Beginning actors can be easily overwhelmed by the all options available to learn the craft. There are several routes one can elect to travel on the journey toward a professional career in acting. Many opt for university degrees, while others seek out workshops and acting coaches, of which there are untold numbers in the Los Angeles area. There is no one right way to go; though a degree can be helpful in other ways on your journey. Near the end of this article are some helpful links for the aspiring actor regarding workshops and schools.
In researching and in being in communication with several professionals encountered during this process, the following schools come highly recommended for the aspiring actor. None of these are easy to gain admission into, but this kind of career in general is so very challenging anyway. Obtaining a degree from a prestigious university also offers the person other benefits as Scott Vance mentioned above. Have a look:
- Yale School of Drama
Much practical experience can be had by those who attend this school as it has a working professional theatre component, the Tony Award-winning Yale Repertory Theatre. This is a graduate conservatory for the training of professionals in every aspect of the art form, from acting to the design of sets, costumes, lighting, directing, stage management, dramaturgy and playwriting –to name just some of the many areas of instruction.
- The Juilliard School
Julliard was established in 1924 by a bequest from Augustus Julliard, a very wealthy textile tycoon. In 1926, it merged with the Institute for Musical Art to become the Juilliard School of Music. In 1951 and 1968 respectively, the Dance and Drama Divisions were added. In 1968, it became known by what it is today, The Juilliard School. It is now one of the most prestigious schools for the study of acting.
- NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts
Created in 1965, the School of the Arts at New York University provides extraordinarily intense and comprehensive training in theatre and film. Since its founding, the school has acquired the reputation of being one of the leading arts schools in the US.
- Carnegie Mellon University
The School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University was founded in 1914 to provide a highly concentrated education to theatre artists in a rigorous conservatory setting. It prepares students to excel in stage, film, and television.
- Northwestern University
Particularly renowned for its theatre arts school, Northwestern offers a full range of instruction in practice, history, and theory along with a well-rounded liberal arts education.
- State University of New York, Purchase
SUNY’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts provides an intensive and focused training program in acting and in theatre design/technology. Only a limited number of students seeking to pursue professional careers actually are accepted into the programs. It is one of four schools in the Consortium of Professional Theatre Training Programs and has a valued faculty from the ranks of professional theatre and elsewhere.
CalArts, in Valencia, CA just north of Los Angeles, is an internationally renowned school for the performing and visual arts with an emphasis on film, theater, art, dance, music, and writing. It is a highly respected institution started by Walt Disney and his brother, Roy O. Disney, when the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music merged with the Chouinard Art Institute in 1961.
- American Conservatory Theater
ACT in San Francisco, CA is one the last remaining true conservatories in which actors are trained by and amongst working professionals on the company stages. It offers multi-disciplinary training and has a storied past with such alum as Annette Bening, who upon her own graduation, became a member of its professional theater company and taught students, as is the tradition.
Schools Outside of the US
- London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts
This renowned school has the distinction of being in operation for over 150 years. The School of Drama offers top notch training to actors, stage managers, technicians, directors, and designers and has an unequaled reputation for excellence.
- Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) was established in 1904 and provides vocational training for actors, stage managers, directors, designers, and technical stage craft specialists. RADA has, over the years, become reputed as a world-renowned conservatory with some of the best facilities, extraordinary teachers, and strong connections with those who are in a position to employ graduates.
HOW DO I GET MY FOOT IN THE DOOR?
From the input of those queried on this subject, the overwhelming advice is to attempt to get one’s start in a smaller market. Generally, there is a much smaller talent pool in these regional markets than one would find in Los Angeles, and newer actors are more likely to be considered for smaller roles and sometimes even supporting leads depending on their resume and the budget of the film or TV project. Often, in Hollywood, these kinds of roles would be snapped up by those with more experience. However, over the last decade or so, there has been an exodus of production out of California toward states that are offering tax breaks and credits as an incentive. With long time pros being adversely impacted financially by the loss of jobs, it has been a bit of an upheaval of late. Though it has disrupted many a professional’s life in Los Angeles, the job exodus to other states means more work in smaller markets such as the Southeast and Midwest (Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico and Arizona are just some examples.) Conversely, many Los Angeles based actors now have agents in these other states and offer themselves up as “local hires” complete with P.O. boxes or addresses of friends as their supposed “residences.” Though this is frowned upon by unions and the states which strive to have their own residents hired, actors continue to audition for these projects and then pay their own transportation and lodging in order to keep working. Additionally, there are numerous “New Media” jobs available in which production is specifically geared to the internet and is of a lower budget. More experienced actors tend to shun most of these contracts as they are well below an acceptable pay rate for them. This can mean an opportunity for a less experienced actor.
As an aspiring actor, you need to gain experience. Often the best way to build up the resume is to start in Community Theater and work your way up from there. Audition for non-union film and TV projects, and you can then start to gain some credibility as an on-camera actor. In your local market, seek out agents who can represent you for commercials. Generally it is a lot easier to get representation for commercial work as opposed to “theatrical,” which refers to film or TV. Sometimes you can have a leg up if you are young and extraordinarily attractive or if there is something about you that is unique. That is what you would be wise to exploit.
Seek out workshops where you can learn the craft of acting for the camera, and be sure to get the industry standard headshots. You have to pay more for a professional photographer, but it makes all the difference. (It is strongly advised to avoid Uncle Harry and his $300 digital camera.) What casting people expect as far as your image is concerned is always changing, and it is paramount that you, for example, not have a ¾ body shot while the rage is once again the “head” shot. This return to the old-fashioned headshot is due to the now common practice of online submission of images, as opposed to hard paper copies, and often these images appear as thumbnails which means a full body shot would not allow casting to actually see your face.
Check out online submission services such as Actor Access, Casting Frontier, and Now Casting.
This link is from a Backstage West magazine article in which several A-List actors share where they were trained: “9 Oscar-Winning Actors and Where They Trained.”
The top 25 film schools according to the Hollywood Reporter:
Top 25 Film Schools
For those who are determined to move to Hollywood:
“Advice for Actors” and “Los Angeles Acting Schools & Coaches”
And, finally, some very moving and inspirational words of ultimate truth for the aspiring actor:
10 Rules for Actors