The answer depends, of course, on how you define “actor”. If you performed as a goat in your church’s Christmas pageant when you were six years old, but never again set foot on a stage, then obviously you cannot consider yourself an actor.
If, on the other hand, that role as a goat led you to perform throughout your childhood and teen years in various school, church, or little theater productions on a regular basis, then we would consider you an amateur actor, but an actor nonetheless.
We’re going to separate the up-and-comers (those of around college age) and the already-theres (late 20s on up). Let’s start with the younger people:
You’ve graduated, or are about to, from high school and are considering your future, including where and how Hollywood might come into play (no pun intended). This is when it begins to get serious, provided you have been participating in various types of plays for the right reasons. In our opinion, the right reasons, past and present, include these:
– YOU get a real kick out of performing on-stage.
– YOU begged your family to let you act any chance you got.
– YOU feel yourself “connecting” with your character (yes, even that silly goat!), not just mouthing words.
– Your teachers and directors encouraged you to continue acting.
– YOU would rather be memorizing, rehearsing and performing than almost anything else you can think of doing.
Wrong reasons for participating in plays?
– Your mom (rarely your dad) insisted that you do it (for her own reasons, which we will not go into), no matter how unhappy it made you.
– YOU think it’s a way to become a big STAR, without having to work too hard.
– People who do not know any better think you should be a STAR simply because you’re “cute”.
– YOU think it’s an easy way to get rich quick.
– YOU want to see your face on television or the big screen, just for the sake of…seeing it there…and think a couple of plays will get you there.
If you fall into the latter category, i.e., someone who really has no serious interest in or ability as an actor, please stop reading this now. Nothing we say is going to please you or educate you enough to make you (or mommy) see the light and you will join the thousands of wannabes who arrive in Hollywood every year…for no good reason.
EDUCATION FOR YOUR LIFE
Let’s assume (hope) from here on that you fall into the first category – someone who acts for the right reasons. What do you do after you run out of places in which to perform once you graduate from high school? Well, no matter where you live, you do have options, some of them wonderful, some of them difficult, but almost all of them expensive.
If you plan to go to college and obtain a degree, which in this day and age is considered a must for anyone wishing to have any chance at all of achieving the “good life”, you (and those funding your education) should consider this: If you attend a university with a great reputation for theater arts, with the intention of becoming a professional actor, you must give yourself a reality check. What, exactly, are your chances of becoming that one-in-a-million person who can actually make a living for a lifetime as an actor? We’d say pretty slim – and that’s without ever having laid eyes on you.
That being the case (and unfortunately, it is for most wannabe actors), we would strongly advise you to have a double major in college (or a major and a minor) and if one of your curricula is theater arts, the other one had better be something with which you can support yourself (and possibly a family later on) when you are not acting. Needless to say, we cannot recommend a particular course of study, since only YOU know what your other interests and strengths might be. We can, however, offer this: Certain courses of study seem to be very compatible with acting, among them psychology (which can actually help your acting abilities, by hopefully giving you more insight into human behavior); teaching (which you can always fall back on, even part-time, during your non-acting stretches); sports training leading to becoming a personal trainer (great for actors, since you can make your own schedule once you’re established); business administration (boring, yes, but you’re going to be running a business anyway: Your own acting career!); and probably several others. The point is: You will, without question, need something to “fall back on” when your acting career is not supporting you and it had better be something you enjoy and/or comprehend.
IF YOU ARE A “MATURE” ACTOR
Read all of the above and then add this:
Let’s say you’re well into adulthood – in your late 20s, 30s, 50s, whatever! If you have continued to act on and off in whatever venues have been available to you, be it stage, industrial films, local commercials or student films, we say BRAVO!
On the other hand, if you are “mature” and only just now finding the wherewithal to begin doing something that you’ve always dreamed of doing – acting! – you will have much more time-consuming work ahead of you than the others we’ve described here. As long as that work feels good and doesn’t put you in the proverbial poor house, carry on.
Please do NOT let your age stand in your way, because even though, granted, it does become more difficult to break into Hollywood the older you get, we are always looking for “new” faces and that includes the ones with a few wrinkles on them. Sift through what follows and adapt it to your own circumstances.
WHERE YOU LIVE WILL AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO EARN A LIVING AS AN ACTOR
Now, suppose that for one reason or another, you do not plan on going to college. How, then, do you intend to pursue an acting career? Unless you already live in one of the major cities, such as L.A., New York, or Chicago, the opportunities to perform on a regular basis, with a decent paycheck, are almost non-existent. Seattle used to be a good source of commercial and industrial acting jobs; no longer is that the case. Plus, in a town like that, there is only room for a relatively small number of professional actors and most of them are struggling to survive.
When and how should you make the move to a town that’s designed to offer you work in your chosen profession? Because you will have to cross that bridge if you are serious about becoming a working actor. Suffice it to say that you must come prepared in a variety of ways to sustain yourself until if and when you get your “big break”. We’ll address that issue in more detail in a separate section of this website.
WHEN YOU CAN CONSIDER YOURSELF A “PRO”, IF NOT A “WORKING ACTOR”
Once you land your first paying gig – be it in a theater production, a commercial, an industrial, a feature film or a television show – you will be able to call yourself a professional actor and leave the rank of amateur behind you. But do not become complacent just because one production handed you a paycheck. That’s only the beginning and your struggle hasn’t ended yet. (But be sure to copy that first paycheck, frame it and hang it in a place of honor. It’s one more “diploma” of which you can be very proud.)
In our opinion, until you can honestly say that you have not had to work at anything other than acting in order to make a living, you cannot call yourself a “working actor”. A “professional”, yes, but we think these are two different things. Your goal must always be to become a professional working actor.
Our goal is to give you as many tools as possible to help you attain that status. We will try to keep the information we share with you as simple and easy to follow as possible. Keep in mind: We are NOT attempting to teach you how to act. We are attempting to help you surmount roadblocks that you don’t even know exist…yet. By the time you finish reading the various pages of this website, you’ll know what awaits you in Hollywood, should you decide to begin this adventure.