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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

How to Break Into Acting

Anyone who has ever contemplated a career in acting knows that there is a long road ahead. And I won’t lie—it is a rough path. But it’s also one filled with joyous achievements and artistic milestones if you’re passionate, dedicated, and willing to work at your craft.

As an actor (with many friends in the industry as well), I know that beginning to move forward is often the hardest step in this process. When I first became an actor and a writer, I was truly confused as to what that meant. I knew I wanted to act and create stories to entertain people—it was all I ever wanted to do with my life. But I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there.

I have learned much since I started out on this path—most of it the hard way. So, if you’re an aspiring actor thinking about striking out on your own, let me illuminate some of the unknowns to help get you on your way.

Learn, Learn, Learn

The first thing I recommend is to come into the ring as prepared as possible. Doctors go to school for a decade to learn their craft, and so must you. Whether you take college courses, enroll in art school, or dip into local acting classes, continued education in performance is the best way to keep learning and be on top of new trends.

One of the best approaches, both to learn and to help you meet other actors, is to sign up for a good workshop or scene study class. Classes can be a haven for your growth, providing a safe place to take risks and discover hidden talents, and they can also help quench your artistic needs while you’re still working on your skill. Ideally, find a few teachers you trust so you can ask them questions and learn in a comfortable environment.

Get a Gig That Pays the Bills

As an aspiring actor, you must be able to go to class and auditions when you get them. But, unless you’re among the fabulously wealthy, you’ll also need to work. Find a day job that is flexible for this reason—personal assistant gigs, restaurant jobs, or catering staffing companies are all great options.

That said, make sure your day job is at least moderately enjoyable. If you’re going to spend 40 hours a week doing something that’s not your passion, at least make sure it’s not a miserable experience. Better yet, try to find a gig working with other like-minded people, so you can keep your mind on your artistic goals.

Make Connections

As you would in any field, you’ll want to start meeting people in the industry as soon as possible. Get on a set as an extra through an extra casting agency like Central Casting or Extras Management—no, it’s not glamorous, but it requires no previous experience and it’s a great way to remind yourself that the people doing this job are just human beings, not untouchable super heroes.

More importantly, talk to people while you’re there. Compare notes and figure out what other actors’ paths look like. There is no “one way” to break into the world of acting, and every actor will have his or her own unique story. But talking to each of them will help you get an idea of what options are available to you.

Get a Great Headshot

As you start putting yourself out there, you need to get a good headshot. The good news is there’s a ton of competition, so you don’t have to pay $1,000 for a photograph (and your friends from acting class will likely have recommendations of good photographers).

Your headshots shouldn’t be made up too much (read: not a glamour shot) and shouldn’t represent anything other than who you are. Bring different clothing options in flattering colors and styles that make you feel comfortable and at ease, and bring your iPod to the photo shoot and play music that inspires you.

Also, take some time to figure out what looks you’re going for. Most headshot photographers will help you with this, but you’ll need a fun commercial shot, a serious theatrical shot, and a range of other shots that highlight the characters you think you can play. Do your research online and find examples of what current headshot trends are at the moment.

Learn How to Audition

To start landing gigs, you’ll need to know how to audition, and a good way to do this is to sign up for casting workshops. These two-hour classes get you in front of legitimate casting directors and are a valuable tool for learning how to get comfortable in the audition room. (Plus, auditions can come straight from these sessions on occasion.)

That said, they can be expensive, so do your research and make sure you spend your money wisely. Again, ask people in your classes for good workshops and casting directors to meet. These workshops can be incredibly helpful for building your network and stretching your audition skills to the limit.

Start Putting Yourself Out There

There are plenty of websites dedicated to getting jobs as an actor, including Actors Access, LA Casting, and Now Casting, which all list big projects as well as student films and plays. Sign up for an account, then keep your profile updated with current pictures and any new credits as you book them.

Once you’ve done that, get yourself out there as much as possible—and don’t be afraid to submit to every project you are right for, no matter how big or small. Small student films can help build your reel and widen your network. Big projects just might be looking for someone like you—and you never know when you might be submitting to a casting director who just saw you in a workshop and wants to give you a shot. This truly happens all the time. It might not end up in a booking, but it could end up in a great audition. And making your mark in a big casting office is a milestone.

And go to every legitimate audition you get, no matter what. Many actors skip auditions because they’re afraid, deep down, that they’re not good enough at their art, but I encourage you to prove yourself wrong. Every auditioning experience—even one gone terribly wrong—is something you will learn from and can use to become a better actor. Show up scared and prepared, if you have to, but just show up. You will be miles ahead of a lot of actors who chicken out.

Stay Positive and Focused

One thing that can be a pervasive problem while pursuing your dreams is keeping your mind on your ultimate goals while you’re struggling to make a living. The need for comfort and security can derail even a great artist—and wanting a nice car and clothing can really keep people from exploring their potential. So, if this is something that truly matters to your career, you’ll need to really prioritize, saving your extra money for classes and headshots instead of restaurants and vacations.

But you’ll also need to take care of yourself. Keep upbeat, positive music in your car or on your mobile device. When you feel a hard day coming on, combat this with a mandatory dance break or a happy sing-a-long. Surround yourself with supportive people who are on the same path or who understand your struggle. Take a walk and feel the sun on your face to get your head in the right place. Take a bath or read a book or do whatever you need to feel important and happy in this moment.

And above all, remember how lucky you are to be pursuing this dream. So many people out there don’t have the chance or don’t believe in themselves enough to even try. Just to be attempting your dream is a blessing.

Photo of man acting courtesy of Shutterstock.