If you have always dreamed of hearing ‘lights, camera, action’ in your day job, and you have a natural talent for communicating characters through speech, movement and body language, a career as an actor could be your dream and ideal vocation.
In addition to working for productions projected onto the big screen and small screen, actors are hired by theatre productions, radio stations, and digital media companies. Regardless of the role, actors interpret the work of screenwriters and follow directions from directors and production teams. Away from the limelight, actors are required for educational, training, and therapeutic purposes.
In some roles, actors need to stick to the script. In others, a certain degree of improvisation is expected to bring a sense of authenticity to a character’s reactions to situations.
As an Actor you will need to:
- Networking with casting and production companies.
- Attending auditions.
- Liaising with booking agents.
- Learning lines and rehearsing.
- Working closely with directors to discuss the interpretation and delivery of lines.
- Getting into character by conducting research.
- Doing voice-overs for ads.
Depending on your role, you may also need to perform for live audiences, in studios or on location. If you are working in theatre, you may also be expected to manage props, costumes, and the performance area and help with touring duties, such as driving, load-ins and load-outs.
Data on the average incomes of actors is difficult to get an accurate review of as actors often keep to a sporadic and unpredictable work schedule.
However, for ballpark figures:
- The starting salary of an actor in the UK is £22,000 per year.
- The average salary of an actor in the UK is £27,300 per year.
- The salary of an experienced actor in the UK is £48,608 per year.
Even though it may seem like a career in acting is a fast ticket to the lifestyle of the rich and the famous, the reality is that very few actors become wealthy through their work and the average actor spends 80% of their time ‘resting’ and out of employment.
As with salaries for actors, the working hours can be just as unpredictable. It isn’t uncommon for working hours to be unsocial and long while filming is underway. If you do get into acting, you will need to be comfortable with early starts, late finishes, and frequently working away from home if you are part of a theatre company that tours different towns, cities and countries or work on location.
What to Expect
- Your work location will change frequently unless you regularly work on the same set.
- You may be expected to work in a range of different settings, including working outdoors.
- Commonly, actors are classed as self-employed. Self-employed actors have to complete their self-assessment tax forms and keep track of their expenses or employ an accountant.
- For some actors, it can be difficult to find regular work. You may need to find a more secure job to support your acting career.
- Disruption to home life is par for the course for many actors.
- You will be expected to attend auditions at short notice. The majority of which take place in London and other major cities.
- Depending on your role, you may need to travel nationally and internationally.
- Your success will largely depend on network connections and recommendations.
- A certain degree of professionalism is expected; always be prepared, punctual and polite.
Not all successful actors have an educational background in acting; you will rarely see it as a formal requirement on a casting call. However, when you are starting and trying to find your feet in the industry, an educational background in the visual arts, performing, or media may give you an advantage over other auditioners.
Prior training that enabled you to hone your craft will be infinitely more appealing to casting directors; many of the successful actors you see on your screen today started their training at a young age; however, it is never too late to start if you have your heart set on an acting career.
If you are currently enrolled at university and you aren’t studying the arts as your discipline, consider joining a drama society. If you are not a student, you can look for training opportunities in local community theatres.
Postgraduate study is far from essential, but it may enable you to secure industry contacts and experience. Some postgraduate studies allow students to study particular elements of acting, such as accent acting or stage combat.
As an actor, you will need:
- Superlative communication skills.
- Excellent time management skills to ensure you attend auditions and shoots on time.
- To be dependable.
- The ability to take direction and constructive criticism.
- Teamworking skills.
- The ability to understand your character and the director’s vision.
- The determination to attend auditions after being rejected for other roles.
- The confidence and social skills required to network and develop rapport with contacts.
- A good memory for learning lines.
- Stamina to withstand the pressures of long hours.
Some actors also benefit from having additional skills, such as being able to play an instrument, dancing, and singing.
Ideally, your work background will involve acting and acting training. You can start gaining experience in student-led drama clubs by teaming up with a local community theatre or dipping your toe in the water by working as a tour operator or entertainer. The BBC also runs work experience schemes for actors who have the talent and determination to become successful.
Career progression for actors is far from linear; you can spend decades as an actor receiving the same rate of pay, or take a pay cut after landing bigger roles. The absence of job security and the ups and downs is sadly something all actors sign up for.
If you become tired of the precarious rigmarole of acting, you can try your hand as a director, theatre manager, director, or production company owner.
Actors have no shortage of employers to consider; the main ones include:
- Repertory companies
- Fringe theatre companies
- Commercial theatre companies
- Theatre in Education companies
- Radio, TV, and film companies
- Video game development studios
- Digital marketing companies
- Corporate companies looking for actors for training videos
- Tour companies, museums, and heritage organisations
The BA (Hons) Performance degree taught on the Ayr UWS campus focuses on the historical, practical, and theoretical applications of performance, preparing students to flourish as creative and critical thinkers after graduation. During the four years of study, you will receive masterclasses in performance by industry-leading professionals who are more than equipped to teach you the ins and outs of contemporary performance studies.