How to Become an Actor

By TACP Staff on August 11th, 2019

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While there isn’t any guarantee of success when pursuing a career as a professional actor, you can improve your chances by following these tips on how to study acting, where to get experience, how to build your resume and audition for roles, and how to create your own work. Don’t assume that acting is just a lofty dream – with these steps, it’s entirely possible.

1. Learn How to Act

Congratulations on exploring a new career path! Acting is a satisfying, rewarding career that has nearly unlimited earning potential. Some people assume that a career in the entertainment industry is a frivolous pursuit, but today’s talented movie and television stars prove that you don’t need anything but a decent shot to become a Hollywood force. Here are some simple and effective steps to get your acting career started on the right foot.

First Things First

If you think you want to become an actor, it can be difficult to know where to start. What should you do first? Is there a certain order you need to go in? What is the first step to becoming a Hollywood actor? Who can help answer your questions as you go through the process of building your career?

Everyone has to start somewhere and for amateur actors, that’s usually at a high school or community theater. Before you start thinking about making acting your job, try it on for size a few times to see if you really like it.

Where to Get Started in Acting

Look for amateur acting opportunities in your area. This may be easier to do in a more urban area, but many small communities have theaters and acting guilds. If you’re still in school, enroll in a musical or play, even if you don’t have a speaking role. Get as much experience as you can with acting, drama, and performances that get you behind the scenes. Branch out and look for local theater ensembles that cast people of all ages. Productions at high schools, local theaters, and community colleges are all excellent places to start improving your acting skills when you don’t have a lot of initial experience.

Getting Serious

Once you’ve explored a few acting opportunities on a small scale and have decided it’s something you want to pursue, it’s time to take the next several steps. Many of these won’t happen in order and some of them may overlap or become jumbled. It’s not necessary to be focused on the order of your progress; simply do what you can when you have the opportunity.

2. Study Acting and Drama

Acting is a craft like writing, singing, or the arts. This means that while some people have a natural predisposition for drama and theatre, not all good actors are “born with it.” Acting needs to be studied, developed, and cultivated. Even the highest-paid Hollywood actors are consistently working to improve their craft. Here are two primary ways to get an education in acting:

Attend an Acting School or Class

Look for acting classes or a drama school in your area. Explore different genres and avoid choosing characters that limit you to being a certain type of actor. Variety is what you should be looking for. If you find that you do excellent work in dramatic scenes, expand your skills by seeking training in other areas. If you push yourself to become well-rounded you’ll have more opportunities than if you limit yourself to one or two types of acting. Attend multiple classes or a specialized acting school that allows you to get a feel for multiple different types of work.

Enroll in a BFA or MFA Program

Many careers require post-secondary education, however, acting is not one of them. You don’t need a BFA or MFA to become a successful actor or actress. That said, formal education or formal training can definitely benefit students by providing them with a structured approach to learning the craft. The list of successful actors who received formal training is equally as long as those who did not. A college degree program can help you sharpen your knowledge of acting theory, learn the techniques of successful screen actors, and gain valuable exposure through acting auditions for students. Additionally, students who receive a formal education can build their acting resume by participating in student films, commercials, and opportunities open to students in drama school.

3. Hone Your Craft

Like any craft, talent only gets you so far. It’s important to research and learn more about your craft and to open yourself up to new challenges by taking on different roles. It might not always be a success, but staying involved in the acting community can help keep your creative muscles limber and your skills in top shape.

Attend Acting Workshops or Camps

Acting camps and workshops are often an affordable way for early aspiring actors to start getting experience. Many workshops are open to individuals of all ages, especially if they’re not connected to a high school or college, so you don’t necessarily have to be young to attend an acting camp. Many of these workshops are extremely intensive and can provide you with several month’s worth of education in just a few short weeks. In some cases, an acting camp or workshop will pay stipends to actors for their work.

Audition for Community Theater or Join a Theater Group in Your Area

If your community has a local theater, this can be an excellent way to get involved in different productions throughout the year. Depending on how well funded the theater is and how seriously they take their work, small theater productions can be a step up from college theater. Joining a local theater group can help you better understand your competition, make important connections, sharpen your resume, and add to your experience. Additionally, many talent scouts will visit small local theaters to cast for indie roles or other non-blockbuster films.

Develop Your Stage Skills

Many stage actors believe that live acting is much more difficult than acting for a film or television production. You only get one take and your delivery needs to be as close to perfect as possible. If being able to redo your scenes until you get them right is important to you, stage acting may not be where you end up. However, learning how to act authentically on stage can better prepare you for film acting in the future. Consider taking stage combat classes, joining improvisation groups, learning to sing and dance, and working with a dialect coach to improve your stage skills.

Work with Specialized Coaches to Improve Unique Skills

Ideally, you will develop one or more unique skills that help you stand out from the competition. Aspiring actors are a dime a dozen, and it can be difficult for directors to differentiate between a hundred auditions that were nearly the same. Actors access a wide range of human emotions in their performances, so it’s important to increase the depth of emotion you are able to communicate so you can stand out in the crowd. Consider training that pushes you to add new abilities like unusual facial expressions, tap dancing, or a killer Russian accent, but remember to only add them to your resume once you’ve mastered the skill relatively well. Be strategic about how you approach your professional development; for example, if a handful of directors all say that you would be a great fit if you had a certain skill, or could play a type of character, it would be a waste of time to pursue training for anything else.

Keep Tabs on the Entertainment Industry

It’s important to keep tabs on the industry so you can stay ahead of the curve. Websites like, and, can help you discover current trends are and keep you connected with key people who may open doors for you. Staying up-to-date on emerging directors and new acting theories can give you a competitive edge and keep your creativity at the forefront of your mind.

4. Prepare for Auditions and Build Your Resume

As you’re working on getting yourself out there in the acting scene, you’ll need to begin preparing for auditions and building your resume. Your resume is often your first impression and your audition the second (or vice versa), so it’s critical to make sure you’re on the ball with both.

Assemble Your Resume

You can build your acting resume in one of two ways. If you have a lot of experience, you can list the productions you’ve participated in. Even if you weren’t on stage, all experience counts. Or, if you’re looking to get experience, you can build a skills-based resume. Instead of listing the places you’ve worked in order, you list what skills you’re proficient in and any special talents you have. You’ll include both skills and experience on either resume, but each emphasizes one over the other, whichever area you’re strongest in.

Have Professional Headshots Taken

One of the first things any producer or director will want to look at is the headshot that accompanies your resume. The entertainment and film industry is very appearance-centric, and your physical characteristics can play a big role in what types of parts you’re cast for. Make sure your headshot is current and reflects who you are and what you look like today. A headshot photographer will likely produce the most professional result, but you can always approach an amateur photographer who is willing to take photos for free, or for a reasonable fee if your budget is really tight.

Develop a Demo Reel

A demo reel is a compilation of video clips from your best performances. It should be rather short; a few minutes or less is all that is necessary. As you first get started as an actor, it will be difficult to assemble a reel with a variety of performances because you won’t have many to choose from. Do your best to highlight your best work, even if it is limited. As your experience grows you will secure more challenging or notable characters, which will allow you to promote a more impressive and comprehensive body of work.

Learn a Variety of Monologues in Different Genres

Monologues are short, memorized lines that can be used at the drop of a hat, often to cast actors in plays, television shows, and movies. You should have a wide variety of monologues in different genres that showcase your acting talents. Make sure to branch out of your comfort zone and learn monologues that are different from the genre you are most familiar with acting in. If you sing, be sure to master 16-32 bars of a few different songs and be ready to perform them on the fly.

Know Your Strengths and Your Target Audience

Although you want to be well-versed in a number of different genres, it’s also important to understand your target audience and know where your strengths lie. If you make an excellent leading actor in a comedy, don’t sweat being typecast. If you’re more confident in a supporting role or playing villains? Don’t be afraid to make a reputation in the industry based on a niche skill you bring to the table. If you’re not a role chameleon, focus on what you are good at and get even better at it.

Show Up to Auditions Prepared and Professional

Few things frustrate a producer or director more than an actor, especially an amateur with little experience, who shows up to an audition flustered and unprepared. You don’t have much control over what the director thinks of you, but you can control how you present yourself. Arrive at your audition on time, wear professional clothing, bring materials that you may need like a pen and paper, and know your material backward and forwards. Be friendly and shake hands with everyone. You never know whose opinions on set carry weight.

5. Move to a Large City (Go Where the Work Is)

One of the harshest realities of having a successful acting career is that it usually requires relocation. Larger cities, especially those on the West coast, have many more opportunities than smaller cities or cities in the Midwest. While you don’t have to necessarily move to Los Angeles or Manhattan, you need to go where the work is. If you aren’t financially prepared to relocate, focus on doing what it takes to get the money saved up to move. Few serious actors are able to make it outside of a large city.

6. Audition Frequently

Your resume and headshot are important, but auditions are truly where the decision to cast you or not is made. Make sure you are well-practiced at auditioning and attend as many auditions as you can within reason, even for roles you may not necessarily want to accept. Auditioning often leads to a lot of “no’s,” but the experience will help you develop a thicker skin and improve your auditioning skills, which are both crucial for success.

Network Often and Extensively

Networking is the lifeblood of the entertainment and film industry and if you’re not networking, you’re truly missing out on a wealth of opportunities. When you have key individuals in your network, they can help connect you with good directors and available roles, as well as offering insights on your work. It’s important that you build a positive reputation instead of a negative one. Your career can be over as quickly as it started if you become known in the industry as difficult to work with, snobby, or lazy.

How to Find Roles to Audition For

Ask your contacts if there are any upcoming projects in your area or if they have a recommendation for a manager or agent. Look for agent workshops, which can help you find a good agent to work with, although they tend to be quite competitive. Browse your local newspaper and online resources for local casting open calls. Or, if you can travel and temporarily relocate for the part, you may want to consider casting calls in other areas. Audition websites like and are also great resources for finding auditions.

How to Book Auditions

Ideally, you have an acting agent who works directly with producers and directors to help you book auditions. Your agent will contact you with audition times for roles for which you’d be a good fit, and you simply arrive prepared. If you’re booking auditions without the help of an agent, it may be a little more difficult since you won’t have instant access to casting calls. Look for casting notices and contact the number listed in the ad to set up a time for your audition.

Get the Hookups

Networking with people who have personal or professional connections in the industry is an essential ingredient for success. Focus on developing relationships with people who work at all levels, even if they don’t seem to have an important role. You never know who may be able to put in a good word for you with a director or producer.

7. Join an Actors Union

Performers unions are a great way to build your reputation, get to know key individuals who work in casting, filmmaking, and other areas of entertainment. You can also gain access to benefits like health insurance. Unions can be difficult to get into, so it’s best to start now. Consider becoming a member of organizations like AEAAGVAACTRA, and AGMA. Once you’re in a smaller union, it’s easier to get into larger unions like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Once you’ve been accepted into a union, keeping your membership active may be as easy as finding occasional work and paying annual dues.

8. Find a Talent Agent

There’s a difference between talent agents and managers, and not every professional actor needs or wants both (or either). Talent agents are highly valuable though because they essentially have the inside information about when and where auditions are happening. Even established and well-known actors have agents who connect them with producers or directors who are holding auditions. Begin contacting talent agents once you’ve added a few gigs to your resume through casting notices and open calls, and only meet with agents who have a good reputation in the industry.

Full Steam Ahead

Once you have an agent and are networking and going to auditions regularly, it’s time to put the pedal to the medal. Take the bull by the horns and start shaping your acting career into what success looks like for you. Discover what you need to feel satisfied with your career and then chase it full force.

9. Create Your Own Work

Creating original work is arguably the highlight of every actor’s career, especially when that work is seen by many. It also helps you maintain your creativity and keeps you sharp for other acting roles. Creating your own work is often challenging, but the payoff can be great.

Write Your Own Film, Play, Television Show, or Web Series Script

In your spare time, consider writing your own script for a television show, web series, play, or film. This is also a great way to spend any downtime in between auditions and roles when you’re not making money acting. Writing scripts can also help you discover what you’re truly passionate about and what types of roles excite you.

Direct or Produce a Project You or Someone Else Made

When you’re not acting, you can also consider directing or producing. If you’ve worked with a local theater production, perhaps you can convince them to direct a play that you’ve written. Or, if you have strong connections with screenwriters or playwrights, you may be able to direct someone else’s work. Or, you can apprentice under an experienced producer and begin learning how to produce television shows, films, and more. Getting behind the scenes is another great way to expand your skill set and make sure that your name stays fresh in the community.

Interested In Becoming an Actor? It’s Hard Work But Often Worth It

If your interest in how to become an actor evolves from curiosity to a serious pursuit, it’s important to know that becoming a successful actor takes a lot of effort and a great deal of sacrifice. You may not get to live where you really want to, or you may be stuck in between auditions working temporary jobs to make ends meet. You may find yourself in back-to-back auditions or staying up until the wee hours of the morning to go over your lines one last time. It sounds tough, but actors who truly love the craft and have become successful often say that the hard work is worth all the effort. Explore an acting career today and discover if it’s right for you.