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, 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 it is not a formal requirement, an increasing number of actors have undertaken some training in acting or the performing arts. A degree or HND in these areas may 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.
Courses at specialist drama, dance or other performing arts schools tend to be more vocational and practical and often carry greater recognition within the industry than university courses, which are by and large more theoretical.
Postgraduate study is not essential but is 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. Look for courses accredited by the National Council for Drama Training (NCDT) and The Conference of Drama Schools . There is some funding available via Dance and Drama Awards and possibly through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) , but fees and maintenance costs during study can be considerable. Contact individual institutions for details.
Involvement in drama through school, university, youth theatre or amateur dramatics is essential. Experience as an 'extra', while not the same as acting, 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. Some extra work can lead to Equity membership - contact them for details.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
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 physical attributes (e.g. a certain height) for a particular role and so will instantly exclude many potential candidates.
Acting is a highly competitive career. Open auditions can attract hundreds and casting agents may have a very specific idea of the type of person they are looking for and consequently you may not have quite the right 'look'. An actor with a tenacious attitude towards their career progression (actively networking and attending many auditions) may succeed over one with more talent and experience. 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. A reputation within the industry for being 'difficult' can be hard to shake off and a hindrance to gaining work.
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 increases the number of auditions you are invited to, but the agent will take a cut of 10-25% 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, shadow a professional. If you are at university, regardless of your course, join the student drama association.
The nature of the work means actors are constantly discriminated against, due to not being right for a specific role. Acting is excluded from the sex discrimination and some other equal opportunities laws, as a job can be offered to someone of a particular sex or race, if it is a 'genuine occupational requirement'.
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