The Stages of an Acting Career | Different Phases of an Actor's Career

The Stages of an Acting Career

Written by on | Acting Tips

Every actor wants a career – to be paid to do what they love, and quit that horrible casual job. Unfortunately, very few are able to reach that point – and for most, it can take years of hard work. And so it’s not surprising many give up on the way, or venture in to other parts of the industry as teachers, producers, directors, writers etc. Let’s take a look at the different stages of an acting career, and I encourage you to look at the big picture here. Think about where you’re at, and instead of despairing, look at the steps ahead of you, and which direction you should be travelling.

The Training Actor

Every actor’s career should begin with training. You simply cannot skip this phase, and yet so many do! We get emails every day from actor’s asking us how they get on “Netflix” – but they haven’t got any foundational acting training behind them, no experience and no agent. Oh and they also live in remote Alaska. It’s tough, but we have to break it to them. If you do not train as an actor, you will not make a career as an actor. Just like if you don’t train as a musician, you won’t make a career as musician. You cannot just pick up a guitar and expect to be The Beatles, and you also cannot pick up a script and expect to be Judi Dench.

I love philosophical rules. My favourite is Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 hour rule’. Gladwell looks at people at the top of their field, and adds up the amount of hours they spent on their craft whilst growing up and training. He found that consistently around 10,000 hours is what is needed to become an expert in any field. A bit less, say around 8,000 hours, and you were “good”. Around 5,000, and you were just “okay”. So how many hours have you spent on your acting?

I loved being a training actor. It was fun, I was encouraged to take risks and try something new, and most of all – I was learning. All day, every day in a classroom. I was the most inspired I’ve ever been, I didn’t have to worry about getting an agent or going to auditions yet, because I was training at full-time drama school. I added up all the hours I spent training in Drama School – it came to around 4,000 hours. After I graduated, I still had 6,000 to go! My point is, get thee to a classroom and never leave. The first phase of an actor’s career is training – but your training should continue throughout your entire career.

The Emerging Actor

This is a great phase. You’ve graduated Drama School, or some other training institution, and have loads of energy and an untapped well of inspiration. You’re eager to get out there and start making your mark on the industry. It’s an incredibly important phase full of first impressions and meetings and new experiences. A lot of actor’s try to skip the Training Phase, and jump right to the Emerging Phase. And to be honest, I’ve never seen it work out.

If you’ve been to Drama School, you’ll graduate and have your showcase. And hopefully, you’ll sign with an Agent off the back of that. If not, you’ll have to submit to agencies yourself. You’ll then need to get headshots, and have a showreel edited together. You are far more likely to sign with an agent if you have solid training under your belt, great headshots and a great showreel. Once you sign with an agent, you’ll receive an influx of auditions. A small amount of buzz will be created around you – you’re fresh, and the industry LOVES fresh. And this is the scary part – first impressions are everything in this phase. Which is also why training is so important! If you’ve got those 4,000 hours behind you, you’re less likely to have a nervous breakdown in your first audition. A few actors book amazing gigs in this phase, and immediately become a paid, working actor. This is the dream! But that doesn’t always happen. All you need to focus on is nailing every audition. This doesn’t mean getting it perfect – but it means leaving a good impression on the casting director. Do some great work, and doesn’t matter if you don’t book the gig – you proved to the Casting Director that they should bring you back in. Use this phase to get into as many rooms as you can, ride your “fresh” momentum and leave good impressions.

The Hustling Actor

Now this is where your momentum might plateau a little bit. And it’s often where a lot of actors go wrong. Instead of working to maintain the momentum, the inspiration – instead they become bitter. They feel they’ve been ‘duped’ by the industry, and spend their time getting drunk, or whingeing at cafe’s to their other actor friends.

This phase is hard, no doubt about it. So either you work through it, or you give up and sink. You’ll need to work for free to build a body of work, you’ll need to continue your training by doing weekly classes and masterclasses, and you’ll need to develop relationships in the industry. Make friends, be positive and work hard. Be a detective, get into make audition rooms as you can, and if you can’t – put down a self-tape and send it to your agent anyway. Keep in touch with your agent, keep game-planning.

Gear up for a long ride – this phase could last years. It’s a lot of hard work, and little to no reward, until…

The Working Actor

Holy Macaroni! You’re in! You book a great job on a local TV series, or in an Indie feature film which travels to some international festivals. Life is great, finally some reward for all that Hustling!

But then the hype dies down again, and you’re back where you began – hustling. A few months go by, you continue to train, you continue to do your research and maybe you even write your own work – you don’t stop, because momentum is everything. And what do you know, you book another job! And so it goes on, peaks and troughs, highs and lows, employed, and then unemployed. This is the life of a working actor.

The Celebrity Actor

Only 1% of you will reach this point. We have millions of actors visit the site each year – so about 10,000 of you. For some, it might take 20 years, for others it might only take 2, and then some will never reach this phase. You’ll each have your own path, so there’s no tried and true advice to give here. All I know is it comes down to hard work (10,000 hours) and luck. So, I guess you better get started…

About the Author

Indiana Kwong

is an actor, filmmaker and sometimes social media manager based in Sydney. I trained as an actor and filmmaker at the International Screen Academy in Waterloo, and everything else I learnt from Google and sheer willpower. You can find me in short films, web-series, TVC’s or Instagram (I spend a lot of time there.)

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