Summary

actors image
Actors interpret a writer's script to entertain or inform an audience.
Quick Facts: Actors
2015 Median Pay $18.80 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Some college, no degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 69,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 10% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 6,600

What Actors Do

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Work Environment

Actors work in various settings, including production studios, theaters, theme parks, or on location. Work assignments are usually short, ranging from 1 day to a few months.

How to Become an Actor

Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education, and long-term training is common.

Pay

The median hourly wage for actors was $18.80 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of actors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth in the motion picture industry will stem from continued strong demand for new movies and television shows.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for actors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of actors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about actors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Actors Do About this section

Actors
Actors must memorize and rehearse their lines.

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Duties

Actors typically do the following:

  • Read scripts and meet with agents and other professionals before accepting a role
  • Audition in front of directors, producers, and casting directors
  • Research their character’s personal traits and circumstances to portray the characters more authentically to an audience
  • Memorize their lines
  • Rehearse their lines and performance, including on stage or in front of the camera, with other actors
  • Discuss their role with the director, producer, and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show
  • Perform the role, following the director’s directions

Most actors struggle to find steady work, and few achieve recognition as stars. Some work as “extras”—actors who have no lines to deliver but are included in scenes to give a more realistic setting. Some actors do voiceover or narration work for animated features, audiobooks, or other electronic media.

In some stage or film productions, actors sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. For some roles, an actor must learn a new skill, such as horseback riding or stage fighting.

Most actors have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold other jobs in order to make a living. Some actors teach acting classes as a second job.

Work Environment About this section

Actors
Some actors wear elaborate makeup and costumes.

Actors held about 69,400 jobs in 2014. They work in various settings, including production studios, theaters, theme parks, or on location. About 1 out of 5 actors were self-employed in 2014.

Work assignments are usually short, ranging from 1 day to a few months, and actors often hold another job in order to make a living. They are frequently under the stress of having to find their next job. Some actors in touring companies may have employment for several years.

Actors may perform in unpleasant conditions, such as in outdoors in bad weather or while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup.

Work Schedules

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. About 1 out of 3 actors worked part time in 2014. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules. Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Film and television actors may also travel to work on location.

How to Become an Actor About this section

Actors
Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job.

Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education, and long-term training is common.

Education

Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education. Many who specialize in theater have bachelor’s degrees, but a degree is not required.

Although some people succeed in acting without getting a formal education, most actors acquire some formal preparation through a theater company’s acting conservatory or a university drama or theater arts program. Students can take college classes in drama or filmmaking to prepare for a career as an actor. Classes in dance or music may help as well.

Actors who do not have a college degree may take acting or film classes to learn their craft. Community colleges, acting conservatories, and private film schools typically offer these classes. Many theater companies also have education programs.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Actors interpret their characters’ feelings and motives in order to portray the characters in the most compelling way.

Memorization skills. Actors memorize many lines before filming begins or a show opens. Television actors often appear on camera with little time to memorize scripts, and scripts frequently may be revised or even written just moments before filming.

Persistence. Actors may audition for many roles before getting a job. They must be able to accept rejection and keep going.

Physical stamina. Actors should be in good enough physical condition to endure the heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes or makeup. They may work many hours, including acting in more than one performance a day, and they must do so without getting overly tired.

Reading skills. Actors must read scripts and be able to interpret how a writer has developed their character.

Speaking skills. Actors—particularly stage actors—must be able to say their lines clearly, project their voice, and pronounce words so that audiences understand them.

In addition to these qualities, actors usually must be physically coordinated to perform predetermined, sometimes complex movements with other actors, such as dancing or stage fighting, in order to complete a scene.

Training

It takes many years of practice to develop the skills needed to be successful as an actor, and actors never truly finish training. They work to improve their acting skills throughout their career. Many actors continue to train through workshops, rehearsals, or mentoring by a drama coach.

Every role is different, and an actor may need to learn something new for each one. For example, a role may require learning how to sing or dance, or an actor may have to learn to speak with an accent or to play a musical instrument or sport.

Many aspiring actors begin by participating in school plays or local theater productions. In television and film, actors usually start out in smaller roles or independent movies and work their way up to bigger productions.

Advancement

As an actor’s reputation grows, he or she may work on bigger projects or in more prestigious venues. Some actors become producers and directors.

Pay About this section

Actors

Median hourly wages, May 2015

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$19.25

Actors

$18.80

Total, all occupations

$17.40

 

The median hourly wage for actors was $18.80 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.27, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90.00.

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. About 1 out of 3 actors worked part time in 2014. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules. Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Actors in movies may also travel to work on location.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, actors had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014. Many film and television actors join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), whereas many stage actors join the Actors’ Equity Association. Union membership can help set work rules and with benefits, and assist actors to receive bigger parts for more pay. Union dues can be expensive; however, for actors who are beginning their careers.

Job Outlook About this section

Actors

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Actors

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

6%

 

Employment of actors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth in the motion picture industry will stem from continued strong demand for new movies and television shows.

Production companies are experimenting with new content delivery methods, such as video on demand and online television, which may lead to more work for actors in the future. However, these delivery methods are still in their early stages, and it remains to be seen how successful they will be.

Actors who work in performing arts companies are expected to see slower job growth than those in film. Many small and medium-size theaters have difficulty getting funding. As a result, the number of performances is expected to decline. Large theaters, with their more stable sources of funding and more well known plays and musicals, should provide more opportunities. 

Job Prospects

Actors face intense competition for jobs. Most roles, no matter how minor, have many actors auditioning for them. For stage roles, actors with a bachelor’s degree in theater may have a better chance than those without one.

Employment projections data for actors, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Actors

27-2011 69,400 76,100 10 6,600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of actors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Radio and television announcers

Announcers

Announcers present music, news, and sports and may provide commentary or interview guests about these or other important topics. Some act as masters of ceremonies (emcees) or disc jockeys (DJs) at weddings, parties, or clubs.

See How to Become One $30,080
Dancers and choreographers

Dancers and Choreographers

Dancers and choreographers use dance performances to express ideas and stories. There are many types of dance, such as ballet, tango, modern dance, tap, and jazz.

See How to Become One The annual wage is not available.
Film and video editors and camera operators

Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

Film and video editors and camera operators manipulate moving images that entertain or inform an audience.

Bachelor's degree $55,740
Multimedia artists and animators

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists and animators create animation and visual effects for television, movies, video games, and other forms of media.

Bachelor's degree $63,970
Musicians and singers

Musicians and Singers

Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios.

No formal educational credential The annual wage is not available.
Producers and directors

Producers and Directors

Producers and directors create motion pictures, television shows, live theater, commercials, and other performing arts productions. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Bachelor's degree $68,440
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Actors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/actors.htm (visited August 31, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

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Similar Occupations

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.