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How to Get into Acting: A Short Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on July 26, 2014

First things first...

Let me start by saying that acting is a great career to have. It can sometimes be difficult, and frustrating, and tiring, and scary, but it still beats the hell out of your everyday 9 to 5 jobs. However, becoming an actor is not an easy path, especially when you do not know where to start. Here, I will explain step-by-step how to become an actor, what it takes to get there, and where do you even start your acting career.

Did you know that there’s about 92% of registered actors that are out of work most of the time? That’s the official statistic from SAG-AFTRA. It’s a frightening number, but regardless, if you really are set to pursue this, there is a way.

Woody Allen once said: “Show business is 85% about showing up.

Yes, and no. Yes, almost anybody can make it in this entertainment business if they work hard, show up on time and apply themselves with a sufficient amount of dedication. No, it is not just about showing up – it’s also about acting training, going after every audition that you want, it’s a bout networking, thorough knowledge of the business and the people in it.

Here is what we are going to cover in this short step-by-step guide to becoming an actor:

  1. Importance of acting education and degrees – how important;
  2. Reading and learning about the business and craft of acting;
  3. Applying yourself in acting classes, really learning the craft;
  4. Getting out into the real world and looking for work;
  5. Staying with your plan no matter what it takes.

Acting is a business. You are the product. If you have the right, smart approach to your acting career right from the start, statistically, you have a better chance of succeeding in this field.

What a lot of actors often fail to understand is that those famous stories about current movie starts coming to Los Angeles with only $300 dollars are publicity stunts. Yes, these things still happen because people are gullible, and more often than not, those actors that come here in such condition never get anywhere, unfortunately. They quit because they no longer are able to afford food and rent.

Like I mention in my acting guide on how to become an actor, here’s the secret to a successful acting career: YOU NEED A GAMEPLAN. Always. And you must stick to it, no matter what. So below, please find the first part of your gameplan towards conquering the world of acting. The rest will then be up to you.

Jeff Briges didn't go to drama school
Jeff Briges didn't go to drama school

1. Do you need a degree to pursue acting?

No, you don’t need a degree in theatre or any other kind of performing arts subject to be able to pursue a career in acting. Many currently famous and talented actors have done it without ever stepping into a drama school or university. I’ve talked about this in my previous hub article, How to Become an Actor without Drama School Training – you should check it out.

This is not to say that you’re going to be in a disadvantage if attending a 3-4 year old program at a college. Absolutely not; all of this depends on your personal preferences and approach. Drama schools take longer, and are not as versatile as it would be if you were choose acting classes on your own.

In the end, educating yourself is very important, and you must be aware of the business that surrounds you.

2. Educating yourself about acting: do a lot of reading!

When you decide that you really want to become a thespian, you must start researching this field like crazy. Aside from the Acting for Beginners Guide link I provided a few paragraphs above (where it’s all free to learn), you must start digging into various books. Amazon is the best for that – cheap prices, quick delivery, and they have everything you need.

There are to things you need to focus on the most – acting craft (acting techniques, different classes, acting teachers and methods, etc.) and acting business (networking, who’s who in town, how to get an agent, where to get headshots, resumes, etc.) So don’t hesitate, and get some of the best books you can afford. Trust me, they will all be of great value to you, as even the most famous actors have read majority of those (see Johnny Depp praising an acting book in his Inside the Actors Studio episode).

To makes things easier, I’ve compiled a list of best acting business books on my website here for you. Go through that list, and there’s another one for the acting craft in there as well. Additionally, please see the list of my recommended acting books below:

Johnny Depp is a big literature fanatic
Johnny Depp is a big literature fanatic

Favorite acting approach

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3. Starting acting classes or drama school

Regardless of whether you decide to get a full degree at a drama school/college, or you’re going to work a survival job and attend acting classes in the evenings, you still must go through this acting training. It’s absolutely crucial that you train as an actor no matter how good looking you are. Looks will only get you so far; when the right opportunity comes, and the major movie director approaches you, he wants to see you really act your buttocks off.

Depending on which city you live in, you must first do your research. Do some Google searching and find acting classes – preferably traditional programs that last 1 or 2 years – which you can start attending. If you’re in the big cities like London, Los Angeles or New York City, there won’t be any problems finding a class there. These places are literally packed with acting teachers; some are good, some are not so much. You will have to do some research on that yourself, or go to the previously mentioned website for more info. I’m going to write another article specifically on that topic, so keep an eye on my acting Hub.

Meisner, Strasberg, Adler, Hagen, whichever acting approach you prefer should be your school of choice. And you do know all about these techniques because you have read the recommended books, right? A lot of the good teachers won’t even accept students that have not made an effort to familiarize themselves with the specifics of the acting technique through literature. Read those books!

4. You know how to get into acting and the world is calling

It’s time to start applying some of that knowledge that you learned about skillful acting from those books and acting classes. When you feel confident that you can take on an audition, get yourself ready.

- Get yourself some headshots. You can go cheaper if you can’t afford the very expensive sessions; it will do for now. Get an acting resume together, put your details on there alongside your acting experience (credits) and your training.

- Prepare a couple of monologues, learn them well, and know that you might need them in case there are no sides (script to read of during an audition).

- Get yourself a casting call website account where all breakdowns (filmmakers posting ads that they are looking for actors) are coming out.

- Start submitting your casting profile with a resume and a headshot to some of those ads. Make sure you fit the description and can play the age/type of that character.

When you get an invite to an audition, don’t be nervous (what a stupid thing to say; of course you will be) – just go ahead and do your thing. Act the way your acting teacher taught you. These auditions are very quick, and the hardest part is usually forgetting about them and not stressing whether you got the part of not. But that’s what you must do – once you’re done with the audition, let it go. Go online and find more of those suitable casting calls, apply and hope for more auditions.

Once you get a part, it’s all you from that point on. Get the details, show up on the set or stage for rehearsals always on time and work hard. Let those people see that you are a dedicated actor so that they invite you again. This is just the beginning of your journey.

Now, listen to what Mr Spacey has to say about his career and especially pay close attention to the advice he gives in the end of the video. It's priceless!

5. Stick with the plan, no matter what

There will be times when it’s going to be very difficult: no auditions, no appropriate casting calls, no agent, no nothing. Every actor goes through this kind of a period, very often multiple times. You have to stick with your plan.

Continue training, continue auditioning, continue submitting yourself for everything you can. It’s hard, yes, but in the end, if you do stick with it, it will pay off big time.

Keep making connections, keep networking – you’re going to need those people to help out with your career.

Woody Allen also said this: “Showbusiness is not so much dog eats dog, as dog doesn't return other dog's phone calls.” Expect them, and don’t give up.

Acting is a great profession, and if you can survive through the first few difficult phases, you will know what I’m talking about. Best of luck to you, and break legs!

Recommended Acting Books


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