What Is an Actor

Job Description

Actors rehearsing on stage
••• Hill Street Studios / Blend Images / Getty Images

An actor is a performing artist who portrays characters on stage and in television shows, commercials, movies and shows at amusement parks. While it is not a gender-specific term—both males and females in this occupation are called "actors"— the word "actor" is often used when talking about a male while "actress" is used to describe a female.

Quick Facts About Actors

  • As of 2014, there were over 69,000 people employed as actors.
  • They worked in studios, theaters, and theme parks. Some worked on location.
  • The job outlook is good for actors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.
  • Film actors are expected to see much better growth than theater actors.

How to Get Your Start

Actors typically need formal training, but that doesn't necessarily mean you must go to college. A bachelor's degree in theater or drama is just one option. You can also take acting or film classes at a community college, theater company's acting conservatory or film school. Dance or music classes may also be helpful.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Active Listening: The ability to listen carefully to directors and fellow actors is essential.
  • Verbal Communication: You must be able to speak clearly and express your feelings orally.
  • Creativity: You will have to conjure up emotions and motives of the characters you portray.
  • Memorization: Actors must be able to memorize lines.
  • Persistence: This is a competitive field. It is more likely than not that you will have to repeatedly audition and deal with rejection often.

The Truth About Being an Actor

  • Actors may have to travel to other parts of the country and even the world to audition or perform.
  • You must be able to bounce back from rejection.
  • You will have to spend long hours rehearsing for roles.
  • You should have an alternative means of earning a living. Actors usually have side jobs to tide them over while waiting to get parts.
  • In addition to acting ability, when you audition, you may have to sing and dance as well.

Common Misconceptions

  • A director or producer will discover you: If you sit around waiting to be discovered, you will most likely remain a starving artist. If you want to work, you will have to go out and audition.
  • You will be rich: The median wage for this career is relatively low. Many aspiring actors make ends meet by working unrelated jobs, for example waiting tables.
  • You will be a star: If you are hoping to become a celebrity, you will be disappointed. Become an actor because you love acting, not because you want to become famous.
  • All you need is talent: If all you needed was the talent to land roles, there would be far fewer unemployed actors. Not only must you be talented, but also those in charge of casting must consider you "right" for the parts for which you audition.

Where Can You Find Auditions and Casting Calls?

These are some reputable sources for auditions and casting calls.

Casting scams run rampant on the Internet and elsewhere. It is important to know how to avoid them. Read 11 Tips for Avoiding Casting Scams on Backstage.com.

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Hourly Wage (2014)Required Education/Training
    DancerConveys stories and ideas through movement$14.44Dance lessons, usually beginning in childhood
    SingerUses his or her voice to interpret songs$24.20

    Pop Music Singers: voice lessons; no formal educational requirement

    Opera Singers: bachelor's degree is typical

    MusicianPlays a musical instrument live or in a studio$24.20

    Pop musicians: music lessons; college degree not required

    Classical Musician: bachelor's degree is often required


    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 (visited May 27, 2016).
    • Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited May 27, 2016).