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Actors use speech, movement and expression to bring characters to life in theatre, film, television and radio.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: Variable average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll usually need to spend time on a training course at a university or drama school. You could take a diploma, foundation degree, degree or postgraduate diploma in drama, or a relevant subject like:

  • performance studies
  • contemporary theatre and performance
  • acting
  • musical theatre

Drama UK has information on approved drama school and university courses. Approved courses give you the chance to perform in front of agents and casting directors.

With luck, experience and determination you may be able to find work without training.

Acting is a very competitive profession. You’ll need to get as much practical experience of acting as you can.

People with disabilities and special learning needs can get extra support from organisations like Shape Arts.

Creative Choices has more information about a career in acting.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • acting talent and creativity
  • discipline and resilience
  • a good memory for learning parts quickly
  • determination and persistence

3. What you'll do

You may be acting alone or as part of a cast of actors. You’ll spend a lot of time:

  • researching your role
  • learning your lines
  • rehearsing
  • attending fittings for costumes
  • preparing for and going to auditions
  • contacting actors’ agents and finding the next job

You’ll usually work with other professionals like make-up artists, camera operators and directors.

For some roles you may work with the director to interpret the script. You’ll use your voice and expression to show certain emotions, and you may need to decide how the character will look and behave.

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

You’ll often combine performing with another job, for example teaching, community arts or office work.

4. Salary

There is no set income for actors and only the most well-established actors earn a high salary.

Most actors are self-employed and are paid a fee for each contract or performance.

Equity is the UK trade union for professional performers and it sets minimum rates of pay for its members. These depend on who you're working for and where. For example, as a performer in theatre you may earn around £420 a week.

Pay rates may differ if you work for an organisation that pays non-Equity rates.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Hours may be irregular. Most theatre performances take place in the evenings but you may also perform in daytime shows, rehearsals and auditions. In film and television the working hours can be very long.

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

6. Career path and progression

If you can show an agent you have potential they may put you forward for auditions and castings. Agents usually take a fee of about 10% to 25% from your earnings.

You could take further training and move into directing, scriptwriting, drama therapy or teaching.

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Last updated: 13 September 2018