Guide to Acting for Young People
We get emails every single day from young people, all around the world, asking us ‘how do I become an actor?’ Curious to find out what information was out there, I did some research, and came up pretty empty. I found there was a lack of valuable information and advice for young people wanting to get into acting. So we decided to make a comprehensive guide to acting specifically for young people, and their parents, who are at the beginning of their lives and the beginning of their careers. It is here to inspire you, to provide you with practical knowledge and honest advice.
Before we get into it, let’s first dispel some common misconceptions about acting.
Common Acting Myths for Young People
“Acting can be learnt overnight”
The craft of acting, like most arts, is a beautiful and elusive thing, and the process is different for everyone. There are multiple different ‘method’s of learning how to act, and how to create a character. But in it’s simplest form, acting is storytelling. It is inhabiting a character, and presenting a narrative. The goal is for that character and the narrative to be truthful, authentic and entertaining for an audience – and this, can take years and years to master. There is no set formula, and whilst some people are natural born storytellers, most people need to train and learn to hone their craft in order to have a sustainable career in this industry.
“You have to be outgoing, extroverted and unique to be an Actor”
Nonsense. Some of the best actors I know and admire are incredibly introverted. The only thing you need to be an actor is passion and dedication for the craft, a willingness to learn and most importantly perseverance. If you are shy, but still love acting, you are not alone!
“Acting is just like modelling, it’s about how good you look on camera”
I would argue that acting, and modelling are completely different industries. Acting is about truth and storytelling, and modelling is about selling a product and looking good whilst doing it. That’s not to say that if you are a model, you cannot be an actor, and vice versa. But it’s important to separate these 2 professions. Whilst the film and television industry is harsh, materialistic and superficial, there are so many opportunities to do great work, and be fulfilled, regardless of how you look.
Tip: don”t ever try to look like anyone else. It is your uniqueness that will get you work as an actor.
Before you get started
Just like choosing any career path, it’s important to figure out why.
So why acting? Everyone will have their own personal reasons, and I’d recommend writing them down. There are no right or wrong answers, but sometimes we don’t even know why we are pursuing something until we stop, think about it, and put pen to paper. I’ve also found that career counsellors aren’t always the best people to turn to for advice. Often they don’t have much information on drama schools, acting training and the industry as it stands. So it’s up to you to do that research, and decide for yourself the best path once you graduate high school.
Tip: if you don’t have anyone to turn to, StageMilk.com is a great start. Hundreds of great articles and videos, which are all totally free.
Question for parents to ask their child:
As a parent, if your child comes home one day saying “I want to be an actor!”, I’m sure you have many uncertainties and concerns, and that’s ok. You can either hope they forget about it by next week, or give them the opportunity to try something and find out for themselves whether they like it or not. So, what should you ask your child when they tell you they want to be an actor?
1. Do they enjoy it?
It’s honestly as simple as that. Send them to an acting class in the afternoons, and if they love it, then there’s your answer. All you need to do is support them, and help them understand that acting, like anything, is a commitment that requires a strong work ethic and a very thick skin.
Sometimes it is hard to articulate why we love something, but I encourage you to help your child figure that out. If they want to be an actor because they want to be on Stranger Things and be famous (trust me, we get this a lot) then that doesn’t mean they should stop. It just means they have some learning to do. Getting on Stranger Things, or any prime TV show or Film for that matter, does not come easily. There are so many young actors out there and to book a role on Stranger Things is a one in a million chance. I also think there is a difference between wanting to be rich and famous, and wanting to be seen and heard. All performers have a desire to be seen and to share their work in a public sense, and that is completely normal. Help your child to find their true motivation for pursuing acting – it might take some time, but they will figure it out.
The important thing for parents to remember is that this is ultimately their child’s decision, and if they enjoy it, then there is no harm.
Questions for teenagers to ask themselves:
1. Do I enjoy it?
Whatever your passion is, I say follow it full-heartedly. Acting isn’t an easy career path, but if you love it, then it’s worth it.
2. What about acting am I most intrigued by, or interested in?
This will help you define what kind of training you should go into, and when. You might love sketch comedy, and so then should think about doing improv classes as well as acting classes. You might love independent films, and so weekly acting classes working on film and tv scripts are going to be your jam.
3. What does ‘success’ look like to me?
Be careful not to define success with terms such as ‘fame’ and ‘fortune’. If you’re in this game because you relish every moment you get to act, then fame and fortune shouldn’t come into it at all. And what you should be working towards is telling stories you’re passionate about, collaborating with other creatives, and eventually getting some financial reward for all your hard work (which could take years).
4. Am I prepared to work for it?
If you think that acting is all fun and games, doing a few classes, getting an agent, and bam you’re on the next 13 Reasons Why, then I’m sorry but I have to deflate that balloon of yours. Ask anyone, ask any actor in the world, and they will tell you that they are where they are today, because they worked for it, and kept at it for many years. They took rejection after rejection, they made sacrifices, and it was all worth it because they’re doing what they love. Make sure you are prepared to put in the hard yards, take the rejection and be patient.
The craft, and the business
Okay, so you have committed to becoming an actor. Now what?!
You wouldn’t expect to become a doctor without doing 7 years of training at medical school, and the same goes for acting. Don’t go straight into getting an agent and auditioning. You’ll need to learn about story, voice, character, script, physicality, and much more, as well as gain confidence in all these areas in order to sign with an agent. You have a couple options here:
Drama school training is 3 years of intensive acting training, and you can bet by the end of it, you’ll know whether or not acting is for you. Drama school is the best thing that ever happened to me, and although I’ve got nearly $50K in student loan debt, the things I learnt about myself and about acting, and the connections I made there – it was all worth it. Going to a reputable drama school will also give you a solid chance at landing an agent once you graduate. So when you graduate high school, go to some open days, audition for some drama schools in your country and see if this is something you want to commit the next 3 years of your life to. But trust me on this, no actor has ever regretted training at a reputable drama school.
[Video Guide] Getting into Drama School
More: How to audition for acting school
Weekly acting classes are also a great place to learn and meet other actors. Although it might not be as comprehensive as studying full time at drama school, it is an opportunity to learn and to act nonetheless. Find some good classes in your area, you can always ask to audit a class before you sign up, to make sure it’s good for you. Getting up in front of your class and acting every week is invaluable. You’ll receive constructive criticism, you’ll learn from watching others, and you’ll have a mentor, your teacher, whom you can turn to for advice when you need it.
Also, don’t be afraid of signing up for adult acting classes. I’ve consistently found myself to be one of the youngest throughout my training as an actor, and whilst terrifying, it has been incredibly beneficial for me to learn from older actors. It forces you to mature, and take class seriously, because everyone around you will be.
Masterclasses and Workshops
There are some incredible masterclasses and workshops out there, from different practitioners who all have a lot to offer for actors at different stages in their career. I’d recommend doing weekly acting classes or drama school before signing up to something like a week long intensive or 2-day masterclass. You’ll find these courses to be from 1-6 days long, with 8 hours focusing on a particular method or technique. For some of these you are also able to audit, and take notes, whilst you watch other actors get up and do their work. This is much cheaper than participating, but very valuable. It also gives you a chance to see if this type of work is for you, and you can join in next year. If you ever get a chance to do a workshop in your city with Larry Moss, Patsy Rodenburg, Susan Batson, Ivana Chubbuck or Anthony Meindl – do it! There are many more wonderful practitioners out there, and I encourage you to try them, and find what type of work resonates most with you.
Read books on acting, read books on psychology, read books on science – fill your brain with knowledge, opinions and ideas. Life experience and secondary knowledge is the well in which all actors will draw from when they work. Watch films, TV series, web series, short films – expose yourself to creativity, and you will learn from it. Make notes if you like, or get together with some friends and discuss it with them. There is no end to creative learning, and I plan on doing it until I die.
Find a Mentor
As you’re just starting out, you might need to find someone to guide you through these first couple months. And as a parent, if you’re not an actor yourself, you might find it harder to help and support your child with a limited knowledge base.
Find someone with experience, and whom you trust. They might be your drama teacher at school, they might be the head of acting at your drama school, or someone you know who is an actor, who has a bit more experience than you. If all else fails, the content we put up on StageMilk is honest, practical advice from actors themselves, and we’re always here to help.
More: Why you should have a mentor
Build your toolkit…
Now it’s time to look at the business side of acting. Unfortunately, talent can only take you so far these days.
An actor’s headshot is their first point of contact in the industry. Casting directors, Agents and Director’s will click on a tiny thumbnail photo of you, and make a split second decision about who they think you are and what you’re about. So it’s important for your headshot to accurately represent you. It doesn’t mean getting a photo that makes you look really pretty, thin and unique. You are pretty enough, you are inherently unique and all you need to do is relax, and leave the rest up to the headshot photographer. Please, please, please hire a professional headshot photographer. Do some research, find someone whose work you like, and within your budget. But you cannot be an actor, without a professional headshot – it is completely necessary.
More: The complete guide to getting a great headshot
A showreel is a short video collection of your acting work. No more than 3-4 minutes long, it is an edited clip of you doing either a monologue or a scene on camera. This can be in the form of a self-tape, or a produced showreel scene, or from actual produced work you have done e.g. clips from student films or web-series you have worked on.
A showreel becomes more important when you’re applying for representation and begin auditioning, but if you’re just starting out, this can wait until you’ve completed most of your training.
When you’re ready, here’s why you need a showreel, and here are our top tips for a great showreel.
Online casting profiles
Fact: all casting directors use online casting platforms to cast their projects. In order to book work, you need to be on them.
An online casting profile is like a digital CV for your acting. You pay a small fee to the platform in order to display your headshot, showreel, your credits and training. If you do not have any training, or credits, then I recommend saving your money and waiting until you do before setting up your profile. Another option is to sign up for a free platform, where you can apply for acting work yourself. BE WARY. Most of these jobs are unpaid, and often produced by amateurs, or people who don’t have a budget and so cut corners. Check the brief thoroughly, and trust your gut – if anything feels wrong or strange, do not go to that audition. It is not worth it. If you’re unsure, get someone to come with you. Or you have every right to get in contact with the producer of the project, to ask them more questions.
For which ones to go with click here, and for how to nail your profile, look here.
Branding and social media
You don’t really need to be too concerned with branding and social media at your age, but I also believe there is no such thing as being too prepared! So have a browse through these 2 articles we’ve put together on branding and social media, and just start to think about how other people might perceive you, what values you have and what kind of artist you’re striving to be. The point is not to go changing anything, or re-inventing yourself, it is simply being aware of how these things come across in your headshot, showreel, and when you go in for auditions. It’s complicated and a bit confusing, it took me a few years to truly understand the meaning of a brand, so don’t stress, and come to it when you’re ready.
Ultimate guide to Social Media for actors
Branding for actors
The idea here is to build your toolkit, at the same time as training as an actor. This is where the craft (acting training) and the business of acting (your toolkit) comes together. Unfortunately, you cannot do one without the other, they work in conjunction with each other. Once you have done some training, have built your toolkit, you can begin to look at representation.
Getting an Agent
What is an acting agent?
Your agent, or in some cases your manager, helps you to get work, and once you do, handles all the contracts and takes payments for you. In return for getting you into audition rooms and administration, they take a small percentage of your wages as an actor. You should never have to pay fees in order to sign with an agent. If they’re asking for upfront fees, run for the hills! If you’re unsure, make sure you go over the contract thoroughly and get some legal advice if necessary.
Where do you find these agents and managers? You can do a simple Google search in your area, or you can head to imdb.com/pro, create an account, and search the top agents in your city, who is on their books, and also find their contact details.
How to land a great agent.
Make sure your toolkit is in order, and train first. Wait until your ready, there is absolutely no rush. You’re young, and there’s so much to learn, so give yourself the best chance at landing a solid agent by doing your acting training first. Often agents won’t even consider actors who haven’t trained. Once you’re nearing the end of your training, you can start to assemble your toolkit (headshot, showreel, online casting profile) and then begin approaching different agencies. Alternatively, most drama schools hold a graduation showcase, and invite agents for you, so you might find yourself being approached by an agent on that evening.
When you go in for a meeting with an agent remember you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You want to sign with someone you connect with, and can work with – it’s a collaborative business. Don’t settle for the first offer you get, if you have the chance to shop around, definitely do so, and find the one that fits with you.
How to get an agent
How to approach an agent
What to avoid in an acting agent
It is highly unlikely you will start auditioning straight away, unless you have already signed with an agent. However in saying that, without an acting agent, you can still get auditions. All you have to do is be proactive. Find general audition listings on reputable websites, through free casting platforms, and sometimes casting directors do call outs on Facebook pages or in Facebook groups. Please be careful here, and trust your gut instincts, if something seems fishy, it probably is.
Once you do have an agent, they will start to send auditions your way. You might find a couple coming every week, or more likely 1 every 3 months. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the industry – it will never be constant, and standards are continuously shifting. This just means you need to stay on top of your game, so that when that audition comes through, you’re ready to go.
Auditioning tips for young actors
Here are our top tips when it comes to auditions for younger actors:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. You cannot rely on charm, or cuteness! Impress the casting director and their associates by being prepared. Being prepared will also help with managing nerves. This means, knowing your lines, being comfortable off script, doing some rehearsals at home beforehand, and making some choices.
- Make choices. It’s important to bring your own, unique point of view to the script and to the character – that’s what actors do! Make it your own, dig deeper, and find something in the script which ignites and excites you. There is no such thing as ‘right‘ when it comes to acting. There is your interpretation, someone else’s interpretation, and so it goes on. Don’t try to please the casting director, because a lot of the time they’re not even sure what they’re looking for. If your interpretation isn’t quite what they’re looking for, then they’ll ask you to adjust your performance, so be prepared for that.
- Be flexible. It is imperative that as an actor, you can take direction. If a casting director asks you to change something up on the fly, it’s most likely because they need to see if you can be flexible and respond to direction on set. If you’re too rigid in your choices and in your performance, then you’ll be too much hard work for a director on set, and you won’t book the job.
- Have fun. Like I said at the very beginning, if you’re not enjoying it, then what’s the point? How wonderful is it to watch old home videos of you and your family or friends making a fool of yourself or running around like headless chooks? It’s riveting to watch. Casting directors will enjoy watching you, if you’re having fun in there. This doesn’t mean pretending to have fun – the script might be tense, and dramatic, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fully immerse yourself in the work and enjoy the process.
- Let it go. There are more actors than there are roles – that is a fact. Go in, do your best, have fun, and then go home. Don’t think too much about it. You won’t be receiving a call to let you know you didn’t get it. You won’t hear anything at all, and you’ll just presume you didn’t get it. It’s okay to do a bit of reflection on how you think it went, and what you might do better next time, but after that, move on with life.
It’s a tough industry. There’s no denying it. But it can also be a really fulfilling, exciting and a wonderful creative outlet for young actors. There is no ‘right’ way to becoming an actor, every person will have their own path laid out for them. For some it takes years, and other mere months, trust in yourself and trust in the universe.
At the end of the day, I encourage all of you to give it your absolute best shot, work hard, and keep at it as long as you’re still enjoying it. There will be people out there who will discourage you, and maybe even take advantage of you because you’re young. But use your better judgement, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Good luck!
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