Job Description: Actors perform in stage, radio, television, video, or motion picture productions. They also work in nightclubs, theme parks, commercials, and “industrial” films produced for training and educational purposes. Some actors do voice-over and narration work for advertisements, animated features, books on tape, and other electronic media, including computer games.
Training and Educational Qualifications: Most aspiring actors participate in high school and college plays, work in college radio stations, or perform with local community theater groups. Formal dramatic training, either through an acting conservatory or a university program, is generally necessary. Some continue their academic training and receive a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.
Job Outlook: Employment of actors is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. Competition for jobs will be stiff for many reasons, mostly because the large number of highly trained and talented actors generally exceeds the number of available parts.
Salary: Median hourly earnings of actors are $11.61. The middle 50 percent earn between $8.47 and $22.51. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $7.31, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $51.02 an hour. Median annual earnings are $16.82 an hour in performing arts companies and $10.69 in motion picture and video industries. Annual earnings data for actors is not available because of a wide deviation in the number of hours worked by actors. Additionally, there is a variance in earnings due to the short-term nature of many jobs, many of which may last for 1 day or 1 week. Actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) earn a minimum daily rate of $759 or $2,634 for a 5-day week.
• Acting assignments typically are short term ranging from 1 day to a few months which means that actors frequently experience long periods of unemployment between jobs. Often, actors, producers, and directors must hold other jobs in order to sustain a living.
• Employment in motion pictures and in films for television is centered in New York and Hollywood. However, small studios are located throughout the country.
• Many professional actors rely on agents or managers to find work, negotiate contracts, and plan their careers. Agents generally earn a percentage of the pay specified in an actor’s contract.
Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?
Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.
What is your typical day like?
My typical day now is not reflective of my career, because in the last two years, work has dropped off alarmingly. This is not unusual for women in my industry. Now, I average an audition every other day or so. The norm throughout my career was 3-7 a day, mostly for commercials. However, the “shelf life” for that kind of work is far shorter than theater and even TV
For most of the years in my career, I caught a train around 8:04 a.m. into New York City and then ran around the city to whatever location the audition or booking was scheduled to take place. The time spent would be determined by the efficiency of the casting people and the importance of the audition; for example, auditions for plays took more time than those for radio spots. I went from place to place until all the work/auditions were done and then I caught a train back to Connecticut.
When I acted in a play in New York City, I arrived at the theater by 6:30 p.m. to rest and get ready for the night’s performance (rehearsals took the entire day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.). I would perform the show and catch the 10:30 or 11:30 p.m. train. If I didn’t have auditions, I drove in late in the afternoon, which left plenty of time for a light meal and rest at the theater before the show. I have always been an actor who likes to be in the theater at least 1.5 hours ahead of the show.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The joy of acting.
What do you dislike about your job?
I dislike not working enough and the sheer grind of auditioning as opposed to performing.
Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?
I would have to say that having the perseverance to get a reading for Hot L Baltimore some 30 years ago was my “moment.” I was hired to replace another actress. This event began an association with Lan-ford Wilson and the director Marshall Mason that led me to become a member of the Circle Repertory Company, a business relationship that lasted for over 20 years. It opened a world of working with new, live, exciting playwrights and other beginning actors; we did not know at the time that we were making history in New York City theater but we did.
How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?
For some unknown reason, it is simply the only thing I ever wanted to do I was called to it.
How did you get into this industry?
I got into the industry by banging on doors to get an agent, and by trying over and over and over to be seen for off-Broadway shows that did not want to read me. My turning point happened when I joined the Circle Repertory Company as I described.
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
I was a member of the prestigious Circle Repertory Company in NYC for over 20 years. We were a small group of actors, directors and writers who worked as a company. The writers wrote for us, and even though actors would float in and out on other jobs, there was a core that worked frequently together. Amongst the company were Bill Hurt, Jeff Daniels, Lisa Emory, Helen Stenborg, Barnard Hughes, Amy Wright, MaryLouise Parker, Robin Bartlett, Bobo Lewis and many more. We originated the works of Lanford Wilson, Milan Stitt, Craig Lucas, Julie Bavasso, Corrine Jacker and a number of other American playwrights.
To what professional associations do you belong?
I am a member in Screen Actors Guild, Actors Equity and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I served on the National Board of Directors of AFTRA for over 15 years. I am presently also a Trustee on the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds.
What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?
Get really good training and focus on becoming a substantial stage actor. The craft of being truthful and solid in eight performances a week can translate to other media well. Do not set out to be a celebrity or a “star.” Most of us aren’t stars, and even those who become one rely on tremendous technique to support their talent. Dedication and discipline is the key.