It's one of the hardest lines of work to make money in—but it is possible. Though it may take a little more creative problem solving to get your footing, if you have incredible tenacity and a thick skin you'll find opportunities for acting jobs. Laying the foundation for a longer-term career is key. Even if this longer-term career doesn't make up the bulk of your income, it still takes a lot of work to be successful.
Becoming an Actor
There are many schools of thought regarding what it takes to become an actor and then find acting jobs. Along these lines, it helps first to decide what your over-arching vision is. Are you looking to be an actor on the stage, giving a slightly different performance each night before a live audience?
Or are you more keen to get in front of the camera and create an opus piece by piece? Maybe it's improv or sketch comedy that you want to act in because of how spontaneous and enlivening that work can be. Besides these forms, there's also physical theatre and musical theatre which require different skill sets.
The traditional route to finding your way onto a stage can involve first doing your research and getting to know what's referred to as 'the canon' of American theatre. There are some incredible playwrights that have defined the cultural conversation, some eventually emerging in film and television.
For example, Angels in America by Tony Kushner not only enjoyed groundbreaking original productions that shaped the collective unconscious, but it also enjoyed filmed versions on HBO with stars like Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. Even if you're uninterested in stage acting, looking at it as a foundation can help you go far.
Acting for the Camera
There's a whole different process for finding acting jobs for the camera. Depending on where you wish to land, you could start with acting training specifically for the camera. Also, finding your way onto film/television sets doing other occupations can also be useful because navigating the culture that's created on a set is essential to how well you'll do. Finally, just like getting to know the titans of theatre, get to know the most influential works of television and film. This will give you a great background.
Acting in Other Forms
From experimental performance art, to sketch comedy, to musical theatre, to voiceover and motion capture, there are plenty of other mediums that can tap your acting passion. The foundation, which we'll talk about in the next section, still doesn't change. Good training is essential in separating you from the pack.
Start by running a search for the acting form you're interested in. Chances are, there will be a meetup group that explores your chosen genre, and if not, you could start one yourself. The key thing to remember is that some of these forms only have audiences in certain cities or towns. So if you're excited about finding acting jobs in a more obscure genre, you may have to move to a major cultural city center or influential artistic community.
The Question of Training
Training will be an essential part of your road to success and will ensure you don't end up wasting anyone's time in your auditions. No matter what form/medium you choose, there is an understanding that if you are hired, you've already mastered a certain number of acting skills.
Authenticity and vulnerability are just as important as more technical aspects like line memorization. Search for 'acting techniques' and research what you think will work for you. Then, find a reputable studio where you can study and practice this. Improv schools can also help you. Even setting up a script reading series can help.
Getting Acting Jobs
Once you're confident that you've explored what makes you, you, through training and commitment to a craft (even if it's a combination of a few of them) you can start looking for acting jobs. One quick note: it is possible to find acting jobs without first getting training, however, it may be harder and you may not have the same level of confidence in your ability. There are a variety of outlets you'll want to explore to find acting jobs. We'll get into a few of these below.
Backstage is a magazine (also available online) that can be a portal to acting jobs. There are audition listings, interviews, how-to articles, and exclusive insights for whatever the theme of the issue is. It's an essential part of finding your way in the business and getting the acting jobs themselves. Frequently, they list the schools/studios you can attend to develop your craft. So make sure you sign up for Backstage to get the ball rolling.
This is one of the original job listing sites for actors and has a presence in every region of the country. Signing up for an account is free and allows you to upload your resume, film reel, and list your special skills. There are also lists of productions that are auditioning actors, and if you see one you're right for, you can submit yourself for consideration.
If you use this platform a lot, then it would be wise to sign up for an Actors Access Plus account so you can get unlimited free submissions. If you don't, you'll be paying between $2 and $10 every time you submit for a project, depending on how many roles you're right for.
This platform is a little newer on the scene, but it's now widespread and similar to Actors Access. You have similar amenities and account options, but it's crucial to note that some studios and casting directors will use Casting Networks only. If you want to make sure you don't miss out on any opportunities, it is important to establish a presence here.
This is the newest casting platform on the scene, and it has a similar functionality to the others. You'll find unique acting jobs here that you might not find elsewhere because Casting Frontier does not have as high a barrier for entry. A free account will allow you to upload a picture and list your special skills. If you want more functionality than this, you must sign up for the subscription version (this is also a good course of action for the other services).
Sleeper Service: Casting About
If you want to be your own manager and have the communicative know-how. You should consider a subscription to Casting About. It lists every film/television production that is casting or on hiatus (not currently in production). However, this is not an avenue for beginners; it requires a knowledge of the entertainment landscape in such a way that allows for effective introductions through the right channels. These skills
are developed through experience.
Actor Salary and Job Security
You'll find that as you get further and further along into an acting career that it's hard to gauge your income from year to year because the business is so unpredictable. If you have good agents and managers going to bat for you, this is a much easier process. The step of even approaching these professionals requires groundwork. Ideally, you have a body of acting jobs that you've found yourself or through your networking efforts and effective relationship management.
If you are a regular on a television show, you can look forward to making thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per episode (especially if the show makes it beyond the first season). For smaller roles, your payment will be less than this. Actor film contracts are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Finally, in the world of stage, you'll usually be making a weekly salary for however long the rehearsal/performance process is. The stage is generally considered less lucrative than film/television unless you're working at the highest levels.
The following statistic deters many: only 10% of actors are employed at any point in time. This means it's a good idea to do something in addition to acting that gets you through dry spells. If this other work is also creative and feeds you, so much the better. Then again, in certain parts of the country, it is possible to join the 'company' of a respected regional theatre. This may offer more job security than if you were to bounce from contract to contract to work for different entities.
Deciding to become an actor and find acting jobs can be a daunting journey. But if you have the passion, talent, and drive to put all the pieces together, you can find yourself in a very rewarding line of work. It should be mentioned that when acting, you'll ultimately be inhabiting the full spectrum of the human experience. So if you're uncomfortable with change or experiencing a variety of complex emotions or states of being, it'd be wise to choose another avenue for your creative expression. Now go get 'em and knock 'em dead!