Actors interpret characters in theater, video, film, radio and other performing arts venues. They may work purely in a creative endeavor or to communicate specific ideas, as in advertising or training films. Formal dramatic training, either through colleges and universities or acting conservatories, is often needed to obtain jobs, though many land positions without any such background.
Actors work long hours and highly irregular schedules, which typically do not last an entire year, unless they are cast in a long-running TV or Broadway show. They may experience several weeks of work followed by several months or years of unemployment. As such, they receive hourly wages rather than annual salaries. The median hourly compensation is $16.20 hourly, with a range of $7.98 to $74.44. This information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 2009.
The employers that hire the most actors are performing arts companies such as theater groups, with 26 percent of the 39,880 available positions. They pay a mean hourly wage of $21.12. Motion picture and video companies are a close second for employment with over 24 percent of the jobs. They pay $47.70 hourly on average. The best-paying companies are advertising and public relation services, averaging $48.22.
Salaries and employability can vary by the state in which jobs are located. The one offering the best employment is New Mexico with 2.50 actors per thousand workers. The state with the best salaries is Hawaii, where the high cost of living boosts pay to $40.99 per hour. However, the concentration of 0.39 actors per thousand workers is only a sixth that of New Mexico, making jobs relatively more difficult to get.
The city with the highest employment for actors is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which boasts 17.41 per thousand workers. The large supply of jobs, however, depresses wages to $10.34 per hour, which is far less than the median. The highest-paying jobs are in the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward metro area of California, with pay at $64.95 per hour.
The BLS predicts that jobs for actors will increase by 13 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is slightly better than average for all occupations. Opportunities will come from expanding cable and satellite TV programming, interactive media such as gaming and mobile phones and a rising demand for U.S. films in foreign countries. Competition is intense because the number of actors greatly exceeds the number of roles. Those with the most perseverance, stamina and talent will find the most regular employment.