How to Start Acting: Career Advice From 9 Experts

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Wondering how to get into acting? The entertainment industry can feel unwelcoming and impenetrable, and for someone just starting an acting career, it’s tough to find a toehold. So we asked nine industry professionals, from directors to acting coaches, for their best advice for an aspiring actor hoping to make it in Hollywood or on Broadway. Here’s their take on how to start acting, with tips on everything from improv classes to defining what success means to you.

1. Focus on the craft of acting first

“Battles are always won at the start, so start at the beginning,” advise acting coach Steve Braun and director Risa Bramon Garcia. “Don’t get lost in the end game—the agents, the stardom, the bookings, the awards, etc. Start by taking every opportunity to act for its own sake—in class, in a play, in something you shoot on your own. When you do that consistently, the business reveals itself. We know this to be true and see it happen all the time!”

2. Decide whether acting will be a career or a hobby

“I am a major advocate of first starting with this question: Is acting an investigation, hobby, or a career?” says on-camera and commercial teacher Carolyne Barry. “It is easier to know where to start when you know where you want to go (at least at the beginning of your journey).”

“First, ask yourself: Is this going to be a career or a hobby?” adds acting teacher Amy Lyndon. “If the answer is career, then do your research and find the best teacher out there to start you off right. During your intensive training, start watching a lot of television and figure out where you fit in the business, then get some photos that represent what you are selling and put yourself out there. And practice. Build your credits and demo reel. When you feel ready to book and your package is together, look for representation. Keep practicing and studying during your entire career until you are consistently working each job. When your jobs are compiled on IMDb, then you are on your way to building your business. You can have a small business or a big business—that is up to you how hard you are willing to work. A job is not a career. Set goals and achieve them. Then you are on your way to a successful career.”

“Often actors are mainly focused on questions like, ‘How do I get representation?’ or ‘How do I get work?’ But perhaps the first question to ask oneself, if one is just beginning, is ‘Why do I want to act?’ ” according to NYC-based casting director Ilene Starger. “If it’s about the work and the process, terrific; if it’s about becoming famous, that is a far more elusive goal—and one which will lead to disappointment, most likely. Ask yourself what kind of acting you are most interested in—theater, film, television, stand-up comedy, etc.—and then you can create small goals for yourself.”

3. Take acting classes

“I would suggest starting with an acting class,” Barry says. “Do your research and auditing, then select the technique and teacher you want to train with. Then, commit yourself to that class for at least six months. If you love it, then continue, and when you can, add an improvisation and a commercial class or audition technique to see if you are interested in another area of acting.”

L.A.-based acting coach Joseph Pearlman thinks it’s best to “find an acting class where you can get up and work every week.”

“Research local theater classes, film classes, student productions, community theater productions. Read and study as much as you can,” Starger says. “Try to find like-minded individuals—other actors, writers, etc.—who also want to pursue art and craft. Before you even think about getting work and/or representation, make sure you are prepared, in the way that athletes are prepared. You must have demonstrable skills/qualities which will make people want to hire you. First, make sure you love acting and have some talent for it. Then, just keep studying, honing your craft, and expanding your contact base, and from that, work and enjoyment of the process should follow. Dreams are wonderful, and it is important to have them, but reality has to factor in, too.”

4. Approach you acting goals holistically

L.A.-based acting teacher Paul Barry recommends approaching the journey with an integrative mindset. “Should an actor begin with research? Improv? Given circumstances?” he asks. “Let’s say your doctor suggests that the only way to improve your health is through heart-strengthening cardio. Without healthy blood pumping to your heart though, or strong lungs to oxygenate the blood, or supple limbs to seek out and consume the food required for energy, you wouldn’t see the results you are after. Does an actor first focus on objectives? Personalization? Imagination? Stakes? Range? Listening? How can one separate them? Just start wherever you can, but remember it’s about growing an organic system that works together to keep the whole functioning. Just like the human body, which functions so incredibly well.”

5. Move to a city with opportunities for actors

Carolyne Barry proposes that aspiring actors go where the action is. “If you are asking where to move to and train, I think you should strongly consider (especially if you’re thinking of this as a career) moving to a major city like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago to study professionally,” she notes.

6. Commit yourself to the process

“Most important is that when you’re making the decision to pursue acting, you consciously jump in!” says L.A.-based acting coach Anthony Meindl. “You can’t just dip your toes in the pool—you have to go all-in, no backups. If you really want to give yourself a shot at working/success, this is imperative. Once you make the decision, you should research the industry as much as you can. Any acting, agent/manager, or class questions you have can be answered immediately; we live in a magical world where there’s a box you can type questions into and it instantly gives you direct answers: Google! After that, you can go audit and check out as many acting studios as you like and find the one that best suits your creative sensibilities. There you’ll meet other actors, maybe do projects together, and get the essential first-hand experience of acting. It’s a team sport! And always remember what it feels like to take a risk—to go all-in—because it’s special and it will sustain you on your journey.”

7. Embrace your unique path

“Start developing what I call ‘target market characters,’ ” instructs director-author John Swanbeck. “Think of all the films and television shows currently being produced as a large pie. Ask yourself which is the largest slice of the pie you easily fit into. Start developing a repertoire of target market characters that fit into that slice of the pie. I think one of the biggest mistakes actors who are starting out make is presenting themselves as an actor who can do everything and anything. The problem is that the people hiring actors won’t have the time to figure out what to do with you, and if they have the time they won’t take it. You need to tell them how to see you, how to think about you, and where to cast you. As your career builds, you’ll have more options to do whatever projects and roles you want, but in the beginning, you’ll get farther by branding, if you will, your talent.”

“Reject the herd mentality and stop listening to what other actors are telling you to do,” Pearlman says. “Reject the absurdly stale notions of ‘type’ and ‘niche,’ as they only serve to box you in and stifle your originality. There is no one-size-fits-all path to an important acting career—you must forge your own career path and create your own acting opportunities. Embrace your personality; it’s your secret weapon and greatest asset as an actor.”

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