ActorCredit: Morgue Files

Lights, Cameras, Get to Work!

Becoming an actor is a dream job for many individuals, however, it’s not all fun and movie premiers. Many actors find themselves under constant pressure to find their next job. In order to succeed as an actor, a person must have patience and commitment to their craft.  The majority of actors constantly struggle to find steady work, while only a few achieve recognition as stars. These struggling artists often work as ‘extras’ or do other work, such as voiceover and narration for advertisements, animated features, books on tape, and/or other media. Some also teach acting or other subjects in schools.

Nature of the Work

An actor is required to express ideas and create images in theater, film, radio, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer's script to entertain, inform, or instruct an audience. Actors portray characters, and, for more complex roles, they research their character's traits and circumstances so that they can better understand a script. While many actors work in New York or Los Angeles, there is work in several other places.

Actors often perform in local or regional theaters, television studios, or film production companies, often creating advertising or training films or small-scale independent movies. They also perform in stage, radio, television, video, or motion picture productions. Many actors will find work in cabarets, nightclubs, and theme parks.

Work Environment

When employed, actors should always strive to deliver flawless performances, even while working in an undesirable and/or unpleasant working condition. Actors often work long, irregular hours and are under constant pressure. Working evenings and weekends is a regular part of life in the performing arts.

Work assignments typically are short term, ranging from 1 day to a few months which mean workers frequently experience long periods of unemployment between jobs. The uncertain nature of the work results in unpredictable earnings and intense competition for jobs.

Actors who work in theater may be required to travel with a touring show across the country, whereas those who work in film may find themselves working on location, sometimes under adverse weather conditions. Actors who perform in a television series often appear on camera with little preparation time, because scripts tend to be revised frequently or even written moments before taping. Those who appear live or before a studio audience must be able to handle impromptu situations and calmly ad-lib, or substitute lines when necessary.

Actors should be in good physical condition and have the necessary stamina and coordination to move about theater stages and large movie and television studio lots. They also need to maneuver around complex technical sets while staying in character and projecting their voices audibly. Actors must be fit to endure heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes. Actor should always do warm-ups and stretching exercises to guard against physical and vocal injuries, and take an adequate number of breaks to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Qualifications, Training, and Advancement

An actor requires talent and creativity that will enable him or her to portray a verity of different characters. Actors should have poise, stage presence, an ability to affect an audience, and the ability to follow direction. Because the competition for parts is fierce, versatility and a wide range of related performance skills, such as singing, dancing, skating, juggling, acrobatics, or miming are especially useful. Modeling experience also may be helpful. Physical appearance, such as having certain features and being the specified size and weight may often be a deciding factor in who gets a particular role.

Several actors begin their careers as movie extras. To become an extra, an actor must be listed by casting agencies that supply extras to the major movie studios in Hollywood. Applicants are accepted only when the number of people of a particular type on the list, for example, athletic young women, old men, or small children, falls below what is needed.

For a majority of actors a formal dramatic training, either through an acting conservatory or a university program, is generally necessary, however, some people successfully enter the field without it. Most people studying for a bachelor's degree take courses in radio and television broadcasting, communications, film, theater, drama, or dramatic literature. Many stage actors continue their academic training and receive a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Advanced curricula may include courses in stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, and design, as well as intensive acting workshops. The National Association of Schools of Theatre accredits over 150 programs in theater arts.

Many aspiring actors participate in high school and college plays, work at college radio or television stations, or perform with local community theater groups. Local and regional theater experience may also help many young actors hone their skills.

In television and film, actors and directors typically start in smaller roles or independent movie production companies and then work their way up to larger productions. Actors, regardless of their level of experience, may pursue workshop training through acting conservatories or mentoring by a drama coach.

Some of the most important qualities employers look for in an actor are creative instincts, innate talent, and the intellectual capacity to perform. The best way to prepare for a career as an actor, especially in the theater, is through formal dramatic training, preferably obtained as part of a bachelor's degree program.

The opportunity for advancement grows as an actor’s reputations and box-office draw grows. Some actors will work on bigger budget productions, network or syndicated broadcasts, in more prestigious theaters, or in larger markets. Actors may also advance to lead roles and receive star billing. A few actors move into acting-related jobs, becoming drama coaches, directors, or producers. Some actors teach drama privately or in colleges and universities.


Employment in motion pictures and in films for television is centered in New York and Los Angeles, however, small studios exist throughout the country. Many films are shot on location and may employ local professional and nonprofessional actors. Opportunities in television are concentrated in the network centers of New York and Los Angeles, but cable television services and local television stations around the country also employ many actors.

Employment in theater and in other performing arts companies is cyclical; higher in the fall and spring seasons, and concentrated in New York and other major cities with large commercial houses for musicals and touring productions. Many cities also support established professional regional theaters that operate on a seasonal or year-round basis.

Actors may find work in summer festivals, on cruise lines, and in theme parks. Many smaller, nonprofit professional companies, such as repertory companies, dinner theaters, and theaters affiliated with drama schools, acting conservatories, and universities, provide employment opportunities for local amateur talent and professional entertainers. Auditions typically are held in New York for many productions across the country and for shows that go on the road.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be keen. Although a growing number of people aspire to enter these professions, many will leave the field early because the work, when available, is hard, the hours are long and the pay is often low.

Employment in this occupation is expected to grow 11 percent during the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Expanding cable and satellite television operations and increasing box-office receipts of major studio and independent films will increase the need for workers.

Additionally, a rising demand for U.S. films in other countries should create more employment opportunities for actors. Also fueling job growth is the continued development of interactive media, online movies, and mobile content produced for cell phones or other portable electronic devices. Attendance at live theater performances should continue to be steady, and drive employment of stage actors, producers and directors. However, station consolidation may restrict employment opportunities in the broadcasting industry for producers and directors.

Information Source

The preceding information was obtained through the United States Government, Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It is not meant to be any type of promise or guarantee of employment, and is subject to change.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Copyright Information: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a Federal government agency and everything that we publish, both in hard copy and electronically, is in the public domain, except for previously copyrighted photographs and illustrations. You are free to use our public domain material without specific permission, although we do ask that you cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the source."

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