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Acting Career

Career Description

An Actor performs in stage, radio, television, video, or motion picture productions. They also work in cabarets, nightclubs, and theme parks. Actors portray characters, and, for more complex roles, they research their character’s traits and circumstances so that they can better understand a script.

Common Work Tasks

  • Do voiceover and narration work for advertisements, animated features, books on tape, and other electronic media
  • Work as “extras,” with no lines to deliver
  • Read over scripts and audition for theater arts roles
  • Work closely with directors, other actors, and playwrights to find the interpretation most suited to the role
  • Learn about characters in scripts and their relationships to each other in order to develop role interpretations
  • Portray and interpret roles, using speech,  gestures, and body movements in order to entertain, inform, or instruct radio,  film, television, or live audiences
  • Read from scripts or books to narrate action or to inform or entertain audiences, utilizing few or no stage props
  • Work with other crewmembers responsible for lighting, costumes, makeup, and props
  • Promote productions using means such as interviews about plays or movies
  • Prepare and perform action stunts for motion picture, television, or stage productions

Other Job Titles

Actors are also known by other titles, including:

  • Performers
  • Artists
  • Stage Actors
  • Extras

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  Formal dramatic training, either through an acting conservatory or a university program, generally is necessary for these jobs, 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 stage actors 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.

  Most aspiring actors participate in high school and college plays, work in college radio or television 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. Membership in one of the actors’ unions and work experience in smaller communities may lead to work in larger cities, notably New York, Chicago, 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. A few people go into acting after successful careers in other fields, such as broadcasting or announcing.

Actors need talent and creativity 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, acrobatics, or miming are especially useful. Experience in horseback riding, fencing, linguistics, 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 ability to affect an audience, and the ability to follow direction. Modeling experience also may be helpful. Physical appearance, such as having certain features and being the specified size and weight, often is a deciding factor in who gets a particular role.


The median annual salary for an Actor is $14/hour. The top 10 percent earn more than $58/hour, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $8/hour. Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of actors are:

  • Motion Picture and Video Industries - $28.56/hour
  • Performing Arts Companies - $25.88/hour
  • Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Service- $20.18/hour
  • Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers – 31.78/hour
  • Radio and Television Broadcasting - $25.91/hour

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  12%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 8,100
  • Employment 2006: 93,000
  • Employment 2016:  103,000

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