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Actor: Entry requirements

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There is no single route to becoming an actor. Experience is an important factor and it is also impossible to discount the importance of talent, determination, hard work and luck.

It may be beneficial to join a local amateur dramatics group, or undertake work experience at a theatre or on one of the BBC Careers work placement schemes, in order to gain a wider understanding of how specific areas of the industry operate.

A number of noted actors entered the industry through working as holiday camp entertainers or taking similar jobs with a tour operator or holiday resort. Others start by joining a local theatre group as a child and gaining small parts in television programmes or adverts.

Although specific training may not be a formal requirement, a very large and increasing number of actors have undertaken formal training in acting or the performing arts.

A degree or HND in these areas may help to improve your chances of following a career in acting, largely due to any practical course work involved, but acting is open to all and many successful actors do not have a drama degree.

Students of other disciplines may gain acting experience through drama societies and actors often have links with other performing disciplines such as music.

Courses at specialist drama, dance or other performing arts schools tend to be very vocational and practical in nature.

Postgraduate study is not essential but may be a useful way of gaining more skills, experience and contacts. Entry is competitive and courses are intensive. A number of institutions offer a one-year MA/Postgraduate Diploma in Acting, or there are summer schools or short courses focusing on a particular element of acting, e.g. accent and dialogue coaching, stage combat, Shakespeare.

Details of accredited courses, assurance about training standards, advice on careers in the performing arts sector and advocacy are all provided by Drama UK .

Fees and maintenance costs during study can be considerable and will vary significantly. Contact individual institutions for details.

Involvement in drama through school, university, youth theatre or amateur dramatics is essential. Experience as an 'extra' offers an insight into work in the profession and could provide a useful network of contacts. Work as an extra can be found through agencies such as Uni-versalExtras Ltd , which specialises in extras work for students.

Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • good communication and listening skills;
  • punctuality and reliability;
  • the ability to interpret and analyse roles;
  • the capacity to work well in teams;
  • the ability to take instruction and criticism;
  • confidence to network and follow up contacts;
  • self-discipline and stamina to cope with long hours and learning lines;
  • resilience and determination.

Other skills and talents, such as singing, dancing, stage combat or playing a musical instrument, can be a big advantage in gaining employment.

Many jobs are not advertised. When they are, it may be that a director requires very specific skills such as musical ability for a particular role.

Acting is a highly competitive career. Open auditions can attract hundreds, so a confident approach is important. Actors who have a tenacious attitude, actively network and attend many auditions may have greater success.

However, once you have demonstrated you are professional and good to work with this may count in your favour, as recommendation by word of mouth is very common.

Many actors, especially film and television actors, sign up with an agent who helps them to find work by using established contacts with the industry. This could increases the number of auditions you are invited to, but the agent will usually take a cut of your earnings. Equity can advise members on how to get an agent.

As well as signing up with an agent, another possibility is forming a cooperative agency, with actors working together to run the agency and represent each other.

Some people go into acting as a second career through informal routes, but this is not common. If you have been interested in acting from a young age it is likely you have already taken part in a variety of plays through school or local theatre groups. If not, joining one is essential to discover whether acting is something you enjoy. Getting involved locally will also help you start to make industry contacts. For example, volunteer at a local theatre, ask to sit in on rehearsals or shadow a professional. If you are at university, regardless of your course, join a student drama association.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search postgraduate courses.

Written by AGCAS editors
July 2015

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