How Can I Become An Actor Or Actress?
"I am interested in becoming a professional actress, but I don’t know where to begin. It looks so effortless when I see the people up onstage, but I know there must be more to than just wearing a costume and memorizing lines. Do I have to go to college and get a degree in acting? How does one break into the acting world?"
asked by Samantha from Chicago, IL
Congratulations on choosing to follow your heart. Becoming an actor or actress is a challenging and beautiful endeavor. There is nothing like bringing stories to life on stage, and using your voice and body to create art.
There are a few paths that can lead you to an acting career. First, observe. Go to as many plays as possible. Watch recordings of classic theatrical productions. Your local library is a great resource for some older recordings that might not be available on the Internet. Read plays and listen to musicals.
Observe as many different kinds of people as possible. Travel, watch foreign movies, and make friends with people that are unusual to you. To be facile at embodying many different characters, it is important to understand people from all walks of life.
Become a student of life.
- Interested in flowers? Take a class at your local conservatory.
- Curious about martial arts? Go to an Aikido studio.
- Love Indian dance? Go to southern India for a few months and study Odissi.
Acting is about communicating the full range of human experience. Learn new languages and instruments. The more you have to draw from, the more authentic your performances will become.
Train. It is crucial to have quality theater training. This can be in a university setting, where you have the benefit of a structured curriculum that develops your skills over four years. You can also train in a dedicated acting school.
Whichever you choose, investigate the programs that interest you before deciding where to enroll. Attend plays produced at the school, speak with graduates of the program, and interview your prospective advisor or the head of faculty.
A well-designed program should train your body, voice, and mind. There will be classes in movement and dance, to help you be as flexible as possible, literally and figuratively. The ability to find neutrality in your body, through a system like Yoga, Alexander technique, or Laban-style movement, is necessary to allow you to truly embody the characters you will play.
There will be vocal training and technique classes, to train you use your voice clearly, safely, and expressively. Even with modern amplification technology, you still need to be able to articulate and project.
Classes in stage standard speech and dialects are helpful, too. There will, of course, be a variety of acting technique classes. Modern theater is based on the work of Stanislavski and Meisner, and classes that break down these approaches and guide you through a series of developmental exercises are important to cultivate a natural style. There will be scene study classes to allow you to fully develop characters and learn to co-create with other actors.
In a university program, there should be classes in:
- Set design
- Stage management
These classes will help you understand all the elements that go into a theatrical production. There are also many specialty courses, such as performance art or Shakespearean acting. Investigate all the acting training available to you, and find the classes that truly bring your talents to life.
As a new actor, your main job will be auditioning. Practice monologues regularly, with a monologue coach if possible. Be ready to audition at the drop of a hat. You can find listing of casting calls online and in theater industry publications. Research the show, director, and company for which you are auditioning, so you show up as informed and prepared as possible.
Arrive early, and be pleasant and professional with everyone, including the helper ushering you in and the other actors auditioning. Make a good impression. And count it as a success if you show up to audition, regardless of whether or not you are cast for the part.
Once you are cast, give the role your all. Whether you are playing spear-carrier number four or the lead of the play, show up fully. Research the role and do your acting homework. Exercise both your body and your mind to be as fit as possible for the performances. Always show up on-time, well rested, and nourished for rehearsals and performances.
Remember to have fun, to keep your passion alive through all the hard work (there’s more than one reason they are called “plays”). Prove yourself as reliable, hard working, creative, and adaptable, and you are more likely to be cast again in the future.
Ultimately, becoming an actor or actress is a combination of talent, skill, perseverance, and luck. Follow your heart, receive quality training, show up fully, and keep your passion alive, and you will do just fine.
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