Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

What is this job like?

Actors perform in stage, radio, television, video, or motion pictures. It's hard for most actors to find steady work. Only a few become famous "stars." Some well-known, skilled actors may be in supporting roles. Others work as "extras," with no lines or only one or two lines. They also teach in high school or college drama departments, acting conservatories, or public programs.

Actors work under constant pressure. Many face stress from the need to find their next job. Actors need patience.

Most acting jobs only last a short period of time—from 1 day to a few months—which means that actors can have a long time between jobs. Some actors have other jobs in order to make enough money.

Actors work long and irregular hours. They may do one show at night and another during the day. They also might travel with a particular job. Evening and weekend work is a regular part of an actor's life.

Actors should be in good physical condition. They must endure heat from bright lights. They get water breaks so they will not get tired or sick from heat or thirst.

How do you get ready?

Actors follow many paths. They should love acting and entertaining others. Most new actors play a part in high school and college plays, work in college radio stations, or act with local groups. Some have local experience and work in summer plays, on cruise lines, or in theme parks. This helps many young actors sharpen their skills and earn needed credits for membership in one of the actors' unions. Union membership and work experience in smaller communities may lead to work in larger cities, mainly New York or Los Angeles. Actors usually work their way up to larger parts and productions.

Actors usually train at an acting school or in a college program. However, some people enter the field without it. Those who want a bachelor's degree take classes in radio and television broadcasting, communications, film, theater, drama, or dramatic literature. Many continue their college training and get a master's degree in fine arts. Training may include classes in stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, and design, as well as acting workshops.

Actors often work with a drama coach. They research their roles so they can understand the story's setting and background. Sometimes they learn a foreign language or train with a coach to develop a certain accent to make their characters realistic.

Actors need a lot of talent in order to play different parts. Skills such as singing, dancing, skating, or juggling may be important. Actors must have self control and be able to follow directions. Modeling experience also may be helpful. Physical appearance, such as the right size, weight, or facial look, often determines who gets selected for certain roles.

Most actors have agents or managers who find work, deal with contracts, and plan their careers. Agents earn a part of the pay in an actor's contract. Other actors try out for parts on their own.

To become a movie extra, an actor usually must be with a casting agency. Actors only get small parts when more people are needed to perform in a particular movie. Very few actors actually get parts this way.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

See also: Notable Actors.

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