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The Nuts and Bolts of Becoming a Professional Actor

We’ve heard the cry over and over again: “I want to be an actor!” From the outside, being an actor looks inciting. It looks like a happy shiny world where actors are discovered on street corners and put into block buster movies. It can look easy, and something that everyone can do. Yes it’s fun, yes it’s interesting, yes it’s not your ordinary career. Having said that, it’s important to understand the world you’re getting into. Acting in school is vastly different than acting on a professional level.

This article will focus directly on the questions we’ve heard from you about the professional acting biz.

Becoming an Actor

I want to be an actor. Where do I start?

  1. Start acting
    Sounds simplistic, but if you want to act this is the number one tip. Get on stage. Audition for the school play, audition for community theater. Professional acting is audition-heavy, so the more practice you get the better.
  2. Refine your Dream
    It’s one thing to say, “I want to act!” It’s another thing to say, “I want to work in theater. I want to be in musicals. I want to be in film. I’d love to be on a television show.” When you say you want to act, what exactly do you mean?
  3. Refine your Dream II
    Ask yourself, “Why do I want to act?” Be honest. If you want to be famous, that’s the answer. Don’t sugar-coat it. The more you refine the ‘why’ the easier it will be to determine a path. For example, if you want to be a movie star, it’s not going to happen in Kansas. If you want to perform in musicals, you need to start taking singing and dancing classes.
  4. Take Classes
    Acting is a skill and a craft. There’s always something you could be better at. Once you refine your dream, focus your classes on that particular dream. Don’t have classes in your area? There’s a summer camp for every area of the performing arts. Find the right one for you.
  5. Volunteer
    Volunteering is a great way to get in the building. Volunteer at your local theater. Does your town have a community television station? Volunteer there. Once you’re in the building, watch, listen, and ask questions. Start learning right now.
  6. Research
    DON’T go on Yahoo Answers and ask, “How do I become an actor?” and expect answers to be handed to you on a silver platter. If you want to be an actor, you do the work. Research your area: Do you live in an area that has many theaters? Just one? What kind of classes are available? Are there reliable agents? Research potential schools that will help you achieve your dream. Research the biz: Do you know what open auditions are? Do you know how much an agent’s commission is? What’s the process for commercial auditions? The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be when you step into professional waters.

I’m really talented. Isn’t that enough?

It’s a great start, sure. And it certainly will help. Talent is something you can’t teach an actor. But there are many, many talented actors out there. There are other factors at work. In commercials, for example, talent takes a backseat to appearance. Acting professionally takes more than talent. It takes know-how, determination and perseverance.

The person standing beside you at auditions is also talented. Plus they’ve researched the director, plus they take classes, plus they don’t give up when they lose a job, plus they act in a professional manner, plus they never submit a resume without a personalized cover letter, plus they have more than one monologue and one song in their audition arsenal… the list goes on and on and it’s easy to see how talent is just one part of the package.

Most maddening, sometimes acting takes luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Living in the right city. Choosing a monologue that happens to hit a director the right way. There’s nothing you can do to control that.

This is why it’s important to have a passion for acting. That you really want to pursue this career. That nothing will get in your way. If anything stops you from wanting to do the other, much less fun parts to acting, you perhaps should consider another career.

How do I get discovered?

Ah, the age old question. “How do I instantly become an overnight movie star by walking down the street?” The whole “Being discovered” thing is largely a myth.

It may look like Zac Efron became an overnight sensation. He seemed to come out of ‘nowhere’ to star in High School Musical. Except that he didn’t. He started acting in musicals when he was eleven. His first television roles were guest staring parts. He filmed TV pilots that didn’t catch on. He has a career and a history of performance that lead to High School Musical.

Also, actors who look like they’ve become instant stars sometimes have help. They live in Los Angeles where there’s easier access to auditions. They have parents or other relatives in the business. The story is not always as easy and straightforward as it seems.

Does discovery ever happen? Sure. A teenager goes to an open call because the directors are looking for something specific, gets cast in a role and their life changes. An agent goes to a high school production and signs the lead. It can happen. But to make ‘discovery’ your career goal will leave you sorely disappointed.

I live in Australia, how do I get cast in a Hollywood movie?

Unless the production is casting in Iowa, it’s highly unlikely. A lot of your success as a professional actor depends on location. You need to go where movies/television/commercials are being made. But Hollywood is not the only city with opportunities. Are these opportunities going to be high profile and long lasting? Probably not. But they will give you experience and credits.

Where do I find auditions?

Research. Find the arts council in your area and ask them for a heads up on audition posting. Look to local theatres. Is there an organization with an audition posting bulletin board? If you want film experience try colleges with film programs, they may be looking for actors. Look online. If you’re interested participating in reality TV shows, those auditions will be posted on the network websites well in advance. Look for industry publications.

What are open casting calls?

Open casting calls are auditions that non-union actors may attend. They are sometimes called cattle calls, because feels like you’re getting herded around like cattle!

The bottom line? Acting is a job. It can be the funnest job in the world. But it’s a profession. If you want to make it your job for life, you need to research your options. Put daydreams to the side and create a step-by-step realistic vision to your goal.