I was wondering if you could help me, I am in high school and am near enough in the last year of school and I want to be an actress. In college I am taking a drama course (theatre studies) and would like to know what I can do to help myself get closer to becoming an actress. My top job would be on EastEnders but they only take professional actors so How could I become a “professional ” actress? I really need help because my dream looks a little impossible just now.Question sent to us through Facebook recently
This blog post is a combination of what I replied to her and some thoughts I’ve had in the meantime.
Aside: In case you don’t know, EastEnders is a very popular British soap opera.
I get this kind of question a lot and I always feel like I’m supposed to have a short easy answer. I don’t. Nobody does. And anyone who claims to is not to be trusted. The reason for this is that for every role on EastEnders, there are 100,000 girls who dream of being on EastEnders. And the girl who lands the role doesn’t even need to be a fan of the show, she has to be a strong actor who is right for the part.
First off, I’m not going to say, “Don’t do it. Don’t pursue acting.” The world is full of people who will tell you that and I’ll leave that kind of negativity to them. But I will say that acting as a profession is nothing like what you picture it to be when you’re sitting in front of the TV. It’s a job. It’s a business. It’s sales work, basically, and you’re both salesman and product.
The actors I know who book a lot of work are the same ones who are always self-promoting, calling their agents even during a 10 minute break during rehearsals, working on the next job long before the current job ends. It’s a lot of work. The “business” stuff is actually the bulk of what an actor does. The acting itself is the fun stuff. The business of acting is anything but. For me, anyway. I get very little work as an actor because I can’t stand doing the constant self-promotion. The work I get these days is mostly from people I’ve worked with before – relationships I built early in my career when I was putting effort into it.
Leaving that aside, let’s get to the question. How do you become a professional actor?
There are many definitions to “professional” in terms of acting, but I think the main one is that it means people are willing to pay you to act in their show.
How do you get someone interested in paying you to act? The answer to that is to be perfect for the role they’re casting.
How do you become perfect for the role? Sometimes the answer is that you can’t. If the role calls for a 60 year old 4 foot tall male dwarf, you’re probably not going to get it. Not impossible, but not likely.
But even when you are absolutely perfect for the role, you’re going to be competing against many other girls who are just as perfect for the role. The most eye-opening thing for me was my first commercial audition. I thought I was so unique. I thought my “look” was completely my own. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the audition room and saw 20 guys that looked exactly like me. It was like a bald guy family reunion.
So how do you win the role over the competition? Be ready for it. Get as much experience as you possibly can.
While you’re in high school, do as much theatre as you can. If there’s no theatre program at your school, create one. Or audition for your local community theatre. If there isn’t one, then make one.
Do as much film as you can – University film departments are great for this. Or make your own movie and post it to YouTube.
Get a great education. Go to the best school that you can afford and get into.
Start your own theatre company. That’s what Lindsay and I did when we were young. We figured that if nobody was going to hire us we could just hire ourselves! It was great for a couple of years and we learned a whole heck of a lot about marketing, about business, about the world in general. Mostly we learned that we didn’t want to run a theatre company. But it gave us a great foundation for what we do now. True fact: “Theatrefolk” is actually the name of the company we formed. The original goal with it was to write and tour Lindsay’s scripts.
Nobody is going to step off their couch onto the EastEnders set. There are a great many steps that you’ll have to take to get to that point. I’ve linked to some resources below to get you started.
Lastly, I suggest tossing that word “dream” out the window when you’re thinking of an acting career. Dream implies that it’s out of your control. Instead, use the word vision. Start simply. Make a list (it should be a long list) of every step you’re going to take between now and your first acting paycheck. Visualize each step like it’s a ladder. Then spend every spare moment you have pursuing the next rung.
Have a look at The Nuts and Bolts of Becoming a Professional Actor – A newsletter we put together a couple of years ago but still has some great information and tips in it.
The Secret to an Acting Career Is Not an Agent from Backstage.
Acting Career Advice from Sande Shurin Acting Studios
Advice for Actors FAQ from Castcall
Resource for Teachers
If you have students interested in exploring their options in theatre careers, I highly recommend the Careers in Theatre DVD, part of the Practical Technical Theater DVD Series, which we proudly carry. Click the image below and view a free excerpt from it