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What does an actor do?  

Actors perform in stage, radio, television, video, or motion pictures. Most actors work hard to find steady work. Only a few become famous "stars." Some well-known, skilled actors may be in supporting roles. Others work as "extras," with no lines or only one or two lines. They also teach in high school or college drama departments, acting conservatories, or public programs.

Actors work under constant pressure. Many face stress from the need to find their next job. Actors need patience.

Most acting jobs only last a short period of time—from 1 day to a few months—which means that they can have a long time between jobs. Actors must have extra jobs in order to make enough money.

Actors work long hours. They may do one show at night and another during the day. They also might travel with a show. Evening and weekend work is a regular part of an actor's life.

Actors should be in good physical condition. They must endure heat from bright lights. They get water breaks so they will not get tired or sick from heat or thirst.

How do you get ready to be an actor?  

Actors follow many paths. They should love acting and entertaining others. Most new actors play a part in high school and college plays, work in college radio stations, or act with local groups. Some have local experience and work in summer plays, on cruise lines, or in theme parks. This helps many young actors sharpen their skills and earn needed credits for membership in one of the actors' unions. Union membership and work experience in smaller communities may lead to work in larger cities, mainly New York or Los Angeles. Actors usually work their way up to larger parts and productions.

Actors usually train at an acting school or in a college program. However, some people enter the field without it. Those who want a bachelor's degree take classes in radio and television broadcasting, communications, film, theater, drama, or dramatic literature. Many continue their college training and get a master's degree in fine arts. Training may have classes in stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, and design, as well as acting workshops.

Actors often work with a drama coach. They research their roles so they can understand the story's setting and background. Sometimes they learn a foreign language or train with a coach to develop a certain accent to make their characters realistic.

Actors need a lot of talent in order to play different parts. Skills such as singing, dancing, skating, or juggling may be important. Actors must have self control and be able to follow directions. Modeling experience also may be helpful. Physical appearance, such as the right size, weight, or facial look, often determines who gets selected for certain roles.

Most actors have agents or managers who find work, deal with contracts, and plan their careers. Agents earn a part of the pay in an actor's contract. Other actors try out for parts on their own.

To become a movie extra, an actor usually must be with a casting agency. Actors only get small parts when more people are needed to perform in a particular movie. Very few actors actually get parts this way.

How much does this job pay?  

The middle half of all actors made between $15,320 and $53,320 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $13,330, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $106,360.

The most famous actors earn much more.

How many jobs are there?  

In 2002, actors held 63,000 jobs. Many jobs are in New York and Los Angeles, but they work all over the country.

What about the future?  

Employment of actors is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. Competition for jobs will be tough because many highly trained and talented people are trying to become actors. Many actors leave this job because the hours are long and they can't earn enough money. Only a few actors become a star.

Are there other jobs like this?  

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Where can you find more information?  

More information about actors, producers, and directors can be found in the careers database.

Questions or Comments?
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