Become an Actress: Education and Training Requirements

Research the requirements to become an actress. Learn about the job description and job duties and learn the step-by-step process to start a career in acting.

Should I Become an Actress?

Actresses are female performers who work in film, theater and television. They memorize lines and portray characters from scripts and screenplays. In addition to acting, actresses may have to sing and dance depending on the role they're playing or the type of production.

An actress may be required to travel or relocate to work sites. Acting jobs are often part-time and sporadic. Many actresses struggle to find work, and may never find the 'big break' into this competitive industry. Formal training in acting helps an actress improve her skills and career outlook.

Career Requirements

Education Level No formal education required; degree programs are available
Degree Field Drama, theater, performing arts
Training Professional acting programs; continuing education and training
Key Skills Strong reading, speaking, and memorization skills, creativity, persistence, public speaking, physical stamina, ability to travel, flexible schedule
Salary (2015) $47,794 per year (Median salary for all actors/actress)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale.com

Step 1: Take Acting Classes

While formal training isn't required to get started in this career, it can help an actress improve her skills while working alongside other performers and mentors. Acting classes, workshops, and summer programs are commonly available through acting conservatories and community performing arts centers. Acting schools also exist and offer classes that range in length from one week to two years. In acting classes, aspiring actresses learn how to memorize lines, let go of inhibitions, overcome stage fright, effectively convey emotions, get 'into character,' and analyze other actors and actresses performances.

A longer program may benefit an aspiring actress most, since it will provide her with more time and opportunities to develop new skills, hone her techniques, and obtain feedback from her fellow classmates and teachers. If an actress is interested in pursuing a degree in acting, acting classes will prepare her for audition requirements, and give her the necessary skills she needs for admission.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in community theater productions. Aspiring actresses can audition for roles in community theater productions as lead or minor characters, or ensemble members in order to gain experience working on set with a director, producer and other actors. Having experience in small, community theater projects will give an actress credentials she can list on her resume, and could eventually lead to larger roles.

Step 2: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring actresses can benefit from earning a bachelor's degree in theater arts or drama. The BLS states that a stage actress with a bachelor's degree may have better employment opportunities. Depending on the school, an audition or previous acting experience of some kind may be required for admission. An undergraduate acting program will provide an actress with in-depth training and analysis of the different elements found in film and theater. Courses include theater fundamentals, vocal techniques, stage direction, stage movement and auditioning. Students participate in both classroom-based education and practice, and often work with other students to put on productions throughout the duration of the program.

Success Tip:

  • Begin building a resume. Actresses must have a professional resume, which exhibits previous acting and performing experience in order to land new jobs through auditions. A resume should also include a professional headshot of the actress's face. An actress can begin building her resume during college by recording her participation in any school classes or productions.

Step 3: Attend Auditions

Auditions are essentially the acting equivalent of job interviews. For an audition, an actress prepares a monologue or reads directly from a script in front of casting directors. An audition allows an actress to showcase her skills in order to convince casting directors she's right for the role. Actresses must diligently pursue auditions in order to find work in this field. Attending numerous auditions increases an actress's chance for acquiring more jobs.

Success Tip:

  • Hire an agent. Talent agents are professionals who represent actors and actresses. They can assist actresses with getting auditions and negotiating contracts in the event an audition leads to a casting offer. Agents take a percentage of actresses' earnings, so this may not be a realistic option for actresses just starting out in their careers. Actresses should look for licensed agents associated with a franchise.

Step 4: Gain Experience

A successful actress is one who finds steady work. Actresses may start gaining experience as extras in commercials or television shows before working their way up to speaking roles. Small speaking roles can lead to minor characters, and minor characters can lead to leading roles. Not all actresses make it past working as extras in their careers. In fact, the BLS reports that most actresses have to work a second job in order to support themselves while gaining experience in the industry.

Success Tips:

  • Constantly update resume. Resumes should always be current in order to best highlight an actress's experience. An actress should update her resume after each production to ensure all of her experience is registered. Additionally, new head shot photos should be taken regularly, so casting directors have a recent photographic reference of what the actress looks like.
  • Join an actors guild. A wide variety of professional guilds are available to actresses such as the Screen Actors Guild for television and film actresses, or the Black Actors Guild for African-American actresses. A guild can provide an actress with access to union benefits, industry news, residual information, workshops, networking opportunities, annual award showcases and audition guides.

Step 5: Continue Education for Advancement

During an actress's career, she may have to continue her education and training by enrolling in advanced acting workshops and seminars to gain further knowledge of the craft. The BLS states that actresses are expected to learn new skills throughout their careers. For example, an actress may need to know how to play an instrument or read lines in a foreign language.

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