In one sense, all of us are actors, even if we don't get paid millions of dollars to perform. Acting training is inherent in most as it is a skill we develop as children in order to get what we want from others. Ask any parent about the dramatic skills of a two-year-old in a toy store, for example! But as we grow older, our instinct to create a character or improvise a scene or mimic others is often replaced with the reality of interacting with others in a more mundane world.
A successful actor must learn to tap into that imaginative world--like the world of early childhood--in order to turn fictional characters into a palpable, if temporary, reality.
Becoming a professional actor can simply be a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or it can mean years of academic and real world training.
Only a small percentage of working actors ever reach the lucrative ranks of a Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks, but it is possible to find regular employment if you're willing to do the legwork between jobs. It's not a profession for those who seek a guaranteed paycheck, but for those who manage to survive the early years, professional acting careers can be very satisfying artistically; however, learning requires much perseverance. Here are some acting tips for becoming a professional.
- Take professional lessons as a child. This doesn't necessarily mean acting courses, although many performing arts schools do offer acting lessons for children. Enroll in dance classes or learn a musical instrument. This is an excellent way to learn how to interact as a solo artist or as part of a group. Professional actors often take 'movement' classes, which is just another way of saying basic dance instruction. Those who can play an instrument often have an advantage over others who must learn to pantomime the action. Dance classes can help develop the self-discipline and physical stamina many roles require.
- Become a better observer of the world around you. Few professional actors create their characters completely from scratch. Before you pursue a career in acting, spend time watching the people you see every day. Listen for different accents or observe how different people walk. Someday you may have an opportunity to base a character on someone you knew as a child or teenager. An actor must be a keen observer of the smaller details many people may not notice, like facial expressions or body language.
- Take drama, literature and English courses in high school. Acting and creative writing work hand-in-hand, so a performer should understand how language and composition work. Since many movies and theatrical plays are based on literary works, actors should learn as much as they can about the major authors and genres. Performing in one of Arthur Miller's plays, for example, would be easier if the person understood the time period in which Miller wrote. For practical acting experience, actors should also participate in drama clubs and community theater whenever possible.
- Major in theatrical arts or attend professional acting school. Not all actors working today have degrees in theatrical arts from colleges or universities, but many of the more successful ones do. College courses in theatrical arts can give an actor plenty of exercise in improvisation, character development and interpretation. These are all basic skills which are great preparation for the real world of auditions and productions. Some find that an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree in theatrical arts can be a good way to break into the competitive ranks of professional theater. In the acting world, one can never be too educated or too experienced.
- Professional acting is 10% work, 90% auditions. One of the hardest things for beginning actors to learn is patience, and auditioning for roles requires a lot of it. Many production companies hold open auditions for minor roles in films or possible lead roles in commercials or industrial films. These auditions are called 'cattle calls' for a reason. The waiting rooms are usually filled with dozens or hundreds of other actors who look exactly right for the part you wanted. Some auditioners want you to be prepared to perform a short monologue or sing a song, while others might just videotape your responses to seemingly random questions. Never forget that producers and directors are looking for specific physical and theatrical qualities during an audition. Makeup and hair departments can usually fix minor flaws, but an actor must be able to demonstrate a true understanding of the character during the audition process. Auditioning is rarely a one-step process, however, so be prepared to return for more call-backs and more thorough scrutiny.
- When working toward becoming an actor, be prepared to move where the work is. Becoming a professional actor can mean financial and personal sacrifice. If your local community does not offer enough acting work, you may have to move to a larger city, most notably New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Some are fortunate enough to find work soon after arriving, but others may spend years auditioning for roles. Be prepared to spend much of your early acting career not acting. What you need to develop is a strong work ethic, demonstration of craft and a respect for the business. A professional acting career often depends on a domino effect--one small part leads to a larger role or an introduction to the right casting director.
- Seek professional representation. Thousands of people are trying to learn how to get into acting. Directors and producers see those same thousands of starving actors every year. The ones who get noticed the most have professional acting agents and publicists who promote and represent them. Breaking into the best jobs or projects is not easy for a beginner with no representation. You'll need someone who can provide head shots, resumes and clips of your previous work. You'll also need someone who believes in your potential as an actor and will work hard to open doors for you in the business. If you are fortunate enough to find a good agent, then you are well on your way to becoming an established professional actor.
Actors are always studying and finding new ways to hone their skills. Online courses in acting theory and the arts are extremely helpful for those who already have degrees but are looking for ways to gain that extra edge.