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Actors, directors, and producers include stage and screen actors; narrators; magicians; clowns; comedians; impersonators; acrobats; jugglers; equestrians; amusement park entertainers; stunt, rodeo, and aquatic performers; casting, stage, news, sports, and public service directors; production, stage, and artist and repertoire managers; and producers and their assistants. This Handbook statement focuses on actors, directors, and producers.
Actors, directors, and producers express ideas and create images, based on a script, in theaters, film, television, and radio. They "make the words come alive" for their audiences.
Actors entertain and communicate with people through their interpretation of dramatic roles. But, only a few actors achieve recognition as stars on the stage, in motion pictures, or on television. A somewhat larger number are well-known, experienced performers, who frequently are cast in supporting roles. Most actors struggle for a toehold in the profession and pick up parts wherever they can. Many successful actors continue to accept small roles, including commercials and product endorsements. Some actors employed by theater companies teach acting courses to the public.
In addition to the actors with speaking parts, "extras," who have small parts with no lines to deliver, are used throughout the industry.
Directors interpret plays or scripts. In addition, they audition and select cast members, conduct rehearsals, and direct the work of the cast and crew. Directors use their knowledge of acting, voice, and movement to achieve the best possible performance and usually approve the scenery, costumes, choreography, and music.
Producers are entrepreneurs. They select plays or scripts, arrange financing, and decide on the size and content of the production and its budget. They hire directors, principal members of the cast, and key production staff members, and they negotiate contracts with artistic personnel, often in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. Producers also coordinate the activities of writers, directors, managers, and other personnel.
Acting demands patience and total commitment, because there are often long periods of unemployment between jobs. While under contract, actors are frequently required to work long hours and travel. Evening work is a regular part of a stage actor's life. Flawless performances require tedious memorizing of lines and repetitive rehearsals. On television, actors must deliver a good performance with very little preparation. Actors need stamina to withstand the heat of stage or studio lights, heavy costumes, the long, irregular hours, and the adverse weather conditions that may exist "on location." When plays are "on the road," traveling is necessary. Actors often face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when auditioning for work.
Directors and producers often work under stress as they try to meet schedules, stay within budgets, and resolve personnel problems while putting together a production.
In 1994, actors, directors, and producers held an average of about 93,000 jobs in motion pictures, stage plays, television, and radio. Many others were between jobs, so that the total number of people actually employed as actors, directors, and producers over the course of the year was higher. In the winter, most employment opportunities on the stage are in New York and other large cities, many of which have established professional regional theaters. In the summer, stock companies in suburban and resort areas also provide employment. Cruise Lines and amusement parks also provide opportunities. In addition, many cities have small nonprofit professional companies such as "little theaters," repertory companies, and dinner theaters, which provide opportunities for local amateur talent as well as for professional entertainers. Normally, casts are selected in New York City for shows that go on the road.
Employment in motion pictures and films for television is centered in Hollywood and New York City. However, studios are also located in Florida, Seattle, and other parts of the country. In addition, many films are shot on location and employ local professionals and nonprofessionals as day players and extras. In television, opportunities are at the network entertainment centers in New York and Los Angeles and at local television stations around the country.
Aspiring actors and directors should take part in high school and college plays, or work with little theaters and other acting groups for experience.
Formal dramatic training or acting experience is generally necessary, although some people enter the field without it. Most people take college courses in theater, arts, drama, and dramatic literature. Many experienced actors get additional formal training to learn new skills and improve old ones. Training can be obtained at dramatic arts schools in New York and Los Angeles, and at colleges and universities throughout the country offering bachelor's or higher degrees in dramatic and theater arts. College drama curriculums usually include courses in liberal arts, stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, play production, design, and history of the drama, as well as practical courses in acting.
The best way to start is to use local opportunities and to build on them. Local and regional theater experience may help in obtaining work in New York or Los Angeles. Modeling experience may also be helpful. Actors need talent, creative ability, and training that will enable them to portray different characters. Training in singing and dancing is especially useful. Actors must have poise, stage presence, the ability to affect an audience, plus the ability to follow directions. Physical appearance is often a deciding factor in being selected for particular roles.
Many professional actors rely on agents or managers to find work, negotiate contracts, and plan their careers. Agents generally earn a percentage of an actor's contract.
To become a movie extra, one must usually be listed by a casting agency, such as Central Casting, a no-fee agency that supplies all extras to the major movie studios in Hollywood. Applicants are accepted only when the number of persons of a particular type on the list-for example, athletic young women, old men, or small children-is below the foreseeable need. In recent years, only a very small proportion of the applicants have succeeded in being listed.
There are no specific training requirements for directors and producers. However, talent, experience, and business acumen are very important. Directors and producers come from different backgrounds. Actors, writers, film editors, and business managers often enter these fields. Producers often start in the industry working behind the scenes with successful directors. Formal training in directing and producing is available at some colleges and universities.
As actors', directors', and producers' reputations grow, they work on larger productions or in more prestigious theaters. Actors also advance to lead or specialized roles. A few actors move into acting-related jobs as drama coaches or directors of stage, television, radio, or motion picture productions. Some teach drama in colleges and universities.
The length of a performer's working life depends largely on training, skill, versatility, and perseverance. Some actors, directors, and producers continue working throughout their lives; however, many leave the occupation after a short time because they cannot find enough work to make a living.
The large number of people desiring acting careers and the lack of formal entry requirements should continue to cause keen competition for actor, director, and producer jobs. Only the most talented will find regular employment.
Employment of actors, directors, and producers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Rising foreign demand for American productions, combined with a growing domestic market-fueled by the growth of cable television, home movie rentals, and television syndications-should stimulate demand for actors and other production personnel. Growth of opportunities in recorded media should be accompanied by increasing jobs in live productions. Growing numbers of people who enjoy live theatrical entertainment will continue to go to theaters for excitement and aesthetics. Touring productions of Broadway plays and other large shows are providing new opportunities for actors and directors. However, employment may be somewhat affected by government funding for the arts-a decline in funding could dampen future employment growth in this segment of the entertainment industry. Workers leaving the field will continue to create more job openings than will growth.
Minimum salaries, hours of work, and other conditions of employment are covered in collective bargaining agreements between producers of shows and unions representing workers in this field. The Actors' Equity Association represents stage actors; the Screen Actors Guild and the Screen Extras Guild cover actors in motion pictures, including television, commercials, and films; and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents television and radio performers. Most stage directors belong to the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, and film and television directors belong to the Directors Guild of America. Of course, any actor or director may negotiate for a salary higher than the minimum.
According to limited information, the minimum weekly salary for actors in Broadway stage productions was $1,000 in 1995. Those in small "off-Broadway" theaters received minimums ranging from $380 to $650 a week, depending on the seating capacity of the theater. For shows on the road, actors receive about $100 per day more for living expenses.
Actors usually work long hours during rehearsals. Once the show opens, they have more regular hours, working about 30 hours a week.
According to the Screen Actors Guild, motion picture and television actors with speaking parts earned a minimum daily rate of about $500, or $1,750 for a 5-day week, in 1995. Those without speaking parts, "extras," earned a minimum daily rate of about $100. Actors also receive contributions to their health and pension plans and additional compensation for reruns.
Earnings from acting are low because employment is so irregular. The Screen Actors Guild also reports that the average income its members earned from acting was $1,400 a year, and 80 percent of its members earned less than $5,000 a year from acting. Therefore, many actors must supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other fields.
Some well-known actors have salary rates well above the minimums, and the salaries of the few top stars are many times the figures cited, creating a false impression that all actors are highly paid.
Many actors who work more than a set number of weeks per year are covered by a union health, welfare, and pension fund, including hospitalization insurance, to which employers contribute. Under some employment conditions, Actors' Equity and AFTRA members have paid vacations and sick leave.
Earnings of stage directors vary greatly. According to the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, summer theatres offer compensation, including "royalties" (based on the number of performances), usually ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 for a 3- to 4-week run of a production. Directing a production at a dinner theater will usually pay less than a summer theatre but has more potential for royalties. Regional theaters may hire directors for longer periods of time, increasing compensation accordingly. The highest paid directors work on Broadway productions, typically earning $80,000 plus royalties.
Producers seldom get a set fee; instead, they get a percentage of a show's earnings or ticket sales.
People who work in occupations requiring acting skills include dancers, choreographers, disc jockeys, drama teachers or coaches, and radio and television announcers. Others working in occupations related to acting are playwrights, scriptwriters, stage managers, costume designers, makeup artists, hair stylists, lighting designers, and set designers. Workers in occupations involved with the business aspects of theater productions include managing directors, company managers, booking managers, publicists, and actors', directors', and playwrights' agents.
Information about opportunities in regional theaters may be obtained from:
Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 355 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017.
A directory of theatrical programs may be purchased from:
National Association of Schools of Theatre, 11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Suite 21, Reston, VA 22090.
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