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Lights, Camera, Action! Getting Started in Acting

Your acting "career" began with the backyard play you produced and starred in at age four.

Now you star in your high school drama club productions, but how are you going to find the wider success you long for?

Step 1: Get Experience

Appearing in community and school theater will help give your acting career a jumpstart.

"Experience, ALL performing experience counts," says Lyn Mason Green. She's the director of an online acting association.

"A community or school production is a great way to start. It speaks to your interests, your commitment and credibility when it comes to continuing your training. It helps when you eventually approach an agent for representation," Green continues.

"You build on everything you do, no matter what age you are. The real issue is learning. There is no experience on stage that will not teach a young actor something useful. So go do it!"

Matthew MacDermid is the director of a high school theater project in Florida. "One never knows where or when they will be 'discovered,'" he says.

"As an acting student, one should have the desire to achieve strength in their craft -- and that includes getting all the practice you can get. Actors have an itch to be performing. It's a bug that never leaves your body."

"Many successful actors have done high school theater before they made the big move to Hollywood -- including Tom Hanks, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Allison Janney," says Alison Frost. She is the director of an acting studio in Texas.

"I have had students graduate from my studio that are in the beginning stages of their 'Hollywood-style' career. And they not only did high school theater, but also junior high. For most young performers, any experience is better than no experience at all."

Step 2: Take Acting Classes

Competition for acting jobs is fierce. Green suggests getting the training you need to compete. "You must understand that there are 100 actors out there who want the same job that you want. And the best of them are trained in theater, in film, and have experience.

"What's the best thing you can do to prepare to compete with that before you are in the marketplace? Train! Get into a good theater program in high school AND a post-secondary program or a theater school," says Green.

"Acting classes are very valuable to a person who wishes to learn different techniques. Acting is a natural ability -- not everyone is good, and it's not something that can be 'taught,'" explains MacDermid.

"A teacher is capable of teaching techniques and styles of acting that work for them and others. But it is up to the individual to take a technique or a conglomeration of techniques to make it individual and work for them."

"Student films, community theater, non-union productions help too," says Green. "If you think all you need is a pretty face, you will find that it is very far short of 'enough.' If you don't have the skill to sustain credibility, you simply won't get the next job."

Frost says she provides students in her studio with her undivided attention in a professional setting.

"Together we set goals and create a curriculum tailor-made for them. We work together on what they need as an actor to get where they would like to be. Competition is fierce and the determined actor knows they need as much assistance as possible."

Step 3: Get an Agent

If you want to be in films, you must have an agent. But don't pursue getting one unless you are committed to your craft.

Frost says, "One can absolutely survive high school without an agent. But the sooner one gets experience and begins filling up a resume with professional gigs, the better.

"It certainly depends on the type of acting the child actor wants to do," says MacDermid. "There are some jobs where you must have agent submission (film and print work especially) and others where open calls are held.

"I would never encourage a young actor to stumble heavily into 'the biz' at a point when they aren't ready for it. There are few child stars who have the same success as adults as when they were younger."

You're committed and serious, so just how do you get an agent?

Frost suggests, "To get a legitimate agent, you typically must provide them with a resume, headshot and an audition. If accepted, you must keep the agency stocked with headshots and continue with training to make oneself marketable."

Dede Clark is the director of a children's acting workshop in Texas. She advises, "Getting a good agent is like finding a supportive, comfortable pair of shoes.

"You need to try them on, meaning [you must] go to different agencies, let them ask you questions, but also ask them questions. You need to find someone who thinks you will be hired to work, which is how they make their money."

Clark warns not to sign with anyone who wants money up front. "They are selling dreams," she says.

"The more work you get, the better your resume. And to consistently get paying work, you need an agent. Some casting directors really rely on a resume. If you've worked a lot, they assume you have ability."

"There is a great deal to learn about the business of being an actor. It's a lifelong journey," says Green.

"If you have the stamina and determination, all you need is the talent, the training, the research, hard work, determination and a healthy heaping of luck. Then -- anything can happen.

"You can apply that formula to any profession on the planet. Acting is no different."

Provides advice for aspiring actors

American Association of Community Theater
Find theater events, festivals and job listings

Actors' Equity Association
Answers FAQs on agencies, auditions and more

Screen Actors Guild
Provides information and resources to protect performers

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