- Actors endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition
for roles, and frequent rejections in auditions.
- Formal training through a university or acting conservatory
is typical; however, many actors, producers, and directors find
work on the basis of their experience and talent alone.
- Because earnings for actors are erratic, many supplement their
incomes by holding jobs in other fields.
Actors, producers, and directors express ideas and create images
in theater, film, radio, television, and other performing arts
media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain, inform,
or instruct an audience. Although the most famous actors, producers,
and directors work in film, network television, or theater in
New York or Los Angeles, far more work in local or regional television
studios, theaters, or film production companies preparing advertising,
public-relations, or independent, small-scale movie productions.
Actors perform in stage, radio, television, video, or
motion picture productions. They also work in cabarets, nightclubs,
theme parks, commercials, and “industrial” films produced for
training and educational purposes. Most actors struggle to find
steady work; only a few ever achieve recognition as stars. Some
well-known, experienced performers may be cast in supporting roles.
Others work as “extras,” with no lines to deliver, or make brief,
cameo appearances, speaking only one or two lines. Some actors
do voiceover and narration work for advertisements, animated features,
books on tape, and other electronic media, including computer
games. They also teach in high school or university drama departments,
acting conservatories, or public programs.
Producers are entrepreneurs, overseeing the business and
financial decisions of a motion picture, made-for-television feature,
or stage production. They select scripts, approve the development
of ideas for the production, arrange financing, and determine
the size and cost of the endeavor. Producers hire or approve the
selection of directors, principal cast members, and key production
staff members. They also negotiate contracts with artistic and
design personnel in accordance with collective bargaining agreements
and guarantee payment of salaries, rent, and other expenses. Television
and radio producers determine which programs, episodes, or news
segments get aired. They may research material, write scripts,
and oversee the production of individual pieces. Producers in
any medium coordinate the activities of writers, directors, managers,
and agents to ensure that each project stays on schedule and within
Directors are responsible for the creative decisions of
a production. They interpret scripts, express concepts to set
and costume designers, audition and select cast members, conduct
rehearsals, and direct the work of cast and crew. They approve
the design elements of a production, including the sets, costumes,
choreography, and music. Assistant directors cue the performers
and technicians to make entrances or to make light, sound, or
Actors, producers, and directors work under constant pressure.
Many face stress from the continual need to find their next job.
To succeed, actors, producers, and directors need patience and
commitment to their craft. Actors strive to deliver flawless performances,
often while working under undesirable and unpleasant conditions.
Producers and directors organize rehearsals and meet with writers,
designers, financial backers, and production technicians. They
experience stress not only from these activities, but also from
the need to adhere to budgets, union work rules, and production
Acting assignments typically are short term—ranging from 1 day
to a few months—which means that actors frequently experience
long periods of unemployment between jobs. The uncertain nature
of the work results in unpredictable earnings and intense competition
for even the lowest-paid jobs. Often, actors, producers, and directors
must hold other jobs in order to sustain a living.
When performing, actors typically work long, irregular hours.
For example, stage actors may perform one show at night while
rehearsing another during the day. They also might travel with
a show when it tours the country. Movie actors may work on location,
sometimes under adverse weather conditions, and may spend considerable
time in their trailers or dressing rooms waiting to perform their
scenes. Actors who perform in a television series often appear
on camera with little preparation time, because scripts tend to
be revised frequently or even written moments before taping. Those
who appear live or before a studio audience must be able to handle
impromptu situations and calmly ad lib, or substitute, lines when
Evening and weekend work is a regular part of a stage actor’s
life. On weekends, more than one performance may be held per day.
Actors and directors working on movies or television programs—especially
those who shoot on location—may work in the early morning or late
evening hours to film night scenes or tape scenes inside public
facilities outside of normal business hours.
Actors should be in good physical condition and have the necessary
stamina and coordination to move about theater stages and large
movie and television studio lots. They also need to maneuver about
complex technical sets while staying in character and projecting
their voices audibly. Actors must be fit to endure heat from stage
or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes. Producers and
directors ensure the safety of actors by conducting extra rehearsals
on the set so that the actors can learn the layout of set pieces
and props, by allowing time for warmups and stretching exercises
to guard against physical and vocal injuries, and by providing
an adequate number of breaks to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Persons who become actors, producers, and directors follow many
paths. Employers generally look for people with the creative instincts,
innate talent, and intellectual capacity to perform. Actors should
possess a passion for performing and enjoy entertaining others.
Most aspiring actors participate in high school and college plays,
work in college radio stations, or perform with local community
theater groups. Local and regional theater experience and work
in summer stock, on cruise lines, or in theme parks helps many
young actors hone their skills and earn qualifying credits toward
membership in one of the actors’ unions. Union membership and
work experience in smaller communities may lead to work in larger
cities, notably New York or Los Angeles. In television and film,
actors and directors typically start in smaller television markets
or with independent movie production companies and then work their
way up to larger media markets and major studio productions. Intense
competition, however, can be expected at each level, because ever
more applicants will be vying for increasingly fewer numbers of
Formal dramatic training, either through an acting conservatory
or a university program, generally is necessary, but some people
successfully enter the field without it. Most people studying
for a bachelor’s degree take courses in radio and television broadcasting,
communications, film, theater, drama, or dramatic literature.
Many continue their academic training and receive a Master of
Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Advanced curricula may include courses
in stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, and design,
as well as intensive acting workshops. The National Association
of Schools of Theatre accredits 135 programs in theater arts.
A few people go into acting following successful careers in other
fields, such as broadcasting or announcing.
Actors, regardless of experience level, may pursue workshop training
through acting conservatories or mentoring by a drama coach. Actors
also research roles so that they can grasp concepts quickly during
rehearsals and understand the story’s setting and background.
Sometimes actors learn a foreign language or train with a dialect
coach to develop an accent to make their characters more realistic.
Actors need talent, creativity, and training that will enable
them to portray different characters. Because competition for
parts is fierce, versatility and a wide range of related performance
skills, such as singing, dancing, skating, juggling, or miming
are especially useful. Experience in horseback riding, fencing,
or stage combat also can lift some actors above the average and
get them noticed by producers and directors. Actors must have
poise, stage presence, the capability to affect an audience, and
the ability to follow direction. Modeling experience also may
be helpful. Physical appearance, such as possessing the right
size, weight, or features, often is a deciding factor in being
selected for particular roles.
Many professional actors rely on agents or managers to find work,
negotiate contracts, and plan their careers. Agents generally
earn a percentage of the pay specified in an actor’s contract.
Other actors rely solely on attending open auditions for parts.
Trade publications list the times, dates, and locations of these
To become a movie extra, one usually must be listed by a casting
agency, such as Central Casting, a no-fee agency that supplies
extras to the major movie studios in Hollywood. Applicants are
accepted only when the numbers of persons of a particular type
on the list—for example, athletic young women, old men, or small
children—falls below the foreseeable need. In recent years, only
a very small proportion of applicants have succeeded in being
There are no specific training requirements for producers. They
come from many different backgrounds. Talent, experience, and
business acumen are important determinants of success for producers.
Actors, writers, film editors, and business managers commonly
enter the field. Also, many people who start out as actors move
into directing, while some directors might try their hand at acting.
Producers often start in a theatrical management office, working
for a press agent, managing director, or business manager. Some
start in a performing arts union or service organization. Others
work behind the scenes with successful directors, serve on boards
of directors, or promote their own projects. No formal training
exists for producers; however, a growing number of colleges and
universities now offer degree programs in arts management and
in managing nonprofits.
As the reputations and box-office draw of actors, producers,
and directors grow, they might work on bigger budget productions,
on network or syndicated broadcasts, or in more prestigious theaters.
Actors may advance to lead roles and receive star billing. A few
actors move into acting-related jobs, such as drama coaches or
directors of stage, television, radio, or motion picture productions.
Some teach drama privately or in colleges and universities.
In 2004, actors, producers, and directors held about 157,000
jobs, primarily in motion picture and video, performing arts,
and broadcast industries. Because many others were between jobs,
the total number of actors, producers, and directors available
for work was higher. Employment in the theater, and other performing
arts companies, is cyclical—higher in the fall and spring seasons—and
concentrated in New York and other major cities with large commercial
houses for musicals and touring productions. Also, many cities
support established professional regional theaters that operate
on a seasonal or year-round basis. About one-fourth of actors,
producers, and directors were self-employed.
Actors, producers, and directors may find work in summer festivals,
on cruise lines, and in theme parks. Many smaller, nonprofit professional
companies, such as repertory companies, dinner theaters, and theaters
affiliated with drama schools, acting conservatories, and universities,
provide employment opportunities for local amateur talent and
professional entertainers. Auditions typically are held in New
York for many productions across the country and for shows that
go on the road.
Employment in motion pictures and in films for television is
centered in New York and Hollywood. However, small studios are
located throughout the country. Many films are shot on location
and may employ local professional and nonprofessional actors.
In television, opportunities are concentrated in the network centers
of New York and Los Angeles, but cable television services and
local television stations around the country also employ many
actors, producers, and directors.
A growing number of actors and other entertainers appear on the
payrolls of firms who do accounting and payroll work. Frequently
film production companies will hire actors through casting agencies
or contract out their payroll services to accounting firms. Similarly,
many actors arrange with a company in this industry to collect
their pay from producers or entrepreneurs; make the appropriate
deductions for taxes, union dues, and benefits payments; and pay
them their net earnings for each job. The result of these increasingly
more common payroll arrangements is that many actors appear to
be working for accounting offices, rather than for the theatrical
production companies or studios where they actually perform.
Employment of actors, producers, and directors is expected to
grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through
2014. Although a growing number of people will aspire to enter
these professions, many will leave the field early because the
work—when it is available—is hard, the hours are long, and the
pay is low. Competition for jobs will be stiff, in part because
the large number of highly trained and talented actors auditioning
for roles generally exceeds the number of parts that become available.
Only performers with the most stamina and talent will find regular
Expanding cable and satellite television operations, increasing
production and distribution of major studio and independent films,
and continued growth and development of interactive media, such
as direct-for-Web movies and videos, should increase demand for
actors, producers, and directors. However, greater emphasis on
national, rather than local, entertainment productions may restrict
employment opportunities in the broadcasting industry.
Venues for live entertainment, such as Broadway and Off-Broadway
theaters, touring productions, and repertory theaters in many
major metropolitan areas, as well as theme parks and resorts,
are expected to offer many job opportunities. However, prospects
in these venues are more variable, because they fluctuate with
Median hourly earnings of actors were $11.28 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $7.75 and $30.76. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $6.63, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $56.48. Median annual earnings were $15.20 in
performing arts companies and $9.27 in motion picture and video
industries. Annual earnings data for actors were not available
because of the wide variation in the number of hours worked by
actors and the short-term nature of many jobs, which may last
for 1 day or 1 week; it is extremely rare for actors to have guaranteed
employment that exceeded 3 to 6 months.
Minimum salaries, hours of work, and other conditions of employment
are covered in collective bargaining agreements between the producers
and the unions representing workers. The Actors’ Equity Association
(Equity) represents stage actors; the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
covers actors in motion pictures, including television, commercials,
and films; and the American Federation of Television and Radio
Artists (AFTRA) represents television and radio studio performers.
Some actors who regularly work in several media find it advantageous
to join multiple unions, while SAG and AFTRA may share jurisdiction
for work in additional areas, such as the production of training
or educational films not slated for broadcast, television commercial
work, and interactive media. While these unions generally determine
minimum salaries, any actor or director may negotiate for a salary
higher than the minimum.
Under terms of a joint SAG and AFTRA contract covering all unionized
workers, motion picture and television actors with speaking parts
earned a minimum daily rate of $716 or $2,483 for a 5-day week
as of October 1, 2005. Actors also receive contributions to their
health and pension plans and additional compensation for reruns
and foreign telecasts of the productions in which they appear.
According to Equity, the minimum weekly salary for actors in
Broadway productions as of June 30, 2005 was $1,422. Actors in
Off-Broadway theaters received minimums ranging from $493 to $857
a week as of October 23, 2005, depending on the seating capacity
of the theater. Regional theaters that operate under an Equity
agreement pay actors $531 to $800 per week. For touring productions,
actors receive an additional $777 per week for living expenses
($819 per week in higher cost cities). New terms were negotiated
under an “experimental touring program” provision for lower budget
musicals that tour to smaller cities or that perform for fewer
performances at each stop. In an effort to increase the number
of paid workweeks while on tour, actors may be paid less than
the full production rate for touring shows in exchange for higher
per diems and profit participation.
Some well-known actors—stars—earn well above the minimum; their
salaries are many times the figures cited, creating the false
impression that all actors are highly paid. For example, of the
nearly 100,000 SAG members, only about 50 might be considered
stars. The average income that SAG members earn from acting—less
than $5,000 a year—is low because employment is sporadic. Therefore,
most actors must supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other
Many actors who work more than a qualifying number of days, or
weeks per year or earn over a set minimum pay, are covered by
a union health, welfare, and pension fund, which includes hospitalization
insurance to which employers contribute. Under some employment
conditions, Equity and AFTRA members receive paid vacations and
Median annual earnings of salaried producers and directors were
$52,840 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,550
and $87,980. Median annual earnings were $75,200 in motion picture
and video industries and $43,890 in radio and television broadcasting.
Many stage directors belong to the Society of Stage Directors
and Choreographers (SSDC), and film and television directors belong
to the Directors Guild of America. Earnings of stage directors
vary greatly. According to the SSDC, summer theaters offer compensation,
including “royalties” (based on the number of performances), usually
ranging from $2,500 to $8,000 for a 3- to 4-week run. Directing
a production at a dinner theater generally will pay less than
directing one at a summer theater, but has more potential for
generating income from royalties. Regional theaters may hire directors
for longer periods, increasing compensation accordingly. The highest-paid
directors work on Broadway and commonly earn $50,000 per show.
However, they also receive payment in the form of royalties—a
negotiated percentage of gross box office receipts—that can exceed
their contract fee for long-running box office successes.
Stage producers seldom get a set fee; instead, they get a percentage
of a show’s earnings or ticket sales.
People who work in performing arts occupations that may require
acting skills include announcers; dancers and choreographers;
and musicians, singers, and related workers. Others working in
film- and theater-related occupations are makeup artists, theatrical
and performance; fashion designers; set and exhibit designers;
and writers and authors. Producers share many responsibilities
with those who work as top executives.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general information about theater arts and a list of accredited
college-level programs, contact:
For general information on actors, producers, and directors,
contact any of the following organizations:
- Actors Equity Association, 165 West 46th St., New York, NY
10036. Internet: http://www.actorsequity.org/
- Screen Actors Guild, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
90036-3600. Internet: http://www.sag.org/
- American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—Screen
Actors Guild, 4340 East-West Hwy., Suite 204, Bethesda, MD 20814-4411.
Internet: http://www.aftra.org/ or http://www.sag.org
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,