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Qualifications and Training
People who become actors, producers, and directors follow many paths to employment. The most important qualities employers look for are creative instincts, innate talent, and the intellectual capacity to perform. The best way to prepare for a career as an actor, especially in the theater, is through formal dramatic training, preferably obtained as part of a bachelor’s degree program. Producers and especially directors need experience in the field, either as actors or in other related jobs.
- Education and training. Formal dramatic training, either through an acting conservatory or a university program, generally is necessary for these jobs, but some people successfully enter the field without it. Most people studying for a bachelor’s degree take courses in radio and television broadcasting, communications, film, theater, drama, or dramatic literature. Many stage actors continue their academic training and receive a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Advanced curricula may include courses in stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, and design, as well as intensive acting workshops. The National Association of Schools of Theatre accredits 150 programs in theater arts.
- Most aspiring actors participate in high school and college plays, work in college radio or television stations, or perform with local community theater groups. Local and regional theater experience and work in summer stock, on cruise lines, or in theme parks helps many young actors hone their skills. Membership in one of the actors’ unions and work experience in smaller communities may lead to work in larger cities, notably New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. In television and film, actors and directors typically start in smaller television markets or with independent movie production companies and then work their way up to larger media markets and major studio productions. A few people go into acting after successful careers in other fields, such as broadcasting or announcing.
- Actors, regardless of experience level, may pursue workshop training through acting conservatories or mentoring by a drama coach. Sometimes actors learn a foreign language or train with a dialect coach to develop an accent to make their characters more realistic.
- Actors need talent and creativity that will enable them to portray different characters. Because competition for parts is fierce, versatility and a wide range of related performance skills, such as singing, dancing, skating, juggling, acrobatics, or miming are especially useful. Experience in horseback riding, fencing, linguistics, or stage combat also can lift some actors above the average and get them noticed by producers and directors. Actors must have poise, stage presence, the ability to affect an audience, and the ability to follow direction. Modeling experience also may be helpful. Physical appearance, such as having certain features and being the specified size and weight, often is a deciding factor in who gets a particular role.
- There are no specific training requirements for producers. They come from many different backgrounds. Actors, writers, film editors, and business managers commonly enter the field. Producers often start in a theatrical management office, working for a press agent, managing director, or business manager. Some start in a performing arts union or service organization. Others work behind the scenes with successful directors, serve on the boards of art companies, or promote their own projects. Although there are no formal training programs for producers, a number of colleges and universities offer degree programs in arts management and in managing nonprofit organizations.
- Directors often start out as actors. Many also have formal training in directing. The Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers jointly sponsor the Assistant Directors Training Program. To be accepted to this highly competitive program, an individual must have either a bachelor’s or associate degree or 2 years of experience and must complete a written exam and other assessments. Program graduates are eligible to become a member of the Directors Guild and typically find employment as a second assistant director.
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