Cost to Become an Actor | StageMilk
Cost to become an actor

Cost to Become an Actor

Written by on | Acting Tips

What does it cost to become an actor? Everything. It’s going to take everything you got to give, and acting doesn’t owe you a dime in return. There is magic in that and I will get back to you about why at the end of this article. In terms of cold hard cash though, acting training, and professional costs there is one simple truth – being an actor ain’t cheap. I’m going to go through the predominant training and professional costs to give you a guide of what it takes to become an actor and maintain a professional profile online in the modern world. Finally, all the prices here are listed in Australian Dollars (AUD) . Please convert to your local currency for a guide to prices in your area.

Becoming an actor is not a cheap pursuit. Financially it can be costly to pay for training and the professional requirements for actors like headshots, showreels and casting profiles. These costs pale in comparison to the emotional costs, which, if not managed correctly, can be significant. Despite all of that, becoming an actor is still well worth your time! 


How Much Does Acting Training Cost?

It is important to say at the outset, and say often, that, if you want to be an actor, you need training. This is a non-negotiable; acting is not a task that you can rock up on set and just do. Regardless of how many overnight success stories you have read in the paper, or seen on TikTok, this is a craft, and it takes work. The best way to learn your craft is with professional, high quality training from a reputable institution. 

So what does that actually cost? Frankly, quite a lot. There are various routes to go down here, be it one on one coaching sessions, masterclasses, short-courses or full time courses at universities and other reputable training institutions.  Additionally, there are some fantastic online courses out there, including ours at the StageMilk Scene Club which are a great option too! 

Acting Training Red Flags

Before we talk about acting training options, it is important to know the common red flags around acting training and acting training institutions. See, the sad thing is that there are a lot of charlatans out there who prey on the naivety and enthusiasm of wannabe actors. I have spoken to more students than makes me comfortable about various ‘teachers’ around the globe who have suckered them for a lot of money, and offered next to no training in return. So here are a few common things to look out for.  

IMDB is Your Friend

The first place to start, especially with screen acting training, is IMDB. You need to check the people that are training you and see what their background is. Especially, for example, if someone is teaching Audition Technique, check their IMDB and see when their last gig was. If they haven’t booked a gig since the 90’s, they probably shouldn’t be teaching audition technique. Check that the people that are educating you, have experience in the area they are teaching. 

Watch Those Expectations

If you are doing your first acting class and the teacher is promising you that, for a fee, they can introduce you to the casting director of Stranger Things, with a role for you in the making, then they are probably talking crap. If they could do that, then why the hell aren’t they on Netflix instead of here talking to you?! You have to be careful of people looking to use your hope and your dreams against you. Training should be focussed on your incremental change and growth, not who the teacher’s contacts are. 

Check the Fees

Final one (and an important one). Check the fees for the class or workshop before you sign on, and ensure that there are no hidden fees or additions. Finally, use the costs in this article as a guideline for the costs you should expect. There can be some difference, but it shouldn’t be in the thousands. The hundreds, sure – a percentage – absolutely. But something outrageous is something outrageous. Get a second opinion, ask around, or get in touch with us at StageMilk and we can set you right!

Types of Acting Training:

One-on-One Training

A lot of actors, or people interested in acting, will start out or look to gain extra training with one on one acting classes. These one on one sessions can also be great for actors who have been out of the game for a while and want to get back into it, or for kids who don’t have a drama program at their school and want to learn acting. Prices here can range a lot depending on the instructor, from around $50 AUD an hour, right up to 150 AUD per hour are pretty standard. Most great teachers I know in Sydney charge around 90 AUD for an hour of their time. If someone is looking to charge significantly more than that, keep looking around. 

Cost: 50-150 AUD per hour. Commonly around 90 AUD.

Short Courses

The most common training method for actors of all abilities is the short course. Short courses are great because they offer high quality training at nights or weekends (outside of normal working hours), so people interested in acting who work a normal job, or busy working actors who are working during the day can continue to work on their craft outside of those times. In Australia, WAAPA, NIDA, ACA, VCA, The Hub Studio and 16th Street all run great short courses that vary in price depending on the length of the course and the institution itself. As a guide, you’re looking at between 300 AUD for a 4 week course at WAAPA to 3000 AUD for a 20 week course with The Hub. Look at the options near you and find an option that is right for you. Best advice is to stick to reputable schools and institutions, with established names and reputations wherever possible.  

Cost: Between 300 AUD and 3000 AUD, depending on course length and frequency.

Masterclasses

There are wonderful training institutions like The Hub Studio and 16th Street that run one off courses with incredible actors, directors and teachers focussed specifically on the craft of acting. These courses are usually between one and four days and come at a premium cost. They are a sensational way of breaking out of a rut, gaining new skills, trying a new method or reconnecting with acting in a different way. A great example of this is the Larry Moss masterclass that 16th Street runs across Australia most years. Larry is an exceptional acting coach, having coached Hilary Swank, Leonardo Di Caprio, Helen Hunt and Tobey Maguire. He really knows his stuff and spending four days watching him work and working on the floor with him is an unparalleled experience. You can read Andy’s experience here and my experience here

Cost: between 350 AUD and 3000 AUD, depending on the teacher and the course length.

Full Time Training

The holy grail of acting training. Full time acting training at a reputable school is the single BEST thing you can do for your acting career. If you are serious about becoming an actor, if it is the thing you really want to do with your life, if you are passionate about telling stories and want to bring your authenticity, your vulnerability, your straight-up-powerful energy to the world, then there is no better way than going to a three year, full time, acting training program at a reputable school. We have written so much on this it is almost overwhelming, but let me get you started: Best Drama Schools in the UK, The USA, Canada, Australia, NZ, Should I go to Drama School, How to get into drama school and many more.

Now, in terms of cost, we have a lot of variety here and each case is going to be different. Some schools are government funded and some are privately funded, which dramatically affects your costs as a student. Additionally, if you are a foriegn student then all of these courses are going to cost a lot more. How much more is hard to say, it’s going to depend on your circumstances. It’s best to contact your ideal schools directly and get a pricing idea from them. The costs below are for domestic students of Australian drama schools, just to give you a guideline. Please check with your desired school for an accurate price for your situation!

Cost: Between 23000 AUD and 100,000 AUD for 3 years approx., depending on the institution and circumstances. 

Online Training

The final and probably most accessible option for acting training is taking an online course. Thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic there are more of these options available than ever before so plenty here to choose from. The thing you want to look for is contact time with the coaches, the breadth of resources available and the manner of their approach. If an online course is telling you they can make you into Brad Pitt in three easy steps, they’re probably full of crap. We here at the StageMilk Scene Club offer a huge range of resources from regularly updated scene and monologue databases, to a play library with thousands of plays to regular one on one coaching sessions and detailed, personalised feedback on your work every month. We are not here to turn you into Brad Pitt but help you become the best actor you can be.

Check it out at this link: https://www.stagemilk.com/scene-club/

Cost: Special offer for new students $7 USD for your first month! Click the link above.

 


Professional Costs

Okay now we have dealt with the costs associated with training, we can look at the costs of being a working, professional actor. Acting is one of those careers that has a lot of costs attached to it. The good news is that once you start working professionally and begin to make a bit of money, you can claim a lot of these costs back as expenses on tax! Talk to your tax agent or accountant about all of that! The goal of this article is just to give you an idea of what those costs are and approximately what to expect. 

Headshots

Okay first things first, you need a headshot. Preferably a headshot taken by a professional headshot photographer. Your headshot is your calling card in the industry and there are quite a few guidelines around it. We have a Complete Headshot Guide written by actor and professional photographer Indiana Kwong – have a read! The short version is that you need a photo of yourself that represents who you are as authentically as possible. A great headshot photographer is expensive because they specialise in helping you achieve exactly that. My headshot at the bottom of this page is by Sally Flegg in Sydney and cost me around $450 AUD. I have friends who have paid up to $700AUD. I also know actors who have used a head and shoulders shot off their phones and been fine. It’s tricky, but I would recommend looking around for headshot photographers in your area and finding something affordable for you. When you look at their websites, google the actors there, are they booking work? If not, look elsewhere. 

Here are some city-specific resources for looking for a headshot photographer:

Melbourne Headshot Photographers
London Headshot Photographers
Sydney Headshot Photographers
L.A. Headshot Photographers
N.Y. Headshot Photographers

Cost: $0 if you DIY to $700AUD for the top end photographers. 

Showreel

Another topic we have written on at length is the showreel. Our definitive article on the subject is our Ultimate Showreel Guide, an article that I reference at least once a week. Now there are a lot of ways to skin this cat, so when it comes to cost we have a couple of options. If you book gigs in professional film and TV then you can get a hold of that footage through your agent and cut it together in editing software, you can see a few editing software options here. Don’t know how to edit? You can pay someone to do it for you. Have a google. Usually this will be between 300 and 500 AUD. If you don’t have any footage to use, make some! Get a great self-tape setup and shoot some content! Check out our Self-Tape Equipment Guide to get you started. Your final option is to engage a specialist showreel production company like J.J Splice they will shoot two scenes for you with very high end gear for around 3000 AUD. The best option for you is going to depend on where you’re at on your journey, your budget and your experience so pick the option that suits you.

Cost: 300AUD for a good home setup with self-tapes to 3000 AUD approximately for a showreel production company. 

Casting Websites

The showreel and headshot form two out of three parts of the actors toolkit and now you have one, you need somewhere to put it to get you those auditions! Each country and major market uses different casting websites so you need to use the ones that are relevant to you. All of these pages cost a monthly or yearly sign up fee. These fees are an unavoidable part of being an actor. For your reference check UK Casting Websites, US Casting Websites and Australian Casting Websites. Here in Australia as a professional actor, I pay for a 12 Month Showcast Listing, Plus Media which is 208.00 AUD per year, and a premium Casting Networks membership which is 119 AUD per year. I also have a StarNow pro account for 38 per year and an IMDB Pro account for 19.99 AUD a month. 

Cost: 605 AUD per year total for me. 327 AUD per year for just the necessary sites and you could pay less to have fewer photos and videos on your pages. Also because I have made money as an actor and these costs are essential to my work, they are all tax deductible for me. Check with your accountant or financial advisor to see if that’d work for you too.

Networking and Events

An essential part of being an actor is your contacts and networking ability with people in the industry. The old adage of it’s ‘not what you know, it’s who you know’ is particularly true in the acting and performing arts world. There are particular networking opportunities like opening nights at theatre companies, events with the Producers Guild, events with your local actors union, film and theatre festival opening and awards nights and acting school alumni events are really worth your time. Don’t feel that you have to go to every single one, but poking your head in at a few events and getting to meet some of the key players in your local industry in a social environment is a great way for them to get to know you and vice versa. So when your headshot crosses their desk they can put a name to a face! 

Cost: Free to 150 AUD depending on the event.

 


Emotional Costs

That about sums up the financial costs of being an actor, and honestly those costs pale in comparison to the emotional costs acting requires from us. I am going to split these costs into two groups, which is the cost of getting the role and the cost of not getting the role. Actors need to think of themselves as professional auditioners, and no matter which side of the audition process you end up falling on, there is an emotional cost attached to it. Here is the even crazier thing, despite all these financial and emotional costs, being an actor is STILL worth it! I will explain why at the end. Stay tuned!

The Cost of Getting the Role

There is an emotional toll that is attached to every role. The meatier the role, the bigger the emotional toll it takes. Actors are required to go through the kind of emotions in an hour at work, that most people go through once in their lives. The actor is then required, by the nature of film or theatre production, to go through that pain and anguish over and over again. The best actors in the world are the actors that can put themselves through that emotional anguish, over and over and over again in a myriad of different times and places, all for our entertainment. 

With every role comes a responsibility to live authentically under the circumstances of the character and those circumstances can be challenging to the point of breaking for a lot of people. There are safe ways of working, and there are unsafe practices that are (unfortunately) still rife within our industry. If you’re hoping for a long career, it’s always advisable to look after your mental health and take the safest option possible at every stage. 

Even though we are talking here about the emotional costs of being an actor, the maintenance of your mental health can have a finnancial cost, too. Many actors seek mental health support to help them deal with the instability, and blows their self-esteem that this industry can casue. Clinical psychological support can help to dampen the emotional costs, but introduces a new finnancial cost.

The Cost of Not Getting the Role

And then we come to the far more common cost. The cost of not booking the gig. People often talk (and warn) aspiring actors of the perils of rejection in this industry but it is impossible to understand until you have lived it. The fact is, you are going to go for great lengths of time, where you do not book the role. This could be for a variety of factors, maybe you didn’t do a great audition, maybe you are not the right look for the role, maybe you are simply too tall! It could be that everyone loved you for it, but they decided to cut that entire part from the script and you are no longer required. Any and all of these things are a part of an actor’s life. 

On top of that, no one will ever tell you why you didn’t get the job. You never get a performance appraisal from a casting director, most of the time you don’t even get notified when you don’t get a part, you only get notified if you are successful! Coping with this reality requires emotional fortitude. It takes grit and determination to keep showing up, to keep trying, to keep working at your craft in the face of this constant rejection. If you are going to be an actor, you are going to be rejected and it comes down to having the self belief that you are good enough, that you are talented enough, that you are passionate enough, so when that right opportunity comes knocking, you’re ready to give it everything you have.

The Magic of It All

And now, finally, we get to what you have all been waiting for – the magic of it all. If you are still reading by now, you have a good idea of how much it costs financially and emotionally to be an actor and here is the craziest part. Despite all of that, everything I have written so far, the 3000 plus words of costs and tolls, being an actor is still worth it. How do you ask?

Because it is magic. It is complete and utter magic. Being onstage in front of an audience, living in a completely fictional moment that you have created, transporting the audience from their mundane reality into the almighty, divine, fiction that the writer has concocted is an arcane device that transcends social, historical and cultural norms. Actors are magicians, engineers and time travelers – what we can do, given the right script, enough time to work on it, and great collaborators is like nothing else, anywhere. It is also a tremendous privilege. A writer crafts something, sometimes for years of their life, and entrusts it to us and a director to bring it into reality.

Sometimes we are responsible for telling the story of a real historical figure, their history, their choices, their world becomes ours to communicate to a generation who may never have heard of them otherwise. What we do is vital, hard and mercurial. Yes it is expensive, yes it is difficult, and no you will not make a million dollars overnight, but what you will get is the privilege to live in someone else’s shoes for a day or more and that is worth its weight in gold. 

Conclusion

There you have it! A definitive list of what it costs to be an actor. As you can see it is going to cost you a lot, financially, emotionally and it is going to take a lot of time. Becoming an actor is not quick, or easy or for the faint hearted. But it is rewarding unlike any other job in history and if you are interested in jumping on board and finding your own space in this crazy world of ours, why not start with the StageMilk Scene Club. Click the link below for more information!

About the Author

Patrick Cullen

Patrick is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster based in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of the Actors Centre Australia in 2014, Patrick has been working in film, TV and theatre across Sydney and Brisbane ever since. Patrick can be found glued to test cricket in bars across the land.

About the Author

Patrick Cullen

Patrick is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster based in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of the Actors Centre Australia in 2014, Patrick has been working in film, TV and theatre across Sydney and Brisbane ever since. Patrick can be found glued to test cricket in bars across the land.

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