Approximately 63,800 actors are employed in the United States. Motion pictures, television, and the stage are the largest fields of employment for actors. Most of the opportunities for employment in these fields are either in Los Angeles or in New York. On stage, even the road shows often have their beginning in New York, with the selection of actors conducted there along with rehearsals. However, nearly every city and most communities present local and regional theater productions.
As cable television networks continue to produce more and more of their own programs and films, they will become a major provider of employment for actors. The music video business and the growth of the Internet will also continue to create new acting jobs. Internet companies such as Amazon and Netflix are creating original programming for subscribers, which is creating more opportunities for actors.
The lowest numbers of actors are employed for stage work. In addition to Broadway shows and regional theater, there are employment opportunities for stage actors in summer stock, at resorts, and on cruise ships.
Probably the best way to enter acting is to start with high school, local, or college productions and to gain as much experience as possible on that level. Very rarely is an inexperienced actor given an opportunity to perform on stage or in film in New York or Hollywood. The field is extremely difficult to enter; the more experience and ability beginners have, however, the greater the possibilities for entrance.
Those venturing to New York or Hollywood are encouraged first to have enough money to support themselves during the long waiting and searching period normally required before a job is found. Most will list themselves with a casting agency that will help them find a part as an extra or a bit player, either in theater or film. These agencies keep names on file along with photographs and a description of the individual's features and experience. If a part comes along that may be suitable, they contact that person. Very often, however, names are added to their lists only when the number of people in a particular physical category is low. For instance, the agency may not have enough athletic young women on their roster, and if the applicant happens to fit this description, her name is added.
To learn more about breaking into this career, you might also consider visiting SAG-AFTRA’s Web site (https://www.sagaftra.org/what-do-i-have-do-get-started-actor), which includes information about the business of acting.
New actors will normally start in bit parts and will have only a few lines to speak, if any. The normal procession of advancement would then lead to larger supporting roles and then, in the case of theater, possibly to a role as understudy for one of the main actors. The understudy usually has an opportunity to fill in should the main actor be unable to give a performance. Many film and television actors get their start in commercials or by appearing in government and commercially sponsored public service announcements, films, and programs. Other actors join the afternoon soap operas and continue on to evening programs. Many actors have also gotten their start in on-camera roles such as presenting the weather segment of a local news program. Once an actor has gained experience, he or she may go on to play stronger supporting roles or even leading roles in stage, television, or film productions. From there, an actor may go on to stardom. Only a very small number of actors ever reach that pinnacle, however.
Some actors eventually go into other, related occupations and become drama coaches, drama teachers, producers, stage directors, motion picture directors, television directors, radio directors, stage managers, casting directors, or artist and repertoire managers. Others may combine one or more of these functions while continuing their career as an actor.
Tips for Entry
Read Backstage (https://www.backstage.com) for advice on becoming an actor, as well as job listings.
Prepare a professional resume that lists your acting experience and photos of yourself (a head shot and a full body shot) to present at auditions and casting calls.
Once you graduate high school, consider traveling to Los Angeles or New York to increase your chances of landing an acting job.
Participate in acting workshops, seminars, and other training opportunities.