What Can You Expect in Your First Year as an Actor?

What Can You Expect in Your First Year as an Actor?

Acting is a wonderful, amazing, emotionally rewarding and incredible job, as anyone who is reading this already knows. People who get to act for a living truly are the luckiest people in the world.

So it’s no wonder that every year, thousands of wide-eyed theater school graduates walk across the stage and receive their fine arts diploma and head out into the world to seek their fortune. 

Which is a beautiful thing! Teaching and performing with young people is a great joy that rekindles the love of acting in older actors, and reminds us that we will always have something to learn ourselves. 

However, even with the proliferation of information available at our fingertips, even with millions of acting blogs and networks of “friends” in acting groups spanning the globe and sharing information, there are still fresh-faced new recruits to the wonderful world of acting who simply don’t know what to expect as they embark on this incredible journey, and that’s a little worrisome. 

This isn’t to sound like some burned-out, old whiskey-and-cigarette-voiced ex-actor turned realtor in a bar, “Oh honey, you have no IDEA what you’re getting into! Get out while you can!” 

In fact, I personally suggest you ignore anyone who tells you you should absolutely NOT get into acting. That kind of negativity is usually a reflection of that person’s own issues and has little to do with reality. 

But having said that, you should approach embarking on an acting career with eyes wide open. To wit:

1. It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint

If you’re serious about acting as a career and you’re just getting started, you have to understand that this isn’t the kind of thing you can rush. Granted, there are those – extremely, extremely rare – stories of actors who jumped to the front of the line and skyrocketed to success in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately the success stories skew our perception of how common it is to “be discovered” overnight. Given the tens of millions of people pursuing acting careers at any given time, the handful of overnight successes probably represents less than 1/1000th of one percent of actors. So realize if you’re gonna do this, you’ve got to be patient. You’re going to be ignored at first! With few or no credits on your resume or any kind of reel to speak of apart from college or community productions, CDs and agents aren’t exactly going to be breaking down your door. But rather than getting frustrated, look at it as giving you time to develop your tool kit so you’ll be prepared when you do get that big audition. 

2. The Tool Kit 

  • The first thing you’ve got to do is get yourself a professional headshot. This is the absolute minimum you need to even set foot in a casting room. Even with a thin resume and no reel you can at least let them see what you look like at your best, whether it’s digitally or hard copy. And sorry, but you’re going to have to spend a few bucks on this. Hiring a professional headshot photographer will save you lots of headaches and embarrassment down the road, I promise. This is your professional calling card, the one item that all casting directors, producers, and directors will want to see before they ever consider letting you read – you do NOT want one that’s cheap or shoddy or bargain basement-looking!
  • Speaking of your reel: it’s tough to get one when you haven’t done any work yet, right? It’s like the sad joke of office jobs hiring for entry-level positions – but only if you have five years of experience. But don’t worry or get down on yourself – get to work! Start learning some new monologues that emphasize your strengths and the types of characters you see yourself playing, and when they’re ready, record yourself doing them. At this point it’s not vital that you put them together into a reel immediately, but keep an eye toward doing that as your skills develop. Also, once you get a couple of monologue videos up to snuff, you can add them to your NYCastings profile where CDs and producers can view them, along with your headshot!
  • Get yourself into an actor’s group of some kind, or start one. Acting is a beautiful but tough business and having a support group around you is vital to your success. Your circle of actor friends can buck up your spirits when you get discouraged, offer a shoulder to cry on when things go badly – and a group to celebrate with when things go well. More importantly, they can offer honest critiquing of your work as you read scenes and monologues for each other, helping you to improve! 
  • Speaking of getting better: so even if you went to a university theater program or spent years doing community theater before embarking on acting as a career, that doesn’t mean learning time is over. Even actors as accomplished and experienced as Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart say they never stop learning. Get yourself in some classes with reputable teachers. Look for scene study classes, improv classes, and especially on-camera audition classes. You only get better by doing, and when it comes to auditions you want to have the kinks worked out as best you can BEFORE you’re up for an important role.   

3. Do the Work

So it’s safe to assume that for most actors who are just starting out, an agent isn’t really in the cards right now, not unless you have some unique skill set or look. But if you’re like most of us and you aren’t a sporting a bushy fire-engine red afro and know how to juggle on a unicycle while singing opera in Russian, then don’t worry about getting an agent at this point. The good news is that, in this day and age it’s easier than it ever has been to find work on your own. With the thin resume and developing set of skills you’ve got right now, it’s best to look to hone your chops in projects like student films, low-budget indie projects, smaller theater plays, and commercials. And realize there’s no shame in any of that! There are so, so many big-name actors out there who were first noticed in a spot for Tide, or in a micro-budget movie that no one saw, or in an experimental play that a friend of a friend of a producer or director just happened to catch. But beyond that, the main goal you’ve got have in mind here is to get better. Do the work, develop your skills and improve the product you’re selling. You aren’t looking to be invited to next year’s Oscars; you’re looking to hone your skills, because you’re in it for the long haul. Not only that, the connections that you make working on projects like the ones listed above might last a lifetime, and they can create lasting collaborations. A trio of friends who made a fun little 13-minute indie film in college one summer in Texas turned out to be Wes Anderson and Luke and Owen Wilson, so treat everyone you work with on every project with respect and eye toward collaborating on the best work possible.  

4. Submit, Submit, Submit

Remember too that there are hundreds of auditions posted on NYCastings every day. Once you get your headshot and info posted for industry professionals to find on their own, that’s just the beginning. Now it’s also up to you to check out the projects posted here and submit yourself for anything and everything that you’re appropriate for. At this stage you’re going to have to play the role of your agent too, so make sure you work tirelessly for your client!  

As long as you approach your new career as an actor with a clear head, a positive attitude, and a healthy dose of patience, you’re setting yourself up to be a part of one of the most incredible and rewarding professions out there. Have fun, and get to work!


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