Getting Started as an Actor

The Basics

So you’ve decided you definitely want to be an actor, but now what? Where do you start? Some of the details vary, but for the most part, it’s the same all over the world. You need to train. No one watches surgery performed on The Learning Channel and then claims to be a doctor, and watching Court TV doesn’t make you a lawyer, but for some reason people think that just watching movies, theater, and TV shows is enough preparation to be an actor. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

You will not succeed without training. I don’t care if you’re a singer or rapper turned actor or a young fresh face. Everyone needs to train. EVERYONE!

Phew! Now that we’ve got that out of the way. Let’s talk about different types of actor training.  We’ll start by dividing actor training institutions along these lines: university degree programs and private instruction. Most acting instruction falls into these two (very broad) categories. Today we will focus on university programs.

Most university programs fall into the graduate or undergraduate category. Let’s look at undergraduate learning first. It is my belief that most actors are best served by getting a liberal arts education. (Wait! What is that? When I refer to a liberal arts education, I am speaking of a standard undergraduate college or university that requires students to have a specific major and also take a requisite number of classes in other fields.)

If you’re just going into college, I think you should choose the school that appeals to you most.  Find a college that will provide a conducive learning environment and a challenging and thorough education. Find a city or a town where you think you can be happy for four years.  Look into the drama and theater department and make sure that there are acting classes available to majors and non-majors. Now here is where, my view diverges from that of many others: you need not major in drama, performance, theater, or film. Majoring or minoring in drama or theater is great and very helpful, but you can major in neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, journalism, music, or anything that interests you. The most important thing is that you take classes in the drama department and participate in as many acting opportunities as your schedule can handle. Student produced plays and films are just as important to your development as professionally produced work. (Remember today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals). Also, it’s not always about acting: directing, writing, producing, designing, and working on the crew are just as important to developing a full understanding of the production process. During the summer, get a job or internship at a local theater or film production company; really immerse yourself in the creative environment around you. Get to know the faculty and your fellow students. Some of the connections you make in college will last a lifetime and can have an indelible impact on your career, so really get involved in the college experience and build lasting relationships. Whether you get at BA (Bachelor of Arts), a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) or a BS (Bachelor of Science) is up to you, but make the most of the experience.

In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about graduate programs and private classes and studios. Now I’d like to hear from you. How did you get your start, did you study at college and get and undergraduate or graduate degree? Did you take studio classes or maybe you started out working with a private coach. I want to hear about your experiences!

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One thought on “Getting Started as an Actor

  1. Jill says:

    I agree so much about not needing to major in drama! (Though I ended up double-majoring in drama and social studies.) My acting classes were wonderful, but I wish I had taken advantage of the directing and playwrighting classes, as you need to be able to create your own work these days.

    However, my psychology, history, English, neurobiology, anthropology and sociology classes ended up being invaluable– I was studying HUMANS, and really, isn’t that what actors need to do? Study humans from as many viewpoints as necessary?

    Lastly, it’s important (for any artist) to meet as many people as possible, and as many KINDS of people as possible. If you only ever interact with actors, you’ll have a skewed vision of humanity.

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