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Where to Look for Your First Acting Work

The view from the stage of an auditorium, looking out over red seats and ornate walls.
Image from Unsplash

Acting is a difficult profession to get into. Not only is it a competitive field, but most schools, even with excellent arts programs, won't explain how to break into the industry.

There's no guaranteed or straightforward way to do it, unfortunately. Most professional auditions require professional credits, for which you need to book professional auditions, which require professional credits, and so on. It's a vicious cycle that can be hard to find the start of.

Luckily, there are a few good places you can look for those first few credits.

Local Theaters

Local theaters are amazing. They're usually very small operations that have a dedicated staff of theater lovers behind them who want to put on the best possible show for their community and bring a little bit of quality entertainment and arts education to the public.

There are two basic kinds of local theater: volunteer and professional. Volunteer, or Community, theaters are an amazing way to build your skills and resume, but won't count as a professional credit. Professional theaters will first and foremost count as a professional credit on your resume and, as an added bonus, will pay you for your work!

Look up theaters in your area - most will have a website you can visit to learn more about them (including which kind they are). Check their current season for audition dates and requirements. For most, you'll be able to just show up on the day, but be sure to find out if they require preregistration or time slot reservation, just in case.

Background Acting Companies

It may be surprising to learn, but background acting - being an "extra" in the background of television and movie scenes - is actually incredibly easy to get into if you live in the right area. There are hubs of production in California, New York, Georgia, and parts of Canada, but many productions film all over North America.

Most production companies will post listings on Facebook. Search "background acting" and you'll pull up all kinds of professional pages. The best part is that, for most of them, anyone can apply! Simply submit your name, measurements, and headshot to the email they provide and you'll be considered. If the company finds that you're what they're looking for, you'll be hired on as a contract worker.

Yes, it really is that simple. I was surprised, too.

Now, of course, this isn't a good way to get famous. You're unlikely to suddenly be promoted to a full speaking role (although this does happen occasionally) and the pay isn't amazing. What is amazing, though, is getting to work directly in the industry and gain professional credits to build your resume so that you can start building credibility for larger auditions and projects.

You can also sign on with a company for notifications on more regular work that matches your description and qualifications. Most of the time, this isn't an exclusive agreement, but be sure to read through the terms before you sign on - you don't want to break your contract by accident just because you're looking for more work.

Voice Over Projects

It's easy to overlook voice acting when thinking about how to get started as an actor, but you really shouldn't. It's a fantastic way to work from anywhere, and on top of that, it's fun.

The equipment to get you started isn't as expensive as you might think.

  • Most phones will have quality enough microphones for simple volunteer projects that can still look good on your resume, and a studio-quality microphone can be bought for around $50 if you know where to look. I personally recommend Blue microphones, as they're reasonably priced and fine quality even without many accessories.

  • Sound dampening is ridiculously easy. A quiet room is essential, of course, but getting a crisp sound beyond that is relatively simple as well. A blanket over your head sounds very silly but produces little echo and background noise. Of course, if you can invest in enough foam to build a small box around your microphone, you'll get a slightly more consistent final product.

  • There's a plethora of free audio editing software online, but my absolute favorite is Audacity. It lets you control your recording and effects with a fairly simple interface which, for a person as technologically limited as I am, is very, very nice.

From there, you can sign up with many free online job boards to look for voice gigs simply by posting sample recordings and auditions. Casting Call Club is a good place to start, as it's organized by role demographics so you can easily find something that matches your skills. It also has a great profile setup that lets you easily display your most recent demos and projects.

Acting Is a Step-Up Journey

Without going into too much of a rant about the accessibility of acting as a career pathway, I think it's important to note that getting into this field is more about managing your expectations than it is anything else.

You're not going to become famous overnight. Heck, you're probably not going to become famous at all. More likely, you're going to work long hours in a ton of different jobs and never be recognized for your work beyond your name in the credits and the occasional comment of "you're an actress? Cool!" The point is to enjoy what you do and do it well.

If you're relying on praise and recognition to gauge your success as an actor, you're never going to be successful. If you refuse to start in "small" roles, you're never going to get cast in "big" ones. For all but the very, very few lucky exceptions, acting is a long step ladder, not a rocket. As with any other career, you're going to have to work your way up from the very bottom of the pile, and that means being okay with working small, obscure productions and enjoying the experiences there while you build your resume.

Performing in your local theater, working the background of your favorite shows, and recording from the comfort of your bedroom closet isn't glamorous, but it is fun, and it is the best way to take your first steps toward being a part of the amazing, terrifying, roller-coaster world of acting.

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