The First Steps of Breaking Into the Acting Business: For Adults

"If you want a career in anything you have to commit the time & training.  Acting is no exception." -Veteran Talent Agent & ATC Instructor, Mike Theisen

One of the many things that has always fascinated & excited me about the business of acting is that no two artists’ paths to a fulfilling career are the same.  The industry is inherently subjective & therefore difficult, if not impossible, to subscribe a formula to. 

While this can be very frustrating for a person who, like myself, enjoys a logical a + b = c mentality, the subjectivity allows every individual the opportunity to create their own path toward a successful career regardless of age, gender identity, ethnicity, upbringing, etc… It is for this reason that I fell in love with acting, or, more broadly, with art in general.  There is no exact right answer.

With all of that being said I have found a common denominator that is true for everyone that is pursuing acting as career: Acting is hard. Period. And making a career as an actor is even harder.  Much like exceptional athletes, great actors make what they do look easy.  If you’ve ever tried to hit a baseball coming at you at 90+ miles per hour, (or any other athletic comparison), you know: it ain’t easy.  The same applies to acting. 

Exactly like athletes, actors who excel at a high level are:

  1. Incredibly naturally gifted

  2. Have worked extremely hard to get to the place they are at in their careers. 

If you are looking for a quick road to fame & fortune… try another industry.  In fact, if fame & fortune is your primary goal, it’s probably best to try another industry.  If you are fascinated by the art, committed to the craft, & are able/willing to dedicate career hours to it, by all means, give it shot!  The greater the challenge the greater the reward, right?

So, what can one do if they are interested in entering the business?  I believe that the most important thing an aspiring actor can do is this: take ownership of the things that you have control of & forget about the rest. 

You ARE in control of consistently seeking opportunities to audition & create.  You ARE in control of taking care of your instrument (aka, your body, voice, etc…).  You ARE in control of how much time you invest into your craft, particularly in preparation & training.  

You are NOT in control of booking/landing a role.  You are NOT in control of who ultimately sees your work.  You are NOT in control of how individuals who see your work receive it.   In other words, don’t gauge success on response or results, gauge success on processDid you put the time, energy, & brainpower into your process to the best of your ability?  If you have done that, you have achieved success.  

Let’s start with the most basic thing you can do that you are in control of: Do the work.  Do the work as much as you possibly can.  Earlier I mentioned being able/willing to put in “career” hours.  To me that means at least 40 hours a week. 

If you want a career in anything you have to commit the time.  Acting is no exception. 

This can be incredibly difficult to do when you have a full time job, bills to pay, family, etc. Especially when one is starting out, the onus is on the individual to find opportunities to do the work.

I come from a background highly influenced by theatre & I am a firm believer that the theatre is the best venue to develop your craft as an actor.  It is certainly not the only venue, but, basically, theatre takes a huge commitment of focused time & energy. 

Between the rehearsal process, tech, & the run of a show an actor is essentially required to commit those career hours I have mentioned:

  • Find any & all opportunities to audition for theatre.

  • Get online & do some searching.

  • Community theatre, church theatre, storefront theatre… I don’t care.  Do it.   If you get cast in a show, amazing!  If you don’t, who cares? 

  • Find the next opportunity to audition. 

  • Go to the theatre & watch other actors’ work. 

  • Write your own content. 

  • Get a group of friends or like-minded colleagues together & put something together in your back yard - even if you're filming it on a Smartphone. 

  • Watch a movie or TV show with an eye on what is working well in a performance & what is not. 

  • Sign up for extra work & get on a set. 

  • Do it all. 

The opportunities will not find you.  You have to actively seek them out or create them for yourself. 

As you consistently do the work you will find your industry network widening, your confidence growing, & your skill set improving.  At that point it may be the time to consider representation; however, I will save that subject for another time.  

Additionally, you need to be consistently training. This is ON TOP of actively doing the work.  Doing the work gives you the opportunity to apply the lessons you have learned while training.  The application of lessons learned over the course of time is what leads to noticeable improvement.  Be certain, quality training costs money.  It’s a fact.  Accept it.  As you seek out classes, coaches, schools, etc… do your research:

  • What has a given instructor done in their career? 

  • What do they have to offer? 

  • What feedback have other actors given about a specific school or curriculum?

  • Is the class you are considering at a level that is right for you right now? 

  • (Need the right push? Try my First Steps: Breaking Into the Business class at Actors Training Center).

Be objective & honest with yourself so that you are getting the most out of your investment. Do your research & know what you are signing up for.

I feel I should note that this post has been slanted toward artists attempting to break into the business with the mindset of making acting their full time career.  Please know that you can do all of the things I have discussed above on a lesser scale & still capture the joy & fulfillment the business has to offer.  You just need to be realistic about what you want to get out of the work.  If it’s a career you are looking for you have to commit career hours.  If it is a hobby you are seeking, feel free to scale your commitment accordingly.  I know plenty of actors who do one or two shows a year & are artistically satisfied. 

What you put into the works tends to be reflective of what you get back out of it.

As I sit here trying to conclude this post I realize how utterly impossible it is to fit into a few paragraphs the best advice to break into the business.  That is exactly what makes this industry so wonderful & so challenging.  Everyone gets to experience their own unique journey.  See where it leads you.  And most importantly, enjoy it.

-Mike Theisen Former Talent Agent. & Acting Instructor at ATC

For a more detailed plan on how YOU can break into the business, make sure you check out Mike Theisen's class - beginning February 21 - right here at ATC!

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