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What Actors Do About this section

Actors
Actors must memorize and rehearse their lines.

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Duties

Actors typically do the following:

  • Read scripts and meet with agents and other professionals before accepting a role
  • Audition in front of directors, producers, and casting directors
  • Research their character’s personal traits and circumstances to portray the characters more authentically to an audience
  • Memorize their lines
  • Rehearse their lines and performance, including on stage or in front of the camera, with other actors
  • Discuss their role with the director, producer, and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show
  • Perform the role, following the director’s directions

Most actors struggle to find steady work, and few achieve recognition as stars. Some work as “extras”—actors who have no lines to deliver but are included in scenes to give a more realistic setting. Some actors do voiceover or narration work for animated features, audiobooks, or other electronic media.

In some stage or film productions, actors sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. For some roles, an actor must learn a new skill, such as horseback riding or stage fighting.

Most actors have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold other jobs in order to make a living. Some actors teach acting classes as a second job.

Work Environment About this section

Actors
Some actors wear elaborate makeup and costumes.

Actors held about 51,600 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of actors were as follows:

Self-employed workers 24%
Theater companies and dinner theaters 8
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 7
Professional, scientific, and technical services 6

Work assignments are usually short, ranging from 1 day to a few months, and actors often hold another job in order to make a living. They are frequently under the stress of having to find their next job. Some actors in touring companies may be employed for several years.

Actors may perform in unpleasant conditions, such as outdoors in bad weather, under hot stage lights, or while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup.

Work Schedules

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part time. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules. Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Film and television actors may also travel to work on location.

How to Become an Actor About this section

Actors
Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job.

Actors typically enhance their skills through formal education, and long-term training is common.

Education

Actors typically enhance their skills through formal education. Those who specialize in theater may have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as performing arts, but a degree is not required.

Although some people succeed in acting without getting a formal education, most actors acquire some formal preparation through a theater company’s acting conservatory or a university drama or theater arts program. Students can take college classes in drama or filmmaking to prepare for a career as an actor. Classes in dance or music may help as well.

Actors who do not have a college degree may take acting or film classes to learn their craft. Community colleges, acting conservatories, and private film schools typically offer these classes. Many theater companies also have education programs.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Actors interpret their characters’ feelings and motives in order to portray the characters in the most compelling way.

Memorization skills. Actors memorize many lines before filming begins or a show opens. Television actors often appear on camera with little time to memorize scripts, and scripts frequently may be revised or even written just moments before filming.

Persistence. Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job. They must be able to accept rejection and keep going.

Physical stamina. Actors should be in good enough physical condition to endure the heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes or makeup. They may work many hours, including acting in more than one performance a day, and they must do so without getting overly tired.

Reading skills. Actors must read scripts and be able to interpret how a writer has developed their character.

Speaking skills. Actors—particularly stage actors—must say their lines clearly, project their voice, and pronounce words so that audiences understand them.

In addition to these qualities, actors usually must be physically coordinated to perform predetermined, sometimes complex movements with other actors, such as dancing or stage fighting, in order to complete a scene.

Training

It takes many years of practice to develop the skills needed to be a successful actor, and actors never truly finish training. They work to improve their acting skills throughout their career. Many actors continue to train through workshops, rehearsals, or mentoring by a drama coach.

Every role is different, and an actor may need to learn something new for each one. For example, a role may require learning how to sing or dance, or an actor may have to learn to speak with an accent or to play a musical instrument or sport.

Many aspiring actors begin by participating in school plays or local theater productions. In television and film, actors usually start out in smaller roles or independent movies and work their way up to bigger productions.

Advancement

As an actor’s reputation grows, he or she may work on bigger projects or in more prestigious venues. Some actors become producers and directors.

Pay About this section

Actors

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$23.78

Actors

$23.48

Total, all occupations

$22.00

 

The median hourly wage for actors was $23.48 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.16, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61.98.

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for actors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private $23.63
Theater companies and dinner theaters 21.00
Professional, scientific, and technical services 20.42

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part time. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules. Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Actors in movies may also travel to work on location.

Job Outlook About this section

Actors

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Actors

32%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

22%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of actors is projected to grow 32 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 8,200 openings for actors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 and is likely to occur early in the decade.

While many theaters and production companies stopped performances during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for actors is expected to recover as these establishments resume operations.

Streaming services and other online-only platforms are expected to drive employment demand for actors as the number of shows produced and the volume of content increases.

However, many small and medium-sized theaters often have difficulty funding operations. As a result, the number of performances is expected to decline, which may impact employment of actors in these establishments. Large theaters, with more stable sources of funding and well-known plays and musicals, may be less susceptible to fluctuations in employment demand.

Employment projections data for actors, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Actors

27-2011 51,600 68,300 32 16,700 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about actors, visit

Actors’ Equity Association

National Endowment for the Arts

SAG-AFTRA

CareerOneStop

For a career video on actors, visit

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