Actors held about 50,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of actors were as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||9|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||8|
|Theater companies and dinner theaters||4|
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 be employed for several years.
Actors may perform in unpleasant conditions, such as outdoors in bad weather, under hot stage lights, or while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup.
Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part time. 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.
Actors typically enhance their skills through formal education, and long-term training is common.
Actors typically enhance their skills through formal education. Those who specialize in theater may have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as performing arts, 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.
It takes many years of practice to develop the skills needed to be a successful 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.
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.
Actors typically have an interest in the Creating and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Creating or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as an actor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Actors should also possess the following specific 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 written 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 heat from stage or studio lights and the weight of heavy costumes. They may work long hours, including acting in more than one performance a day, and they must do so without getting overly tired.
Reading skills. When looking for a new role, actors read many scripts and must be able to interpret how a writer has described 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 to complete a scene.
The median hourly wage for actors was $23.48 in May 2021. 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 $11.16, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61.98.
In May 2021, the median hourly wages for actors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||$23.63|
|Theater companies and dinner theaters||21.00|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||20.42|
Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part time. 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.
Employment of actors is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.
About 7,000 openings for actors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020 and is likely to occur early in the projections decade. Although many theaters and production companies stopped performances during the pandemic, demand for actors is expected to recover as these establishments resume operations.
Streaming services and other online-only platforms are expected to drive employment demand for actors as the number of shows produced and the volume of content increases.
However, the number of performances held at theaters may be impacted by funding availability. As a result, the number of performances may decline, which would impact employment of actors in these establishments. Theaters with more stable sources of funding and well-known plays and musicals may be less susceptible to fluctuations in employment demand.
For more information about actors, visit
National Endowment for the Arts