Setting the stage for a dramatic career

As an actor, your performances would bring characters to life in theatre, film, television and radio.

You would use speech, movement and expression to act a script or improvise a role in a believable and natural way.

In most acting roles you would work under the guidance of a director, usually as part of a team or ‘cast’ of other actors.

Performing is only a small part of the work. You would also spend a lot of time, researching your role, learning lines, rehearsing, preparing for and attending auditions, contacting agents and finding your next role.

In smaller theatre companies you could also be involved in administration, publicity and staging the performance.

You might combine performing with other types of work, such as teaching or community arts work.

Hours may be irregular. Most theatre performances take place in the evenings, but you may also have daytime shows, rehearsals and auditions. In film and television, days can be very long and involve a lot of waiting around between scenes.

You would need to travel to jobs and auditions and may spend long periods away from home if touring with a play or filming on location.

You could work in theatres, rehearsal rooms and film or television studios or outdoors in street theatre or location filming.

A recent survey of Equity members found that nearly half of people in the UK performance industry had earned less than £6,000 from the profession in the previous year. Only six per cent earned more than £30,000 from acting.

There is no set income for actors. Most are self-employed, and are paid a fee for each contract or performance. Contact Equity for details of minimum income rates for members.

Although it’s possible to get an early ‘lucky break’ in professional acting, in practice this is quite rare. Most actors spend time training (either at full-time drama school or through part-time classes) and building experience of performing before they find paid work.

Talent, determination, hard work and luck are also important.

An Arts Council survey has found that a large percentage of working actors had professional training at a specialist drama school approved by the National Council for Drama Training (NCDT).

NCDT-approved courses can be an advantage when starting an acting career, as they are very practical and will give you the opportunity to showcase to agents and casting directors. They also lead to full membership of the performers’ union Equity.

At drama school you could take a full-time three-year degree or diploma in acting or musical theatre (or a one-year postgraduate diploma if you already have a relevant degree).

For three-year courses you must be at least 18 and for one-year postgraduate courses you must be at least 21.

To get into drama school, you must pass an audition. You may also need some formal qualifications such as A-levels or a BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts, but this is not always essential if you show enough talent and commitment.

If you choose not to go to drama school, you will still need to develop your skills and get as much practical experience of acting as possible. Ways that you could do this include amateur, community or youth theatre, student drama societies, actors’ workshops, summer schools and part-time classes.