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Actor: Job description

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An actor communicates a character and/or situations to an audience through speech, body language and movement. This usually involves interpreting the work of a writer under the instruction and support of a director, although some work may require the actor to devise a character or improvise the reactions of a character to a situation.

Work varies enormously, from live stage performances of the classics and community theatre to soap operas, radio work and film parts. An actor's role may also involve education, training or therapy, as well as entertainment.

An acting career inevitably incorporates periods of unemployment, underemployment and alternative employment.

Typical work activities

Work activities vary from actor to actor and even for the same actor, depending on the contract. However, activities include varying combinations of the following:

  • job seeking and networking;
  • liaising with an agent;
  • preparing for and attending auditions;
  • learning lines and rehearsing;
  • researching or undertaking activities to help prepare for a part;
  • discussing interpretation and delivery with other members of the company and the director;
  • performing for a live audience;
  • performing in a studio or 'on location' for film, television, internet and radio broadcast;
  • doing voice-overs for advertisements or recording audiobooks;
  • managing the performance area, costumes and props;
  • undertaking activities associated with touring, such as driving a van, ‘get-ins’ and ‘get-outs’ at theatres (i.e. setting up and dismantling the performance area);
  • liaising with venue managers and accommodation providers;
  • keeping records for company managers;
  • working as a walk-on or extra for television or film.

It is essential to realise that, on average, actors spend about 80% of their working life 'resting' (i.e. not employed as an actor), so it is important to have other ways of being occupied and generating an income.

Written by Paul Barnes, University of Portsmouth
July 2013

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