So you’ve decided that you want to be an actor. Wonderful. Welcome to the world of the theater.
There are any number of reasons that you may have decided to become an actor. There are about as many reasons for pursuing acting as there are actors who pursue it. That’s one of the great things you’ll learn about this profession – everybody’s in it for a different reason.
I’ve always maintained that there is no bad reason for working in the theatre. If it inspires you and moves you forward, it can only be good. Whether it’s a love for the art form, a burning desire to be heard, or the fact that you’ve noticed the most beautiful women / gorgeous guys hang out in the theatre department. Any reason is a good reason.
Now, let’s talk about good reasons not to make it your career.
First of all, you might not get paid. If you’re in college and pursuing acting as part of your department’s productions, chances are good that you won’t get any money for doing it. Instead, you’ll be expected to take your payment in the form of experience. This is not all that bad an arrangement. The fact is that the more you act, the better you get at it. The best way to learn how to act is to act – and learning is what you’re in college for. Once you get out of college, however, you have to face the reality that this might not be a job that will help you pay your way.
The first semi-professional theatre gig I ever had was a two-month gig with two different runs of the show. For the entire thing, I got paid a grand total of $250. At the time, that was one month’s rent – and the only reason I was in town was to do the show. A lot of the time, the work that you do you will have to do for passion. Fame, money, glory – they’re all the things that cancome, but they don’t come overnight.
At any given time, most of the actors in the United States are not working as actors. They have jobs as tellers, copywriters, bus drivers, and – yes – waiters. Check out Actor’s Equity – the professional actors’ union – for the exact number of actors who have found work as actors in a given year.
As an actor, you may get rich. But there’s a difference between “may” and “will.” You cannot guarantee wealth as an actor. Very few actors will get rich overnight. They’ll walk into the right agency and – bada-bing – they’ll have a multi-picture deal slapped down in front of them. This, however, is very rare.
A few more actors will not be able to make their fortune overnight, but they will make a small fortune. They’ll work their way up the hard way, climbing the ladder rung by rung. An independent film here, an off-broadway show there. They’ll scrape together enough of their own money to run a one-man show for a week in an off-off-off Broadway house (the kind that only seats twenty audience members – as long as none of them breathe). They’ll work long and hard to be noticed and to reap their rewards.
A much larger number of actors will be able to make their livings doing theatre. They’ll live comfortably, but they’ll be the 9 to 5 workhorses of film and theatre. Occasionally, one will manage a bit of notoriety in the public eye (for being “that guy,” if for nothing else), and sometimes they’ll break through to wealth. But for the most part, they’ll remain the unsung heroes of the acting profession.
But the significant number of actors out there will spend their lives doing theatre in addition to other things. You’ll do theatre while waiting tables, theatre while licking stamps, or theatre while teaching theatre as a liberal arts college. You will do other things to supplement your acting career. Maybe with time you’ll become a local celebrity – but you may never get much farther.
I had a professor once who gave me some very valuable advice. He said to me, “If you can do anything else, do it.” It’s easy to see that advice as cynical and short-sighted, but it is the truth. There are people out there who starve to be actors. People who scrimp and save every penny just to pay their rent because they know that they want to act. They’re hungry for work – and they’re willing to be hungry for it, because it’s their passion.
It’s not a statement that says you will fail. If you are dedicated enough and work hard enough, you can succeed. Acting, like any other profession, is one that you can excell at if you only take the time and the effort needed to do so. The difference is that as a management-wannabe in the mailroom, you stand a much better chance of being noticed. As an actor, you will be fighting to be noticed among hundreds of thousands – if not millions of actors in your own nation alone. That’s why Professor Greg Justice of Virginia Tech got it right when he said: If you can do anything else,