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Working as an Actor

Becoming an actor has always gotten a bad rap. Everyone would love to become a famous actor, but not everyone wants to take the time to work on their skills through formal education and long-term training.

It's definitely a profession that you want to be working on a lot so you continue to grow. Actors find jobs in production studios, theaters and even theme parks. So if you don't mind attending audition after audition and a little bit of disappointment, then acting may just be the career for you.

What Does an Actor Do

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Duties

Actors typically do the following:

  • Read scripts and meet with agents and other professionals before accepting a role
  • Audition in front of directors, producers, and casting directors
  • Research their character’s personal traits and circumstances to portray the characters more authentically to an audience
  • Memorize their lines
  • Rehearse their lines and performance, including on stage or in front of the camera, with other actors
  • Discuss their role with the director, producer, and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show
  • Perform the role, following the director’s directions

Most actors struggle to find steady work, and few achieve recognition as stars. Some work as “extras”—actors who have no lines to deliver but are included in scenes to give a more realistic setting. Some actors do voiceover or narration work for animated features, audiobooks, or other electronic media.

In some stage or film productions, actors sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. For some roles, an actor must learn a new skill, such as horseback riding or stage fighting.

Most actors have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold other jobs in order to make a living. Some actors teach acting classes as a second job.

How To Become an Actor

Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education, and long-term training is common.

Education

Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education. Many who specialize in theater have bachelor’s degrees, but a degree is not required.

Although some people succeed in acting without getting a formal education, most actors acquire some formal preparation through a theater company’s acting conservatory or a university drama or theater arts program. Students can take college classes in drama or filmmaking to prepare for a career as an actor. Classes in dance or music may help as well.

Actors who do not have a college degree may take acting or film classes to learn their craft. Community colleges, acting conservatories, and private film schools typically offer these classes. Many theater companies also have education programs.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Actors interpret their characters’ feelings and motives in order to portray the characters in the most compelling way.

Memorization skills. Actors memorize many lines before filming begins or a show opens. Television actors often appear on camera with little time to memorize scripts, and scripts frequently may be revised or even written just moments before filming.

Persistence. Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job. They must be able to accept rejection and keep going.

Physical stamina. Actors should be in good enough physical condition to endure the heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes or makeup. They may work many hours, including acting in more than one performance a day, and they must do so without getting overly tired.

Reading skills. Actors must read scripts and be able to interpret how a writer has developed their character.

Speaking skills. Actors—particularly stage actors—must be able to say their lines clearly, project their voice, and pronounce words so that audiences understand them.

In addition to these qualities, actors usually must be physically coordinated to perform predetermined, sometimes complex movements with other actors, such as dancing or stage fighting, in order to complete a scene.

Training

It takes many years of practice to develop the skills needed to be successful as an actor, and actors never truly finish training. They work to improve their acting skills throughout their career. Many actors continue to train through workshops, rehearsals, or mentoring by a drama coach.

Every role is different, and an actor may need to learn something new for each one. For example, a role may require learning how to sing or dance, or an actor may have to learn to speak with an accent or to play a musical instrument or sport.

Many aspiring actors begin by participating in school plays or local theater productions. In television and film, actors usually start out in smaller roles or independent movies and work their way up to bigger productions.

Advancement

As an actor’s reputation grows, he or she may work on bigger projects or in more prestigious venues. Some actors become producers and directors.

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Average Salary$58,214
Job Growth Rate1%
Job Openings13

Average Salary for an Actor

Actors in America make an average salary of $58,214 per year or $28 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $123,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $27,000 per year.
Average Salary
$58,214

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
New York, NY
Salary Range58k - 125k$86k$86,158
Portland, OR
Salary Range57k - 116k$82k$81,799
Lubbock, TX
Salary Range50k - 106k$73k$73,414
Beverly Hills, CA
Salary Range49k - 99k$70k$70,211
Salt Lake City, UT
Salary Range40k - 85k$59k$58,937
$40k
$125k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Actor-Medical Simulation Lab Standardized Patient
Actor-Medical Simulation Lab Standardized Patient
University of Utah
University of Utah
08/31/2020
08/31/2020
$31,30508/31/2020
$31,305
Safe-T Center Actor-Patient Role
Safe-T Center Actor-Patient Role
Penn State University
Penn State University
06/17/2020
06/17/2020
$83,48006/17/2020
$83,480
Actor
Actor
The Hershey Company
The Hershey Company
01/30/2020
01/30/2020
$25,04401/30/2020
$25,044
Actor
Actor
Spherion
Spherion
01/09/2020
01/09/2020
$20,87001/09/2020
$20,870
Actor
Actor
The Hershey Company
The Hershey Company
08/23/2019
08/23/2019
$25,04408/23/2019
$25,044

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Actor Demographics

Gender

male

63.9 %

female

32.1 %

unknown

4.0 %

Ethnicity

White

62.8 %

Hispanic or Latino

14.4 %

Black or African American

9.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

44.2 %

French

15.9 %

Italian

6.5 %

Actor Education

Majors

Theatre
26.8 %

Degrees

Bachelors

51.6 %

High School Diploma

19.6 %

Associate

12.4 %
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What do you like the most about working as Actor?

Giving people a movie/story to talk about, something that leaves people encouraged and feeling emotionally uplifted. Show More

What do you NOT like?

Being treated badly at work! Show More

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Top Actor Employers

1. GEP Administrative Services
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$79,972
Actors Hired: 
18+
2. Universal
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$35,211
Actors Hired: 
17+
3. The Walt Disney Company
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$37,770
Actors Hired: 
17+
4. Six Flags
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$24,480
Actors Hired: 
16+
5. The Shakespeare Company
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$35,526
Actors Hired: 
12+
6. Busch's
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$26,621
Actors Hired: 
11+