Earning a Living

How to have a career in the entertainment industry.

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In a world where job security is non-existant for any career, careers in the arts, including in acting, are more and more likely to pay off. The key is that, like in any career, you have to work hard to succeed. Actors have an opportunity to create work when there is none. They are multi-talented, diverse-thinking, creative people who can adapt to situations quickly.

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Understanding that acting is very much like being self-employed is important. You will get out of this career what you put into it.


The myth of the unemployed actor

Why are there so many unemployed actors? That's a funny question, but it has a fairly straight-forward answer. They are letting something hold them back. In reality, there are not a lot of unemployed actors; there are a lot of employed wait-staff and gas jockeys who are dissatisfied with their jobs, but not dissatisfied enough to get out there and land acting jobs.

Every second person driving cab, waiting tables, and working the drive-thru consider themselves to be actors. You can almost guarantee that at least 80% of those people are not looking for auditions,and they don't have and are not looking for an agent.

These are just people who like to act when a chance to do so falls in their laps. In all likelihood, they have never been paid to work as an actor. They don't take courses, they don't have a current resume, they don't have a head shot. They take themselves out of the job market by inaction. Some of these people are extremely talented, but they don't want to accept that there is a business side to acting.

To be successful, actors need to take responsibility for their careers – even if they have an agent. They need to always be looking for auditions and opportunities. They need to be investing in their talent and technique by taking courses, reading plays, learning new monologues, improving techinque, and building their network.

Actors need to be prepared to audition every day. Sometimes more than once a day, and sometimes with no notice.


Being ‘discovered’

The entertainment industry is highly competitive. Costs to produce theatre, television and movies are substantial. Directors are extremely unlikely to cast someone sitting at a soda counter. Believing that a director will somehow divine your talent and dedication from a first glance and offer you a role means that you are not taking the business seriously.

It is difficult enough to take chances with an unknown actor when they come to audition, and trust me when I say that the point of an audition is less about what skills you bring, and more about testing whether you will even show up.


Participate and build community

Community is an actor's lifeline to improving technique and to working. The better you are known, the more chances you have to be cast. Consider the number of people who work on a set or in a production. If one of the actors drops out, the director is far more likely to cast someone who has been recommended by current cast and crew than s/he is to go back to the casting agency. The more people know you, the better your chances.

Oh and that also means that you have to be nice, be gracious, don't gossip, all those things that you learned in kindergarten and at Sunday school.


Define success

Imagine your favourite movie. How many leads are cast in that movie? Of course everyone wants to be a leading actor, but the numbers are working against that. Most times, there are two leads, and then the rest of the cast supports the show. If your definition of success is to play a leading role, and you don't accept other work, then you have counted yourself out of 98% of paid performing jobs.

When you are starting out in community theatre, the goal is to get that credit on your resume, to learn, and to meet people. So if you are thinking that you won't take an understudy role because it is to much work to pay off, or you won't take a role if you are not the lead, then you are setting yourself up to fail later. You are limiting your contacts and showing a director (who could be an excellent reference) that you are not really interested in working, you are only interested in starring.

No matter how talented you are, it is hard for a director to justify working with someone who has no experience at all. Agents will be less interested. It's a big risk. Get experience where you can, and be thankful when you are cast. There is always a learning opportunity and you can get yourself known in good and not-so-good ways.


What all of this means

In the end, all of this means that the people who are successful in making a career in entertainment are the same kinds of people who are successful in all other fields. The successful actors are the ones who work hard, who are always trying to improve their situations, who stay connected, who are easy to get along with. They know their craft well, and spend time in developing it. They don't take rejection personally, and they keep trying until they get what they want.

There are actually not a lot of people like that in any industry, so if you have those traits, then you have an excellent chance of working for a lifetime.

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