Having a few different acting careers may just be what an actor needs to work regularly and be discovered. Most aspiring actors think about getting acting roles in movies or plays when they think about actor careers, but there’s a much bigger variety of jobs for actors out there, like commercial acting, stunt acting or voice acting, to name a few. Being opened and trained for different careers in acting will not only help you work consistently and pay the bills, it will help you be discovered for the next acting job around the corner.
Let’s take a look at all the different opportunities for actors out there and where you can put your focus to get the maximum amount of auditions and acting jobs.
1) Stage Acting Careers
Theater acting is the one skill you will learn in most acting schools, where, in addition to acting technique, you usually attend scene study classes where you work on scenes and monologues from contemporary plays. To really break into stage acting and start booking theater roles at auditions, you’ll need to train your body in movement – so you can “take the stage” at auditions and have “presence” – and take vocal production classes so that you can project in a large theater. You’ll also need as much experience on stage as you can find.
There are many different styles of stage acting, from children’s theater to comedy to experimental theater and of course, classical theater, especially Shakespeare. Mastering Shakespeare acting will really help you get theater acting roles at the beginning of your career, since there are so many auditions for Shakespeare plays, especially with touring and regional theaters. Many actors who are now in television and movies started their acting careers in Shakespeare roles, from Patrick Stewart (Star Trek) to Michael C. Hall, the star of Dexter. Another thing that will really help you get an acting job is training in sword fighting and stage combat.
Another form of stage acting you may have overlooked is the one man show. The one man show can be a great way to give a push forward to your acting career if you feel you’re stuck. It’s a little scary, but if you have the theater chops to do it, it takes much less organizing than a show with a full cast and you can do it on a relatively small budget. Get a good show together, along with a publicist, and you can pretty much perform anywhere. You can even film a YouTube video from it. Who knows? If it’s really good, it could go viral. If you have a talent for comedy, stand-up comedy is another way to get on that stage, as well as joining a good improv group. You can read more about the skills you need to become a theater actor here.
2) Musical Theater Acting Careers
Then, of course, there’s musical theater, which has launched the careers of so many actors, including actors like Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, who went on to do many different things. There are so many more musicals being cast every day than straight plays, that by having musical theater training, you really raise your chances of working regularly and being seen (ie. reviewed and discovered).
To be a contender at musical theater auditions, you will need to know how to sing well and have a repertoire of up tempo and ballad songs. You usually only get to sing 8 to 16 bars, so pick something that will show off your voice right away and practice with a real pianist (not pre-recorded music) so you don’t get thrown off when you are faced with one at the audition. You will also need to know how to dance for the dance call. In the least, you should be able to follow a jazz routine, but being trained in ballet, tap and ballroom dancing as well helps. You can learn more about musical theatre acting here.
3) Film Acting Careers
When we think of film jobs for actors, we think of acting roles in Hollywood films, but that’s not the only way to enter the film industry. Actually, actor careers that start with a role in a major movie are pretty rare. More often, your first screen acting jobs will be in student films, short films or independent films. A lot of these films don’t have the budget to hire a casting director, so the casting process is a little different. Some auditions for independent films will show up on online casting sites, but a lot of the time, independent directors like to work with actors they already know, so a good way to break into this segment of the industry is to attend film festivals and mingle. Many famous actors came from independent films, including Antonio Banderas, while others, like “Queen of the Indies” Parker Posey build their acting careers on independent film acting roles.
There are two different reasons to do student films when you want to become a film actor. First, to get a demo reel, which is an important marketing tool for any actor and has become more prominent in recent years where casting directors like to see demos online before calling an actor in to audition. The second reason is building contacts. Some of the students of today will be the directors of tomorrow, and if you had a good working relationship, they will use you again, so target the best film schools and graduate film projects as a priority, and audition for the rest if you have time.
Another way to make it on a film set is to be a background actor or extra. Although this can’t really be considered an acting career, it is one way to pay the rent and some extras end up with a speaking role. Of course, you don’t want to be seen as “the background actor”, so don’t do it so long that people will see you this way, but actors like Sylvester Stallone and Sean Penn worked as extras without it hindering their careers. Actually, if you’ve never been on a film set, do a few days of background acting on a major film (getting an acting job as an extra is easy and requires no audition). This way, when you get your first screen acting roles, you won’t be thrown off by all the lingo and crew.
One actor career you may not have thought about is stunt acting. If you’re in good shape and get the right training, being a stuntman or stuntwoman can be a great way to work in the industry you love, pay the bills and get acting roles in films. Being a stunt person requires acting ability and often, stunt actors or stunt coordinators who have worked a lot on a set end up with a small role in the movie.
4) Television Acting Careers
There are much more TV shows being produced every day than movies, and therefore there are many more acting roles in TV than film. Many film stars, from George Clooney to Michelle Williams, got their big break on television. The big break usually comes from landing a role in a pilot, but before that, most actors have already filled their resumes with smaller roles in already existing television shows. The first step is to book a fair amount of co-star roles, where you will have from a few lines to a few scenes. The next step is to book a guest-star role, where you play the main antagonist in one episode (sometimes more). Finally, you get to be considered for a series regular, the actors who make the series what it is.
In TV acting careers, the hard part is making that leap from co-stars to guest-stars and finally, regular. We’ll have more on that when we add our page on television acting, but for now, remember that each type of role is very different and should be approached differently. Co-stars are here to move the story forward, not to draw attention to themselves, while guest stars are much more complex characters.
We’re mostly talking about television dramas here. There are less roles in sitcoms, and soap operas are almost a thing of the past.
5) Commercial Acting Careers
When I was in acting school, many new actors said they didn’t want to do commercials because it wasn’t acting. It’s true that jobs for actors in commercials require their own set of skills, but if you have a commercial look, it’s really a shame not to audition for commercials. Unlike other acting jobs, commercials are quick (they usually take less than a day to shoot) and can pay very well . If you have the right look and training, commercials can be a steady source of income that frees up your time to work on getting these “legit” acting roles you want.
More importantly, if you get a national commercial, people will start to recognize you and request you audition for other things. Some actors are concerned about being over-exposed but I think there’s no such thing when you’re starting out. I know an actor who got more calls for auditions from a running commercial than he ever got from his legit agent. You never know where you’ll be discovered. The star of Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence, was noticed by an agent while doing a commercial for H&M stores. Of course, you shouldn’t do any commercial. If you are non-SAG, agree on a minimum amount you will work for with your agent and warn him of products your refuse to advertise for.
Another aspect of commercials is print. You can make a living doing print or modeling if you have the look for it, but for that you’ll need a comp card with your measurements and different looks, including a headshot and body shots. Some people even specialize in foot or hand modeling. None of these are really acting, but they pay the bills.
6) Voice Acting Careers
Voice-overs can be a full time acting career or something you do on the side to make money. Either way, there is no risk of being over-exposed since no one sees your face, and you get to work on your acting as you would with any on camera role. Voice acting is a natural fit if you have a great voice, but any actor with the right training can break into this world with a good demo and agent. You can view a list of different voice acting careers here. Voice jobs for actors are another way to make a living in the industry. The pay varies widely from project to project and depending on your union status, but voice actors who are good at what they do get called in over and over.
Hope this overview of acting careers gives you a broader sense of the acting roles you can take to grow and expand your career.