How to Become a Teenage Actor

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Photo Source: Courtesy Netflix

Are you ready for your close-up? It takes a lot of work to make it to the big screen or center stage, but with enough determination and talent, your dreams can come true. Learn how to become a teenager actor with these tips.

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How to start acting as a teenager

Acting class for teensMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Simply thinking you want to be an actor and actually performing as a job are two different things, so getting some acting experience to test the waters is a good place to start. 

Here are some ways to start acting as a teenager: 

  • Take acting lessons: Teen acting workshops teach you about storytelling, script analysis, and different acting techniques. You’ll also boost your public speaking skills while gaining clips for your demo reel. On average, acting classes cost between $150 and $2,000. 
  • Attend acting camps: Attending acting or theater camps is a great way for teenagers to introduce themselves to different aspects of performing in a low-stakes environment. There are numerous options around the country—the New York Film Academy offers camps for high schoolers in seven different locations, while the iconic Groundlings school has an improv camp for teens. 
  • Watch live theater: Attend theater productions to study how actors carry themselves onstage, and make note of performances you particularly enjoy. How, specifically, did the actors pull you in? Watching professionals is a great starting point if you hope to study stage acting.
  • Expand your film horizons: Immerse yourself in as many award-winning screen performances as possible to witness the best in the industry. Explore independent films as well to get a taste for movies outside of the mainstream. As with live theater, watching films is a fantastic way to start grasping the basics of acting for the camera.
  • Research the entertainment industry: Learn as much as you can about what it’s really like to make a living as a working actor. Read and watch interviews from different perspectives, including those of directors, writers, and producers, to get a holistic view of the industry. (Keep in mind that actor interviews don’t always showcase the trials and tribulations performers experience before becoming stars.) Seek out top-rated acting books that shine a light on process, technique, and tips. 

Auditioning for local community theater groups, school productions, teen workshops, and summer camps will help you experience what it’s like to portray a character and work with a cast. Different roles may require you to change the way you look, speak, and move. You’ll also spend many long hours on production elements that will vary depending on the medium, like rehearsals, camera setup, and scene changes.

You’ll also learn important skills such as memorizing lines, blocking, and performing in front of others.

Acting is no different from any other profession in that training and experience go a long way. In order to move on to the next step, you’ll need to prove that you have the skill and drive to pursue a real career.

What you'll need to build an acting career as a teen

Teen actors on stageA_Lesik/Shutterstock

As you’re building your craft and gaining experience, you should simultaneously work on your acting résumé and other assets. Before you can land an agent and move forward in your career, you’ll need the following tools to get noticed. 

Acting Résumé

An acting résumé is slightly different from a traditional career résumé. While both showcase work experience and training, acting résumés also highlight your special skills and characteristics. Good résumés communicate not only what you’ve done but what you can do for the role in question. This one-page document should make it clear why you are the right fit. It’s likely that you won’t have all of the following when you’re first starting out, but try to include as many of these elements as possible:  

  • Contact information, including your email address and phone number. Do not include your address.
  • Physical traits, including height, weight, hair and eye color, and clothing size
  • Objective, a short summary of your interest and qualifications for the role
  • Previous roles listed in reverse chronological order 
  • Education and training, including workshops, acting classes, etc.
  • Special skills, including any accents or languages you speak, sports or musical instruments you play, and other hidden talents
  • Awards or accolades, if applicable
  • Professional referrals from acting teachers, coaches, or past directors
  • Headshot 

Headshot

A headshot is a professional photo that focuses on you and you alone. Typically shot from the shoulders up, headshots illustrate your unique appearance and help casting directors and agents see whether you have the right “look” for a part. Hiring a professional photographer with headshot experience can cost between $400 and $1,500; though that may seem like a lot of money, it will be worth it in the long run.

Your headshot is your calling card and should be as natural as possible, showcasing your unique look without excessive makeup, touch-ups, or other distractions such as busy backgrounds or clothing patterns. During your photo session, try using different expressions so you have a range to choose from. 

Demo reel

A demo reel (also known as a show reel) is a compilation of scenes from your best performances. Demo reels are short—typically just two minutes long—but they give casting directors and agents a taste of what you can do. Even if you don’t have much (or any) video footage of your past acting work, you can still create a demo that showcases your abilities. 

  1. Start by finding 30-second monologues from TV shows, movies, or plays. Ideally, you should select different styles or genres (e.g., drama, comedy) to display your range. 
  2. Rehearse and memorize the material. 
  3. Set up a camera or smartphone to record yourself performing the monologues. Get several takes of each so you can choose the best one. 
  4. Edit your favorite clips together using video software such as iMovie. 
  5. Upload the reel to your acting profile or website.

How to get acting jobs as a teenager

Cheryl Hines and Keyla Monterroso Mejia in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'Cheryl Hines and Keyla Monterroso Mejia in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Credit: John P. Johnson/ HBO

Auditioning is the key to getting in front of casting agents for major TV shows, theater productions, and movies. During an audition, you’ll perform a scene from the project either alone or with another actor, illustrating your take on the role. Because casting agents see many actors every day, you’ll need to wow them as quickly as possible. 

Here’s how to prepare: 

  • Practice your scene.
  • Get to know your character. 
  • Think about the project as a whole. 
  • Dress in clothes that allude to the character, if possible (e.g., if you’re auditioning for the part of a lawyer, wear a blazer).
  • Prepare different takes on the character just in case the casting team wants to see another choice.
  • Bring extra copies of your headshot and résumé. 
  • Arrive on time or, better, early.

Your agent can help you find auditions that match your look and skill set, but if you’re still looking for representation, open casting calls posted on reputable sites are also an option. Filter the results based on various factors—age, gender, location, etc.—to find the jobs that are right for you.

How to get an acting agent as a teenager

Teen interviewPormezz/Shutterstock.com

Once you’ve gained some acting experience, have your materials ready, and feel confident this is the career path for you, the next step will be finding an acting agent (also known as a talent agent). An agent is your representation in the industry. They are responsible for booking auditions, negotiating deals, advising you on projects, and helping you move up the chain in terms of project size and prestige. 

It’s important for a teen actor to have an agent. Without one, it is more challenging to find auditions and move ahead in your career. Agents possess a deep understanding of how the business works and can help you navigate any legal issues. They’re your biggest cheerleader and will want to see you succeed—especially since they only get paid if you do. 

Talent agents work on commission, taking an industry average of 10–20% of your earnings from every booked gig. Reputable acting agents will never ask you for money upfront. There are some in the industry who prey on the hopes and dreams of aspiring actors, promising fame and fortune for a fee; but real agents will recognize your talent and work on your behalf, only taking payment once you’ve landed a role. 

Here’s how to find reputable agents: 

  1. Define your acting goals: Do you want to be in TV, movies, or onstage? Agents specialize in different areas. 
  2. Do your research: Google talent agencies in your area to find those who fit your career goals. Legitimate agencies will have credits to their name, showcasing the talent they’ve worked with. You should also be able to cross-reference these credits on industry sites such as IMDbPro or SAG-AFTRA. Make sure anyone you’re interested in represents child actors. (Note: If you live outside of California or New York, your options may be fewer, but you should still be selective.) 
  3. Network: Getting involved with local acting communities can help you connect with others on a similar path. Talk to those who’ve pursued representation, and learn about their experiences with local agencies. 
  4. Narrow down names: After finding potential agencies, start researching the specific agents who work there to see who would be the best fit. Look at whom they’ve represented in the past to see if they align with your goals. 

Once you have a wish list, it’s time to start submitting for representation. Some agencies may only have certain time frames when they consider new clients; others may accept applicants year-round. Check each agency’s submission guidelines and follow them closely—you don’t want to be rejected just because you didn’t read the directions! 

Interested agents will reach out for a meeting or audition; if you don’t hear back, that’s a pass. When you are called in for meetings, take note of how you feel around this person. Your eventual agent needs to be a partner—someone who believes in you and can help you achieve your dreams. You should feel comfortable around this person. Don’t just sign with the first person who calls you back.

How do teenage actors go to school?

Yara Shahidi in 'Grown-ish'Yara Shahidi in “Grown-ish” Courtesy Freeform/Christopher Willard

Many teen actors are taught by on-set teachers or tutors who move through age-appropriate lessons, either from the student’s original school or from a separate curriculum. Teachers are hired by the production company. The actor’s day gets divided between their time on set and school, meals, and breaks. You’ll generally spend much less time in an on-set education setting than a traditional one, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier. Actors have to balance their schoolwork and acting responsibilities, which include learning lines, rehearsal, and of course, performing. 

Internet schooling and home-schooling are also options for teenage actors.

One of the biggest reasons teen actors have limited time on set is that they need to continue their education. Traditional public school hours often aren’t conducive to production schedules, so teenage actors have to learn in other ways.

Can you be too old or too young to start acting as a teen?

Iman Vellani in 'Ms. Marvel'Iman Vellani in “Ms. Marvel” Courtesy Disney+

While there are no age limits to starting an acting career, acting as a teen does present some legal considerations. Anyone under the age of 18 has to follow state-mandated child entertainment laws, which may include: 

  • Work permits: Twenty-six states require work permits for child actors. Requirements in each location vary, such as restricting the presence of alcohol or performing in certain locations such as dance halls, cabarets, or nightclubs. 
  • Restricted work hours: During the school year, some states only allow teen actors to work a maximum of 18 hours a week, with more allotted availability over holidays and summer breaks. 
  • Adult chaperones: Teen actors must have an adult present for all auditions, rehearsals, and performances. This adult can be a parent, family member, family friend, or legal guardian. Chaperones do not get paid for their time on set, which can present financial issues. 

Because of these barriers, many of the “teens” you see on screen aren’t teenagers at all, but young adults who appear much younger than their actual age. For example, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, stars of the Netflix movie “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” were both in their early 20s during filming, as are many of the “high school” cast members of “Riverdale.”

How much do teen actors get paid?

'Hannah Montana' casts_bukley/Shutterstock

ZipRecruiter reports that actors make an average of $16 per hour and $32,367 per year. For more specific numbers, start with SAG-AFTRA’s union rates: 

For theater, talent agent Nancy Carson notes that scale payment for Broadway shows is typically in excess of $2,200 per week, but “Off-Broadway and regional theaters pay less.” As of 2021, the Equity rate for Off-Broadway is between $662 and $861 per week. 

Pay can vary widely, based on everything from the kind of production to the success of the star. And similar to any other profession, those who are just starting out can likely expect lower salaries with potential to increase earnings as they gain experience, recognition, and prestige.

Highest-paid teen actors

According to Career Trend, Miley Cyrus made $15,000 per episode for “Hannah Montana,” while, according to Insider, Frankie Muniz earned up to $120,000 per episode for “Malcolm in the Middle.” But these salaries are the exception, not the norm.

Famous teen actors

Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Iain Armitage, and Walker ScobellFreeform/Christopher Willard/Robert Voets/Warner Bros/Sony Pictures/Doane Gregory

Famous teen actors include: 

  • Jacob Tremblay (“Luca”)
  • Marsai Martin (“Black-ish”)
  • Mckenna Grace (“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”)
  • Noah Jupe (“A Quiet Place”)
  • Lulu Wilson (“Annabelle: Creation”) 
  • Walker Scobell (“The Adam Project”) 
  • Iain Armitage (“Young Sheldon”) 
  • Alexa Swinton (“Old”)

The life of a teenage actor isn’t all glitz and glamor: For every success story, there’s a cautionary tale. Household names such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence all started acting when they were young; but so did Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and Macaulay Culkin, who have struggled publicly with their mental health. 

As a teen actor, it’s important to surround yourself with people you can trust. Balancing a career while you’re still in school and growing up can be a lot to handle. Successful teen actors have a solid community looking out for their best interests so they can continue doing what they love without falling victim to the dark side of fame. Remember that acting is a job that takes a lot of hard work, but it’s possible to achieve your dreams.

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