How to Become an Actor in Australia

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Pursuing an acting career is difficult to navigate anywhere, no matter if you’re hoping to star in TV, film, or on a stage—but pursuing acting in Australia may prove to be particularly challenging. Given the geographic landscape and location of Australia, opportunities are often isolated and competition thick. So, other than the obvious of landing a role on “Home and Away” and migrating to Palm Beach, how should you go about pursuing your dream of acting? We’re here to help you out in answering some of the tricky questions you may have when getting started.

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What should I prepare for ahead of beginning my acting career?

You’ve decided you want to go for it and you’re ready to do what it takes to make your dreams a reality. But what exactly does it take? The truth is that successfully pursuing a career in acting requires a mixture of networking, perseverance, diligence, and sheer luck. Here are some skills and resources you should be prepared to hone and tap into when getting after a career as a performer. 

Doing your homework
Good things don’t come easy. Do your research to educate yourself on the ins and outs of the industry. The more you know about the current happenings and the more you’re up to date with who’s who, the better off you are networking. This can include knowing which projects casting directors have worked on (it’ll give you an idea of their tone and aesthetic should you ever find yourself in their audition room); the projects currently in production in your region (if you can’t get in an audition, maybe you can at least get on set as a background actor!); industry trends and where you might fit in within them; and an idea of the popular shows and films folks in your chosen field of work are talking about.

Backstage is a one-stop shop when it comes to staying on top of all of this information. Through interviews with notable industry figures, guides to navigating acting in Australia and updates on current or upcoming projects in your area, you can easily stay informed. Screen Australia is another good resource to find industry trends and updates. Another simple yet effective way to stay in the know is to follow production companies or notable industry figures on social media so that you naturally develop a familiarity with their aesthetic and history. 

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Making your own work
It’s no secret that the world of acting is highly competitive. There is a wide range and large pool of talent competing for a comparatively small number of available roles. In order to get ahead, it’s a good idea to consider creating your own work. Whether you’re working with an aspiring playwright to star in a small production or creating your own short film, make sure you are creating opportunities for yourself. 

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Seeking out support
As you’re creating your own work, you may also need to seek out your own support. Get your friends and family to be your “street team” by promoting your jobs on social media channels and grow your audience by having friends send out invites to productions. 

It’s also wise to remember that your current competitors will also likely turn into future collaborators. You have a heightened chance of succeeding if you bring an attitude of support towards others in the job pool.

Apart from being potential collaborators, a tight-knit group of people who understands what it means to run lines, have a job that allows you to attend auditions, and share your obsession with all things film, television, or theatre (or all of the above!) will do wonders for your mental health during the inevitable low points of pursuing a career as an actor.

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Working on that stiff upper lip
The only guarantee in acting is that you will experience rejection. Even the most successful actors have been confronted with no’s. Being able to deal with rejection in a healthy, constructive way sets you up to be able to go after more roles, thereby increasing your chances of landing a job!

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Creating a budget
A large part of being committed to making your dream of being an actor a reality is taking on the financial commitment required to do so. Hiring a photographer to take your headshots, paying for the materials and help to create a showreel, hiring an agent, paying for a subscription to crucial resources such as Backstage that closely position you to casting directors, and getting yourself to and from auditions; Needless to say, the costs quickly add up. 

It’s no secret that most actors require a secondary job to support this budget in addition to their daily living costs. Bearing in mind that most flexible jobs aren’t well-paid, it is crucial to create a budget for yourself to realistically take steps towards pursuing your career. As you get roles, you can revisit your budget and adjust accordingly. 

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How do I begin my acting career?

Getting started as an actor means getting comfortable with auditioning and making industry connections.

Form a network

  • Get together with other aspiring actors, playwrights, filmmakers, and writers. This creates a mutually beneficial platform on which to showcase your individual talents and create a system of support around yourself in the early stages of your career. 
  • Seek out casual meetups. There are several groups that exist to serve this purpose that you can browse here. This also provides you with a community that understands the unique career path you’ve chosen.
  • In addition to casual meetups, there are also several regional and local amateur drama production companies that you can seek out to make connections and find work to get you started. If you’re in Tasmania, be sure to check out the Launceston Players; in Adelaide, the Adelaide Repertory Theatre; in Brisbane the Brisbane Arts Theatre; and in Sydney, various options such as the New Theatre in Newtown or the Arts Theatre Cronulla in south Sydney. There are local community resources all over Australia. Do your research to make sure you’re utilizing the right resources for you. 

Attend workshops

  • Workshops provide a means of improving or developing a skill to increase your audition package while simultaneously forming connections and gaining experience networking in an atmosphere that’s less competitive than an audition. 
  • Australian Music Theatre Festival, which began this year, provides an incredible platform to network with experienced actors and casting directors as well as to attend workshops in an intensive setting. 

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Get yourself in the room

  • Perhaps the best thing you can do to progress your acting career is to simply get yourself in the room, expose yourself to new material (and rejection), and get comfortable with the auditioning format in various settings.
  • If you’re invited to attend an audition by a casting director, it’s always a good sign that he or she thinks you would be a good fit for the role. Even if you don’t land the job in the end, every audition—with the right mindset—is helping you become more confident in your audition package and make fans in the business!
  • If you aren’t getting personally invited to audition, don’t stress! Look to places like Backstage to stay on top of open casting calls in your area. 

Do I want to pursue theatre, musical theatre, film, or television acting?

In Australia in particular, it’s best to remain open-minded and keep your skill set versatile to maximise your potential for getting a role.

For those hoping to have a general idea of which medium might best suit them, ask yourself the questions below for some clarity on where you might want to consider steering your career in the future: Is having a live audience important to me? Am I confident in my on-camera technique? Would I rather repeat a scene until it’s perfect or be in the moment on a stage? Does my passion for storytelling best come across through music or solely drama?

While you may already know that you want to eventually do film and television acting, limiting yourself early on in your career may be a mistake. A more beneficial approach might be to prepare for a wide array of opportunities, and in turn, various audition formats:

Taped auditions are often done for the benefit of an absent director, so it’s important to bear in mind that nuances will be captured. Be mindful of your actions and reactions, tone down the volume of your voice and be sure to know your lines—in general you want to be confident but not overperform. Check out the Backstage guide to your perfect self-tape

Theatre auditions are more conducive to having your script in hand, as you’re often directly in front of your reader and casting director. Having your script in-hand, however, does not mean you need to prepare less. Casting directors will pick up on whether you’re familiar and confident with the material you’re working from. 

Musical theatre auditions differ significantly to taped auditions. They will require you to project and exaggerate rather than tone down. Be prepared to provide a copy of your sheet music to the accompanist and to learn and repeat a piece of choreography in a short period of time. 

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How do I find roles to audition for?

Find auditions that are right for you.

Perhaps the best way to find roles to audition for is through an agent who has connections with working casting directors and associates, plus studio and TV contacts. Having an agent acts as a catalyst to landing auditions. If you haven’t yet found an agent or have decided to forego an agent and operate as a freelance actor, see the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance to get more information on freelance. 

For casting, look no further than Backstage. A proven invaluable resource already to aspiring actors in the United States and in the United Kingdom, it is now operating and available as a resource to those in Australia as well. 

What promotional materials do I need?

Beginner actors need headshots, a CV, and a showreel.

Headshots 
Your headshot is the first thing the casting director sees of you and the thing they have to associate with you following the audition, making headshots one of the most crucial elements in landing a job. Your headshot accompanies you to all of your auditions and gets sent via post to potential agents that can exponentially increase your exposure. Because of this, you want to make sure your headshots are high quality representations of you. Make sure the headshot you’re using is a recent, authentic, and high-quality photo of yourself. While black and white photos are appealing, try not to exclusively rely on colour-less photos. If you use a photo that no longer represents what you look like in real life, or if you over-edit your photo, you’re standing in your own way. For Backstage’s advice to a fail-proof headshot, click here

CV 
As with any professional CV, your acting CV ought to be clear and concise. Whereas your style comes through in your headshot and your personality through your reel, your CV is intended to establish your previous acting experience, any training you’ve undergone, special or unique skills, and a means of contact. 

If you’re just starting out and don’t have a full experience section, don’t shy away from including involvement with amateur dramatics or school plays. Just make sure that as you grow and acquire roles and experience, you continually update this section to reflect the work you’re most proud of. 

While your age isn’t important to include on your CV, relevant characteristics and skills that determine your suitability for roles, such as your age range (“playing age”), ought to be incorporated into your CV. Your height, eye colour, hair colour, proficient accents, and (if applicable) vocal range should all be included.

Although this seems like a lot of information to include, it is still important to keep it to a single A4 page that you staple to your headshot to give to the casting director. Clearly and concisely present who you are and what you bring to the table. 

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Showreel
Another crucial component of your promotional package is your showreel. Similar to the CV, this ought to reflect your most current work and the work you’re most proud of. You have three minutes to present—off paper—who you are as an actor. The important thing to remember is to communicate your ability as an actor. 

For more information on reels, check out our in-depth guide: How to Create Your Demo Reel

What are some other good resources to bear in mind?

Backstage is a premium casting agency, now available to Australian actors and performers, that also produces editorial content to inspire and inform performing artists with advice, guides, news, interviews and resources. You can also browse the Opportunities section to search for jobs by location.

Showcast offers aspiring actors with a notice board for casting opportunities as well. If you are a screen actor, the Inside Film Magazine (IF Magazine) publishes the latest industry updates for screen content professionals. As mentioned earlier, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance is a great resource to utilise if you are a freelance actor.

What are some key terms I should know?

Slate: A slate is a crucial component of a self-tape audition. When filming a self-tape, you’ll include a slate, or ident, to introduce yourself to the casting director and provide relevant and required information. It is a short intro that typically consists of you stating your name, your agent’s name (if applicable), height, and any other information the director may have requested.

Profiles: In addition to your headshot, sometimes you’ll be prompted to provide profiles as well. These are simply two photographs that capture the sides of your face. Sometimes you’ll include profiles as a part of your slate as well, simply moving to show the profile views of your face.

On Hold: Most of the time, this is good news! While you don’t yet have a confirmed job, if you’re put on hold, this means that they’ve already asked if you’re available for the shoot dates and have begun booking out your dates. You’re paid a holding fee while they decide whether or not they want to cast you, in exchange for your compliance in not taking any other conflicting roles in the meantime.

Equity: Equity is a trade union to protect all forms of performers by regulating pay and working conditions. Often you will find whether or not you have an equity card determines your eligibility to attend certain auditions. You can find more information about Australia’s Equity Foundation here.

Where should I consider training and why?

While not required to act, formal training enhances your chances of landing a role.

Some of the most celebrated programs in Australia are typically three-year undergraduate programs, which provide you with practice and guided professional direction. You may have heard of “The Big Three.” And rightfully so. Each of these schools, offering both full-time undergraduate degrees and vocational education and training, has a reputation that commands respect for a reason: 

  • National Institute of Dramatic Art: As the national school for acting, NIDA has arguably the best reputation for training most of Australia’s leading film, television and screen actors. Notable alumni include Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, and Toni Collette. 
  • Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts: Considered the superior of the drama schools by many industry experts, WAAPA offers an isolated training environment in the suburbs of Perth. Notable alumni include Hugh Jackman, Jai Courtney and Frances O’Connor. 
  • Victorian College of the Arts: VCA’s core acting class, despite recent changes in response to the University of Melbourne, has a longstanding presence in training actors in Australia. Notable alumni include Alison Bell and Vince Colosimo.

Actors Centre Australia (ACA), while not one of the “Big Three,” has a respected presence in the industry. It’s practical and industry focused three-year course has produced notable alumni such as Rose Byrne and Jonathan LaPaglia.

However, you also have the option of taking a more casual path to your training by researching the best options in your area for short-term or drop-in classes that will still inform your acting and grow you as an actor. Perform Australia is a good starting point if you’re interested in this route. 

Where should I consider living and why?

When deciding where to live as an actor, consider your current location and long-term goals.

Choosing where to live in Australia whilst pursuing a career in acting is typically straightforward. As with most career decisions, you first need to consider your objectives. If you’re working towards screen acting, then Sydney or Melbourne are probably your best bet. 

If you are wanting to focus on your training and gaining experience, you are better off attending one of the famed drama institutes: NIDA or WAAPA in Sydney and Perth, respectively. These three-year courses provide a supportive environment that develops your skills while also providing you with job opportunities to boost your CV. Moreover, if you already have connections through your instructors and professors and reside in Sydney or Perth, you’re already better positioned once you leave uni.

If you’re living in regional Australia or Tasmania, you are better off immersing yourself in your regional amateur drama theatres and attending workshops and festivals on the mainland that allow you to establish connections and seek out potential agents that can help you transition to living in the bigger cities and landing bigger roles.

Do I need an agent?

The short answer is—YES.

Being represented by agent has several advantages that put you in a better position to gain employment. Not only do they have good relationships with casting directors (that you most likely do not have), they also negotiate terms of contracts to ensure you’re getting what you deserve.

The relationship you have with your agent is often reflected in how many auditions you’re getting or jobs you’re landing.  You need to be putting in an amount of work equal to what you expect from them. They may get you in the room, but you need to get yourself the job. In order to maximise the potential from having an agent, you want to make sure that you’re responding to their queries and taking advantage of the opportunities they bring to you—even if it’s not something you want at first. 

While there are certainly cases of people being “discovered” by agents and continuing to great success, by and large this is not how agents are acquired. Bearing in mind that agents have beneficial connections to casting directors, you ought to not only prioritize finding an agent, but also be proactive about it. Invite them to a show you’re currently starring in, send them an email asking them to tune into the episode you have a role in, or ask their assistants to schedule a meeting of interest. Just be sure to not let your proactive behaviour turn into pestering the agent.

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How and when should I create my own work?

If you’re not seeing the roles you want to play, write them!

Especially when you’re in the early stages of pursuing a career in acting, you should be doing all within your capabilities to create your own opportunities. In the absence of an agent especially, it’s always a good idea to make connections, create collaborative projects, and familiarise yourself with the creative process that goes into creating TV shows, films, and theatre productions.

If you would rather try your hand at playwriting than seek out an external aspiring playwright or screenwriter, there are one-day creative writing courses on offer at The Writers’ Studio in Sydney.

Also be sure to check out the annual Sydney Writers’ Festival, which offers a large-scale networking opportunity cast against the background of workshops you can utilise to develop your own skills and develop your career and understanding of the entire acting industry—from conception to production. This positions you as a highly valuable and knowledgeable job candidate. 

You just need to always bear in mind that your priority is to have work in acting. Creating your own work in this way is an excellent means of furthering your experience and CV, but it should only be pursued if it doesn’t conflict with any other promising opportunities.  

If I’m an actor from Australia looking to head to the US, what do I need to know?

To immigrate to the US from Australia, you’ll need a visa, the right timing, and experience.

Many promising actors, upon gaining experience and traction in Australia, opt to head overseas to the bustle of Hollywood or New York City. If you have an agent and are thinking about taking the next step and heading to the US, here are some things to bear in mind:

Visa
First and foremost, you’re going to need to obtain the right to live and work in the United States before hopping on a flight to go live and work in the United States. This may seem obvious, but getting a visa can quickly become complex. So what visa should you apply for, exactly? 

  • If you’re planning your first trip abroad and intend to take meetings and form connections without any confirmed employment, your best bet is to go over for 90 days or less and abide by the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). 
  • If you want to stay longer than 90 days and obtain lawful employment through a theatre company or production company, you will need to apply for the B1/B2 visa. These allow for employment ranging from one to five years.
  • If you do get offered a paid job while abroad on the VWP, the production company will likely sponsor you through an O-1 visa. To ensure this processes on time and proceeds as smoothly as possible, it’s a good idea to bring your supporting materials with you. Supporting materials for typical visas include (but are not limited to) birth certificate, passport, letters of endorsement, relevant qualifications, bank statements, etc. 

Timing
You think you’ve formulated a general plan, but aren’t sure when exactly to execute it? If you plan on going to LA in pursuit of screen acting AND you have solid representation, it is recommended to go during what is referred to as pilot season. Between January and April, the bulk of American shows are cast by production companies seeking out commission for full seasons. 

If you do not yet have an agent or connections and you simply are going for an initial visit, it is advised to (1) not go during pilot season and (2) be sure to avoid the holidays and festival seasons as most directors will be unavailable during these times. 

For more information on acting in LA, see our guide here

Training
If you decide to make the move only to be met with resistance and you’re unsure of where to go from there, there are several resources available to you, created by Australian actors who have gone before you. Jessica Orcsik for example, of the Australian Film and Television Academy, runs a great course designed to help Australian actors achieve success and land jobs once they’ve arrived in LA.

So there you have it! Your beginner’s guide to pursuing an acting career in Australia.

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