshops for schools
  • seasonal work such as pantomime or festivals
  • touring productions
  • West End theatre
  • community or youth theatre projects.

The director, producer, or casting director will usually select, or cast, actors for a production. 

Many actors spend less than half of the year in acting jobs, so you will need to find additional work to support yourself between auditions.

Acting jobs tend to be short-term contracts. Full-time ongoing work is uncommon.

Many actors spend less than half of the year in acting jobs, so you will need to be prepared to find additional work to support yourself between successful auditions. Temporary jobs in shops and offices, supply teaching or casual work in hospitality and catering are all examples.

Additional work always needs to be flexible, so that you can take time off if auditions or acting roles arise unexpectedly.

Hours may be irregular. Most theatre performances take place in the evenings, but there are also daytime shows, rehearsals and auditions. 

How do I become an actor?

Most actors spend time training and building up performance experience before they find paid work, whether this takes the form of a full-time course at drama school or part-time classes. Determination, hard work and luck are as important as talent. A 'lucky break' is relatively rare. 

The majority of actors sign up with an agent to help them find work. Agents put actors forward for auditions and castings, but take a fee of about 10-25 per cent of the job's earnings.

Actors can also list their details in casting directories such as Spotlight. Audition notices are also published in the theatre newspaper The Stage.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Young people may choose to attend a stage or performing arts school. Here they may combine academic study with learning practical skills. 

Many working actors have had professional training at a specialist drama school. Approved courses like this can be an advantage, as they are very practical. They often involve opportunity to perform in front of agents and casting directors, and usually lead to full membership of the performers' union Equity.

If you decide to apply to drama school, courses on offer can include:

  • a full-time three-year degree or diploma in acting or musical theatre
  • a one-year postgraduate diploma if you already have a degree.

For three-year courses you must be at least 18, and for one-year postgraduate courses you should be at least 21.

To get into drama school, you will have to pass an audition. Some formal qualifications such as A levels or a BTEC National Diploma in performing arts may also be listed requirements. However, these are not always essential if you show enough talent and commitment. Entry requirements vary between each drama school.

As well as drama schools, many universities also offer drama and theatre studies degrees. These can be more academic than practical, so make sure that you research the course content before you apply.

If you choose not to go to drama school or to take a relevant degree, you will still need to develop your skills and get as much practical experience of acting as possible. Ways that you could do this include:

  • getting involved with amateur, community or youth theatre
  • joining college and university drama societies
  • taking part in regional, national and international student drama festivals and competitions
  • acting workshops, summer schools and part-time classes.

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