To be an actor or not to be an actor - that is the question! If you have dreams of following in the footsteps of Laurence Olivier or Meryl Streep, then read on.
Prospects and Earning Potential
First things first, acting is a highly competitive profession. For every actor who makes it on television or in the theatre, there are countless more who fall by the wayside.
In terms of pay, many actors struggle to make a decent living. Even those that can find regular acting work will often need to supplement their wages with other jobs - there are plenty of stories of actors working in restaurants in Los Angeles to make ends meet while they wait for their big break.
Of course, it is possible to earn significant amounts as an actor; the top Hollywood actors can earn many millions a year, but they are few and far between.
In the UK, securing a role in a soap opera or continuing drama series could net a salary in excess of £100,000 a year. At the lower end of the scale, you could earn £420 a week as an actor in the theatre.
In order to maximise your chances of landing well-paid roles, you should consider becoming a member of Equity, which is the UK trade union for professional performers. Its aim is "to support [actors] by negotiating their terms and conditions including fee structures with all kinds of employers and employer’s groups."
It's certainly not easy to forge a successful career in acting; you'll need to have talent, determination and a never-say-die attitude, plus a good dollop of luck. Some of the other skills you'll need include:
- excellent team-working skills
- the ability to adapt quickly
- a certain level of physical fitness and energy
- a good memory to help learn lines efficiently
- being able to accept and learn from constructive criticism
Actor Training and Classes
In truth, there is no right or wrong path to becoming an actor. Therefore, opting for training may not necessarily be the right choice for you.
Many actors start by getting involved with local amateur dramatics clubs and youth theatres and these can sometimes lead to job opportunities.
However, most actors do at some point enroll in acting classes or higher education courses; research by Drama UK discovered that 86% of working actors have had professional training.
It certainly can't hinder your chances to learn your trade properly and you will hopefully get to know people who may offer you work in the future.
Depending on your experience, you have a couple of choices:
- Foundation Classes
These are ideal if you have no acting experience but want to explore your potential as an actor. By the end of a course, you should be ready to apply for auditions or progress to a diploma or degree course.
Examples of full-time foundation courses include ones at the world-famous RADA and the Guilford School of Acting, which is part of the University of Surrey.
If you aren't able to commit to a full-time course because of work commitments, you can instead enroll in one of the many courses that are part-time and held in the evening. Check out the DramaUK site for classes in your area.
- Degree Courses
If you have some acting experience, maybe from your time at school or through an amateur dramatics club, then you can apply to study for a diploma, foundation degree, or degree.
You will probably be required to pass an audition to get on the course, as well as needing three A levels or equivalent qualifications.
Here are some of the courses you could choose:
- theatre and performance studies at King's College, London
- acting at the University of Central Lancashire
- musical theatre at the University of Surrey
- drama and theatre arts at Goldsmith's
If you already have a degree in another subject, then you could even apply to a postgraduate course such as an MA in Acting at Royal CentralSchool of Speech & Drama, University of London.
The UCAS website is a great resource for information about universities and the courses they offer.
Finding Acting Work
At some point you will need to take a leap of faith and find work. At this stage, most actors choose to employ the services of an agent. It is an agent's task to put you forward for castings and auditions. In return you will need to pay your agent between and 10 and 20 percent of your earnings.
It's also a good idea to list your details in casting directories and to read the acting trade publications for news of casting calls and upcoming opportunities:
- The Stage
- Casting Call Pro
- To Be Seen
As with any job, the more practice you get as an actor, the better you will become. Your increased confidence will hopefully shine through during the audition process and will help you land the roles you want.
Alongside acting, there are many other skills that you can study which will help you gain a fuller understating of the industry and may even lead to other jobs alongside your acting career. These include skills such as directing, scriptwriting, playwriting or costume design. You may even feel inspired to teach the next generation of actors.
So, if having read this, you feel you have what it takes to be a successful actor, then all that remains is to say "break a leg!"
Photo By Maltingsberwick (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons inside The Main House Theatre, The Maltings Theatre & Arts Centre, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England