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Nature of the Work
* Aspiring actors face frequent rejections when auditioning for work and long periods of unemployment between jobs; competition for roles is extremely keen because the glamour associated with this profession attracts large numbers of individuals.
* While formal training is helpful, experience and talent are more critical for success.
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. However, only a few actors ever achieve recognition as starswhether on 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. Although actors often prefer a certain type of role, experience is so critical to success in this field that even established actors continue to accept small roles, including commercials and product endorsements. Other actors work as "extras," who have small parts with no lines to deliver; still others work for theater companies, teaching acting courses to the public.
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 negotiate contracts with artistic personnel, often in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. Producers also coordinate the activities of writers, directors, managers, and other personnel. Producers must have a working knowledge of new technologies as they relate to creating special effects.
Acting demands patience and total commitment, because there are often rejections when auditioning for work and long periods of unemployment between jobs. Actors typically work long, irregular hours, sometimes under adverse weather conditions that may exist "on location," and must travel when shows are "on the road." Coupled with the heat of stage or studio lights and heavy costumes, these factors require stamina. Evening work is a regular part of a stage actor's life as several performances are often held on one day. Flawless performances require tedious memorizing of lines and repetitive rehearsals. On television, actors must deliver a good performance with very little preparation.
Actors working on Broadway productions often work long hours during rehearsals. However, once the show opens, they have more regular hours, working about 30 hours a week.
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. Directors must be aware of union rules and how they effect production schedules. For example, actors must be paid a minimum salary and can work no more than a set number of hours, depending on their contract.
In 1996, actors, directors, and producers held an average of about 105,000 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 year was higher. In winter, most employment opportunities on stage are in New York and other large cities, many of which have established professional regional theaters. In 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 may employ local professionals and nonprofessionals as day players and extras if the union contract allows. In television, opportunities are at the network entertainment centers in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, and at local television stations around the country.
For experience, aspiring actors and directors should take part in high school and college plays, or work with little theaters and other acting groups. Most actors and directors try to work their way up to major productions, although few succeed, due to the intense competition.
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 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 for stage work. Actors must have poise, stage presence, the capability 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. Other actors rely solely on attending open auditions for parts. Trade publications list the time, date, and location of these auditionsreferred to as "cattle calls" in this industry.
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 listfor example, athletic young women, old men, or small childrenis 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. Additionally, formal training in directing and producing is available at some colleges and universities.
As actors', directors', and producers' reputations grow, they are able to work on larger productions or in more prestigious theaters. Actors may 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. Many actors find that they must take a second job to support themselves.
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 glamour of actor, director, and producer jobs attracts a large number of people; this supply of potential workers, coupled with the lack of formal entry requirements, will continue to produce keen competition for these 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 2006. Rising foreign demand for American productions, combined with a growing domestic marketfueled by the growth of cable television, satellite television, home movie rentals, and television syndicationsshould 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 for excitement and aesthetics will attend stage productions. 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 artsa decline in funding could dampen future employment growth. Workers leaving the field will continue to create most job openings.
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 Actors Equity Association, minimum weekly salary for actors in Broadway stage productions was $1,040 per week in 1997. Those in small "off-Broadway" theaters received minimums ranging from $400 to $625 a week, depending on the seating capacity of the theater. Smaller regional theaters pay $375-$600 per week. For shows on the road, actors receive about $100 per day more for living expenses. However, less than 15 percent of dues-paying members work during any given week. In 1996, less than half worked on a stage production. Average earnings for those able to find employment were $13,700 in 1996.
According to the Screen Actors Guild, motion picture and television actors with speaking parts earned a minimum daily rate of $559, or $1,942 for a 5-day week, in 1997. Actors also receive contributions to their health and pension plans and additional compensation for reruns and foreign telecasts.
Earnings from acting are low, because employment is so erratic. The Screen Actors Guild also reports that the average income its members earn from acting is less than $5,000 a year. Therefore, most 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 the 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 theaters offer compensation, including "royalties" (based on the number of performances), usually ranging from $2,500 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 theater 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 agents for actors, directors, and playwrights.
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 Theater, 11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Suite 21, Reston, VA 22090.
For general information on actors, directors, and producers, contact:
Screen Actors Guild, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90036-3600.
Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, 304 Hudson Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013.
American Federation of Television and Radio ArtistsScreen Actors Guild, 4340 East-West Hwy., Suite 204, Bethesda, MD 20814-4411.
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