One actor we interviewed referred to his life as a modified version of the song “Do the
Hustle,” in which he ran from audition to audition and checked his answering machine messages
every two hours for news of a possible callback. Actors’ satisfaction with their profession
seems to vacillate with whether or not they are currently working. Many working actors
would agree with the one who wrote that he found the occupation “challenging, thrilling,
exciting, and wonderful.” Some nonworking actors may agree with the one who wrote that
acting can be “a dead end to nowhere.” In various ways, most actors described their choice of
career as not a choice at all: “There was nothing else I wanted
to do,” wrote one woman; “I guess I’m just demented.”
The community of similarly “demented” professionals is
the most supportive aspect of this otherwise cutthroat career. Why else would they stay in a
profession in which the average Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) member earns less than
$7,000 from acting annually?
Formal training is not required to become an actor, but the number of “natural talents”
who spring fully groomed into a successful professional career is very small. Most actors
study acting, appear in low-budget and local productions, learn (and benefit) from those
appearances, and then begin the cycle again. Some study acting in college; others find it helpful
to study further and receive a Master of Fine Arts in Acting. Working actors are constantly
going on casting calls, finding agents, and getting reviewed (favorably, if possible); all of
these are arduous and time-consuming tasks, more often resulting in rejection rather than
success. Many actors choose to move to major cities (in particular New York for theater and
Los Angeles for film and television) because more opportunities exist in those places.
Regional theaters can be excellent but provide only limited exposure. Generally, actors who
have been hired for a union production can apply to the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) and/or
Actors’ Equity for membership—two unions that demand higher wages for their performers.
Actors become many things during and after their acting careers—directors, producers,
designers, choreographers, composers, writers, and, in one notable case, president of the
United States. Others use their experience to teach acting and related disciplines; still others
use their acting talents in careers involving personal interaction, such as marketing or sales.
While many careers have a direct line of progression to a pinnacle, acting is an end in itself; many professionals are extremely satisfied to have the chance to work as actors their entire lives.