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Move Over, Meryl: Starting a Career on Stage or Screen

What do Julie Andrews, Viola Davis and you have in common? A desire to act and the drive to make it happen. When you sit in a darkened theater or on your own couch and watch incredible actors perform, it might seem impossible that you could ever reach that position. And to be frank, it's unlikely that you will. But getting paid to act in some capacity isn't an unrealistic goal if you're willing to do the work. So get to it, and keep practicing that Oscar speech in the shower.

How Do You Start an Acting Career?

Unless you have incredible luck, you won't get far as an actor without talent and skill. Build your acting skills with tons of practice. Take acting classes and join an improv group if your city has one. Study the craft on your own time, too. Try borrowing library books about famous acting methods (like Stanislavski's system or the Meisner technique) to learn how to break down a scene and get inside a character. Buy, borrow or download copies of plays and screenplays and practice playing the roles alone or with a friend acting as your scene partner.

If you're really serious about becoming an actor, you'll need professional headshots taken. Don't invest in headshots, however, until you have enough experience under your belt to know that you want to continue to pursue acting.

How Do You Get Into the Acting Industry?

Once you feel like you have the core knowledge and tools that you need to start playing parts, start auditioning. In a small town, check for opportunities with your community theater and local playhouses. If any local schools have film studies departments, contact them to volunteer as an actor for student films. Use sites like Actors Access and Backstage to search by location for casting calls nearby. Film yourself performing monologues or reading scenes with other actors and create your own website to showcase these clips and any others you may have.

To break into film, television or national theater, you're going to need a talent agent. If you live near a major city like Atlanta or Chicago where some productions film, look for agents there, but keep in mind that most of the big agents are located in LA and New York, and you'll probably have to live in or very close to one of those cities to get an agent to take you on. Don't expect a major agent with A- or B-list clients to take a chance on you. Research smaller agencies and submit your headshots, an acting resume and a link to the website where your clips are posted. Interested agents will contact you, so keep trying and submitting yourself to agents until one bites.

Are There Other Ways to Join the Acting World?

Maybe you love film and TV but don't really have a passion for getting lost in a role. One way to participate in the industry and make a little extra money is to work as an extra, or background extra, in productions filming in your area. Days tend to be long and extras don't get paid a ton, though, so it may not be the right fit for moms with young kids.

Want to combine your love of acting with your experience dealing with kids? Volunteer with a children's theater company or join with a few other local actors to put on shows for children in hospitals and shelters.

What Should I Expect From an Acting Career?

The best actors make it look easy, but being an actor is hard work. You may put in hundreds of hours practicing, studying, marketing yourself and auditioning and never land a single part, so being able to handle rejection is important. That also means you'll be sacrificing time with your family without any guarantee of success. Pursuing this career can be expensive too, when you consider the cost of headshots, acting classes and child care.

But if you succeed at carving out an acting career, it means bringing extra income to your family and showing your kids that working really hard sometimes pays off—to say nothing of the immense pride that comes with achieving your dreams.


Kathryn has been a lifestyle writer for more than a decade. Her work has appeared on and

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