The acting industry is not an easy one to work in; and if you want to be rich or famous, you should find another way. But if acting is your true passion and you are willing to make personal and financial sacrifices, you will have a much better shot by making a plan. This can take years of struggle, and you must be very dedicated.
Get an Education
Go to college; preferably to focus on acting but also receive a balanced education. Study theater someplace with a good reputation with a solid program including both artistic and business classes. Beyond college, research the best acting classes and private coaches in your area and never stop honing your craft. Apply for internships with theater companies or casting offices for learning experience and networking opportunities.
Build a resume
At the beginning, you should audition for everything- school plays, community theater, student films, etc. List your credits on your resume, which should be separated by category (film, television, theater, etc). Your resume should also include your relevant training and your special skills, which might include musical instruments, sports, accents, and others.
Invest in headshots
A headshot is the most important marketing tool an actor has. Research professional photographers specializing in actor headshots, and choose someone whose work you like. The picture should look exactly like you on your best day, and should be a reflection of your personality and the parts you would realistically play. This is often the first thing an industry professional sees, and the person that walks in the door needs to be what they expected. Prepare for your shoot by figuring out your “types” and carefully choosing flattering outfits. Make sure your picture stands out and meets all industry standards. Have your headshots professionally printed in color measuring 8×10, and staple a trimmed resume to the back.
Move to a large city
Consider relocating to a place with a large market for acting jobs. New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the most obvious, but work can be found in other US cities as well. Decide what type of work you are most interested in doing, and research each place to see how your career plan would fit.
Find a survival job
It is important to have employment on the side while you are seeking work as an actor. You will need to fund your living expenses, as well as invest in your career training and marketing materials. Most actors work as bartenders or waiters because the work is both flexible and lucrative. Others do office temp work, usher at theaters, or start their own businesses. Find something that you enjoy doing, that allows you to support yourself, and that allows flexibility for auditions and projects.
Audition constantly. Subscibe to the trades or websites such as Backstage, or however they list castings in your area. Dress well and always be very prepared. Take your mind off of getting the job, since you will only ever land a minute percentage of the gigs you go out for. Instead, focus on being talented, hard-working, and likeable; you will make a good impression and make people want to work with you in the future.
There are three professional actors’ unions: AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild), and AEA (Actor’s Equity Association). AFTRA is an open union, meaning anyone can pay the initiation fee and become a member. The other unions are more difficult to get into, but once you join one you are eligible to join the other two after one year. Be aware that being a member of a union bars you from doing any non-union acting work from then on, so consider carefully before joining. Check each union’s website for the most up-to-date information and policies.
The first step to marketing is knowing who you are and what type of roles you play. Practice explaining what makes you special and what kind of work you want to do, as if in a mock interview. Make a website complete with pictures, credits, and demo reels of your work. Create business cards with your pictures so you can easily give out your information when you make contacts.
Keep in touch with people you have worked with, and go out of your way to meet new people. Attend networking events, film premieres, and performances. If you live in a city like New York, you can pay all a small fee to show your work to casting directors and agents. Research carefully to be sure you go to a reputable place, as there are many scams for actors. These seminars are educational opportunities that do not guarantee work, but are much more valuable these days than blindly mailing pictures to offices. Keep in touch with the people you meet by mailing postcards updating them on your career.
Each action is so involved could be its own article, but the above gives a good concise overview of what is required of an aspiring actor. The steps and the order they are in will vary for each individual, and it’s important for each person to have their own plan. Above all else, be brave, be determined, believe in yourself, and love what you are striving for.