Career Profile: Actor
What They Do
Actors express ideas, portray characters, and play parts in theatre stage, film, television, radio, video, or other settings for entertainment, information, or instruction. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience. They may interpret serious or comic role by speech, gesture, and body movement to entertain or inform audience. Some may dance and sing.
Voice acting is a sub-specialty of acting, where they use only voice to depict and play out characters (usually in animated films or for voice-over narration).
Other terms and specialties include: Actor, Actress, Comedian, Comic, Community Theatre Actor, Ensemble Member, Narrator, Performer, Tour Actor, and Voice-Over Artist.
Actors typically do the following:
- Read scripts and meet with agents and other professionals before accepting a role.
- Audition in front of directors, producers, and casting directors.
- Research their character’s personal traits and circumstances to portray the characters more authentically to an audience.
- Memorize their lines.
- Rehearse their lines and performance, including on stage or in front of the camera, with other actors.
- Discuss their role with the director, producer, and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show.
- Perform the role, following the director’s directions.
- In some stage or film productions, actors sing, dance, or play a musical instrument.
- For some roles, an actor must learn a new skill, such as horseback riding or stage fighting.
Actors perform work in a variety of settings, both indoor and outdoor (depending on the production and characters being played out). It is uncommon for work hours to be very long at times, especially when filming for feature length films and larger productions. Actors may perform in unpleasant conditions, such as outdoors in bad weather, under hot stage lights, or while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup. Those playing parts in action movies or TV shows might encounter risky and dangerous work conditions. Sometimes stunt doubles are used to perform highly risky action sequences.
Work assignments are usually short, ranging from 1 day to a few months, and actors often hold another job in order to make a living. Some actors in touring companies may be employed for several years.
Some actors have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold other jobs in order to make a living. Some actors teach acting classes as a second job.
Most actors are self-employed and work in various different productions / work with different employers on a contract basis. An actor in Canada can expect to make an average hourly rate of $21.36. This can range from $24,000 to over $200,000 depending on the work and level of experience. As of 2018, the largest employers of actors in North America were as follows:
Self-employed workers = 25%
Theatre companies and dinner theatres = 12%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools (state, local, and private) = 5%
Professional, scientific, and technical services = 5%
Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part time. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules. Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Film and television actors may also travel to work on location.
Education and Training
Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education or acting school. Many who specialize in theatre have Bachelor’s degrees, but a degree is not required. Although some people succeed in acting without getting a formal education, most actors acquire some formal preparation through an acting school, theatre company’s acting conservatory, or a university drama or theater arts program. Students can take college classes in drama or filmmaking to prepare for a career as an actor. Classes in dance or music may help as well.
Actors who do not have a college degree may take acting or film classes to learn their craft. Community colleges, acting conservatories, and private film schools typically offer these classes.
Every role is different, and an actor may need to learn something new for each role. For example, a role may require learning how to sing or dance, or an actor may have to learn to speak with an accent or to play a musical instrument or sport. Some roles require a certain body physique. Accent, fitness, and nutrition coaches are available to help actors prepare for their roles.
Programs that can prepare you:
- Comedy Writing and Performance
- Directing and Theatrical Production
- Drama and Dramatics / Theatre Arts, General
- Dramatic / Theatre Arts and Stagecraft, Other
Skills and Abilities
The important skills and abilities that actors should possess include, but are not limited to:
- Reading Skills – Actors must be able to read scripts and interpret how a writer has described their character.
- Speaking Skills – Actors must be able to say their lines clearly, project their voice, and pronounce words so that audiences understand them.
- Memorization Skills – Actors memorize many lines before filming begins or a show opens. Television actors often appear on camera with little time to memorize scripts, and scripts frequently may be revised or written moments before filming.
- Creativity – Actors interpret their characters’ feelings and motives in order to portray the characters in the most compelling way.
- Physical stamina – Actors should be in good enough physical condition to endure heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes. They may work long hours, including acting in more than one performance a day, and they must do so without getting overly tired.
- Persistence – Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job. They must be able to handle rejection and keep going.
Actors face intense competition for jobs. Most roles, no matter how minor, have many actors auditioning for them. For stage roles, actors with a Bachelor’s degree in theatre may have a better chance of landing a part than those without one. Having a well-polished and up-to-date CV and demo reels can help in getting auditions and callbacks.
Career One Stop. (2021). Actors. Occupational Profiles. https://www.careeronestop.org/toolkit/careers/occupations/occupation-profile.aspx?keyword=Actors&onetcode=27201100&location=US&lang=en
PayScale. (2021). Average Actor / Actress Hourly Pay in Canada. https://www.payscale.com/research/CA/Job=Actor_%2F_Actress/Hourly_Rate
Truity. (2021). Actor. Career Profile. https://www.truity.com/career-profile/actor