You know the stories of producers turning discoveries at drugstore counters into award-winning actresses. But you realize that it takes work to memorize a play’s worth of lines on stage, cry on cue for TV soap operas and look gorgeous on the big screen. There must be some way of certifying that these professionals can do the job. But the reality of the method may surprise you.
Despite all the organizations devoted to actors, such as the Screen Actors Guild, and the recognition organizations, such as the Academy Awards, there’s no commonly accepted acting certification. An actor may have credits from several productions, a degree in theater from a prestigious organization and regular training sessions with renowned acting teachers. But producers have only two surefire ways to know that their choice has the chops. One is by seeing her perform in a play or movie. The other is through auditions.
Unless she’s well-known, an actress must certify her ability to do a job by going through its auditions. If she’s lucky, she’ll have an agent who can find these opportunities and submit her headshot for consideration. If she’s like most, she must scour industry papers on her own and rely on personal connections to uncover these cattle calls. She may have only a day or two to prepare. When she walks into the audition venue, she discovers dozens of other actresses who look almost like her, because they’re the “type” requested by the producer. She must prove that she can perform the part in the few minutes she has in front of the casting director and producer. The odds are against her: only one of the dozens of hopefuls will land the role. The rest need to try again at other auditions.
A bachelor’s degree in theater or acting can open the door to some auditions, especially for stage plays. The credential shows directors that the actress takes her craft seriously enough to have devoted four years of study to it. UCLA, located in the entertainment capital of the world, has an example of such a program of study. Starting with a foundation of arts, humanities and science, the theater degree can focus on acting, voice and movement. Students are also encouraged to audition for undergraduate productions to practice their craft.
For most actresses, training for the profession is constant. They learn something new with each role, so experience makes them better at their profession. Many study at summer conservatories or take technique classes that last only a few weeks or months. A few study with private teachers or acting coaches to hone their skills.Jobs are irregular, difficult to find and highly competitive, with many hopefuls trying out for even small roles. Many actors must supplement their performance dreams by working at more stable positions unrelated to their profession, such as in food service or office administration.
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