Early Career Actor Tips | Things to Know When You're Starting Out

Early Career Actor Tips

Written by on | Acting Industry

So, you wanna be an actor, huh? You wanna strut your stuff on the stages and screens of the world under dazzling lights in front of adoring crowds? Well, kid, you’ve come to the right place. (Okay, apologies, I’ll drop the sleazy talent agent act.) I almost feel as if I should introduce myself in this article, because chances are if you’ve clicked on it, you’re a new addition to our global team of thespians.

I’ve been in the game for a fair few years, and today I’d love to share some early career actor tips I had (or wish I had) when I was just starting out. These are the kinds of things that will really make the difference in your journey—enough, I hope, to keep you on it until you’re feeling good and confident.

Ask Yourself: “Why acting?”

Whether you’ve made the decision to pursue a wonderfully turbulent career in the arts, or you’re doing your research on what it takes to better inform your decision, congratulations. It’s a big deal to give serious thought to pursuing something you love.

Now, before you do anything else, ask yourself why you want to be an actor. It’s a question so serious we devoted an entire article to it. There’s no right or wrong answer here, because the reality is that your answer to that question will change over time. It’s good to know what it is right now because you can use it as the ignition point.

You want to be an actor because you want to be famous? Awesome. If you want to be an actor because you can’t see yourself doing anything else? That’s awesome, too. Whatever your answer is, keep it in your mind, write it on a bit of paper and stick it to your bedroom door, so that you always have an answer to why you’re doing this.

The first few years of an acting career are difficult. You’ll have plenty of moments when you doubt yourself. If you can come back to your answer in those moments and it sparks fire in your belly, you’re still in it for the right reasons.

Consider Training

If someone asks me where to get started as an actor, my answer will always be the same. Train. Try out for drama school or take some independent classes; it doesn’t matter how you do it, just get training. 

A lot of people come to the decision to be actors tried it when they were younger and found it extremely easy to do. These are people you might consider calling “talented“—although that’s a hella loaded word and not one we’ll get into exploring in this article. Some of these talented youngsters graduate from high school having dazzled in the school play and are eager for their careers to begin!

But talented people lacking training tend to fail. That’s because talent can’t teach you a work ethic, or how to collaborate. Most importantly, talent doesn’t help you hone your craft as an actor: the skills that allow you to perform even if it’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing.

Drama School Isn’t The Only Path

All that being said, drama school isn’t the only way to become an actor. Some skip formal training entirely and still deliver incredible performances. And that’s to say nothing of a three-to-four year investment that is a huge expense, and doesn’t always pay off like you hope it will.

The thing to remember is these stories are rare. The best, most direct path to acting involves paying a bunch of money to a school and pretending to be an animal for three years. What’s more, drama school will give you a community of like-minded people to develop along with, as well as the mentors you’ll need to keep developing and growing.

Whether or not you decide to take the drama school route, you should take classes regardless. I’d recommend beginner classes in clowning, voice and body, screen acting and Shakespeare. Classes like yoga and Feldenkrais also count–anything that helps you build awareness and strength in your own body is technically building your skills as a performer.

Know Your “Type”

Let’s assume you’ve just graduated from drama school, or you’ve been taking classes on the side, and you’re starting to look for work. At the onset of your career, one of the simplest and most effective things to get clear about is your archetype(s).

Your “type” as an actor are the roles you are most suited to play. It’s not just based on how you look, though that certainly counts for something. If you went to drama school or did drama in high school, you likely played all kinds of different roles—which is great to work your acting muscles. Unfortunately, it’s not quite how the industry works. Casting directors are working with the director to achieve a certain vision for their project and part of that is casting actors who best suit the vision.

Just about every character we see on screen or on stage fall into one or two of the Twelve Archetypes: twelve different personalities that people can relate to in some way. I go into more detail about this in my article on marketing for actors, so check out the list there and see if you can determine which archetype(s) you fall under.

Remember it’s not just about the way you look, but the kind of attitude or vibe that you give off. You want to build your brand around your archetype, so make sure your headshots and your showreel reflect it.

Know Yourself

Aside from knowing your archetype, one of the most valuable ways to spend your early career is to figure out who you are. It sounds a bit esoteric, but bear with me: acting is a profession based on the portrayal of characters. The greater your sense of self, the greater your empathy. If you can empathise with a character you play, then you can better understand them.

So: go to therapy, travel, try out different hobbies, spend time with people you love–it’s all part of the job, which is why it’s the best job in the world. Often, young actors are told to “go out and get some life experience” before they can take on a serious role, or even study at a drama school. It’s always frustrating to hear, but it’s damn good advice.

Money Talk

Unless you’re in the 1% of Hollywood stardom, acting is not a financially stable job. This is particularly true for early career actors, as your time is spent doing a lot for very little (if any) financial return.

I do feel it’s important to acknowledge that there is a certain level of financial privilege that comes with pursuing a career in the arts because of how our society is set up. You need a safety net in this career, and I fully understand that for some people, creating a safety net in the first place is a difficult thing.

Here’s the advice I can offer when it comes to managing your money – it comes from Scott Pape’s “The Barefoot Investor”.

Open a few bank accounts: a landing account for big expenses (rent, bills etc.), one for everyday spending, one for treating yourself, and one for emergencies. The landing account is where your pay-checks go and should be connected to all those big recurring expenses like rent and bills. Whenever you get your pay-check, split it up like this:

  • 20% to the Emergency Account
  • 10% to your Treat Yourself Account (including theatre tickets, short courses, cinema trips)
  • 20% to your Everyday Spending*
  • 50% stays in the Landing Account

*This percentage might change depending on your lifestyle–it’s mostly up to you to figure out how much you spend on groceries and other essentials each week.

If you keep this up, you’ll eventually build up a solid safety net in the Emergency Account that you can pull from in times of need. There’s no one-size fits all for money matters, but I’ve found this system has worked well for me so far. Staying on top of your money relieves you of one of life’s many stressors and will ultimately give you more time to commit to your acting career.

Saying “Yes!”

Whether you’re fresh out of drama school or not, the first year you spend looking for work is going to be the toughest. Saying yes is one of the best things you can do during the earliest stages of your career.

Say yes to going to theatre and films, to play readings, to auditions, to helping out friends with their auditions and/or projects. Say yes to any acting business you align with. I’d recommend reframing the first year for yourself like this: it’s not about how many roles you land but how much you involve yourself in the world of acting. What you’re doing here is building and contributing to a community that will carry you through the industry. No one ever achieved nothing all by themselves.

IMPORTANT: There are always things you shouldn’t agree to. Learning when to say “no” is an extremely important skill for an actor. You’ll have to do work for free, certainly, and you’ll probably have to do some work you’re not particularly passionate about. But saying no to a stinker of a role (or a suss collaborator) is never a silly idea.

Staying Open

A wonderful by-product of saying yes to opportunities is getting exposed to all kinds of people and projects. Since graduating drama school, I’ve found a variety of different creative avenues that keep me inspired alongside acting–writing being one of them.

My first year out of drama school was tough because I fixated on acting. This meant that when the going got tough (which it often does in our racket) things got really, really quiet. I had built my entire identity around my acting career. Who was I when that wasn’t happening?!

Since that fated first year out, I’ve met a whole lot of amazing people who have given me wonderful opportunities to create things that I’m proud of. This has really taken the edge off my anxiety around how many roles I’m landing. This will happen for you, too.

Think of yourself as an Artist, rather than strictly an Actor. Write, draw, make music, start a podcast, narrate audiobooks. You’re more than just a talking head. Versatility leads to a long-lasting career in the arts.

Be Consistent, Be Active

Do something that relates to acting every single day. It could be reading a play, going to a theatre show, exercising, doing a vocal warm up, rehearsing a monologue, rehearsing a scene with a friend, sending your material to casting directors–the list goes on and on.

If you can dedicate at least an hour to your craft every day, you’ll be a master in no time. The key is making it a part of your daily routine and building it into a habit. Acting can feel difficult to practice daily because the common assumption is that you need to be on set or on stage to actually practice it. I’ll tell you a secret though: you don’t. In the same way that a musician practices scales, actors can practice awareness and engagement through a whole variety of different activities.

If you’re like me and love a schedule to hold yourself to, here’s mine:

  1. Five minute vocal warm up, every day.
  2. Exercise, every day.
  3. Read a play a week.
  4. Prepare two monologues each month.

These things make up your personal practice and can become a regular part of your day. Everything else you do around it contributes to honing your blade and deepening your relationship to acting.

Be a Good Person

Build a good reputation from the get-go. Follow all the above steps, but make sure you are as kind and professional as you are active. If you go to theatre show and you really enjoy it, stick around to congratulate the actors and the director. If you land a gig, make sure you’re on time and you’ve learned your part.

When you’re going up for roles alongside twenty other people, a surefire way to stand out is to be a pleasure to work with. People talk in this industry. So you need to make sure that when people are talking about you, they’re saying nice things.

So, in the simplest terms possible: be a good person.  I love this quote from Uta Hagen’s book Respect for Acting:

“If you are affected in your daily life, calculatingly self-aware in your relations with others, you will undoubtedly be a bad actor, because your attention is narcissistic.”

Well spoken. If you won’t take it from me, listen to Uta.

Conclusion

So there you have it: a treasure trove of early career actor tips! The early stages of any career are about building a strong foundation that will last. Acting is no different. You may have noticed that a lot of the above advice is just positive personality traits. Funny, that…

If you are nurturing yourself and your relationships, and you’re engaging with the world in a creative and artistic way–that’s pretty much the job. All the rest will come to you when it’s meant to. And in the meantime, you get to live a good life. Sounds alright to me.

Hope this helped. See you around the traps!

 

About the Author

Frazer Shepherdson

Frazer (he/him) is a writer, actor and director. He has worked professionally in film, television and theatre since 2016 and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor in Acting in 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

one × one =