A good start to a professional stage acting career often begins in high school or college productions, where students get experience working on and around a stage and become familiar with acting terms and concepts. It's possible to begin stage work by attending an open audition and getting cast for a role on the basis of the audition performance, but a resume showing previous experience on the stage will be helpful.
Actors choosing to pursue a formal education program often enter 4-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or 2-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree programs at a college or university. Such programs are usually oriented toward stage acting, though voice and screen acting techniques and classes may be offered as part of the program.
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting
A bachelor program in acting usually covers additional topics than just acting and performance techniques. Getting such a background in the field can be helpful as actors advance in their careers, particularly if an actor focuses on acting for the stage. Typical required coursework also includes:
- Stage makeup
- Lighting design
- Directorial styles
- Theater history
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Artisanry and Craft Design
- Playwriting and Screenwriting
- Theatre Arts Management
- Theatre Design and Technology
- Theatre History, Literature and Criticism
- Theatrical Production
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
Prospective MFA students must audition for faculty members prior to beginning a degree program, a step that is usually not required at the BFA level. Master's degree programs in acting are usually more focused on acting as an art than bachelor's degree programs are. At this point in their educational careers, acting students have already performed in several school productions and are honing their acting skills further. MFA students may choose to audition for large local theater companies as they prepare to step away from the academics of acting and move toward acting as a career. Some common course topics might include:
- Background of theatrical art
- Advanced acting
- Production and performance laboratory
- Advanced voice and speech
- Advanced movement
Popular Career Options
Los Angeles (LA), California, and New York City (NYC) are known for being hubs of the acting world. Actors looking to work in film or television typically migrate toward LA, while stage actors may feel drawn to NYC, though acting work can be found anywhere. Apart from working on stage for a local theater company or as part of a large-scale film production, actors may find careers in the following capacities:
- Theme park characters
- Living history museum actors
- High school or college acting teachers
- Cartoon voice work
- Commercial voiceovers
- Voice acting for books-on-tape
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS states that actors, as of May 2015, make a mean hourly wage of $37.47. The employment for actors from 2014-2024 is expected to grow 10%, according to the BLS.
Intensive acting workshops and seminars are available across the country with varying duration, cost and topics covered. Such workshops are often offered by professional actors or directors through their own private acting schools, though community colleges may have programs available as well. Acting workshops may last a day, a weekend or a week or two. Attending a workshop or seminar can help develop an actor's skills and create opportunities for networking. While workshops aren't as intensive and all-inclusive as college programs, they can be a shorter and cheaper alternative to a 2- or 4-year degree program.
Hiring an acting coach, manager or agent can greatly help advance an actor's career. Another option for professional advancement includes becoming part of a union or group, such as the Screen Actors Guild. Such groups require membership fees and provide a professional community and insider tips on career advancement, which can lead to bigger roles.
Formal education in acting can be sought at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These programs may incorporate courses focused on stage, voice, and screen acting, along with various related topics. Workshops and seminars are also an option for aspiring actors looking for a briefer and/or less-expensive alternative.