Theater Acting: Job Description & Career Info

Successful theater actors are able to entertain, convey characters and express emotions in front of a live audience. Read on to learn about the training, skills, salary and job outlook for this sometimes stressful career.

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Career Definition

A theater actor performs in plays and other types of live productions, such as skits, dinner theater and cabaret shows. Sometimes, they go on tour. Actors have a talent for performing and entertaining others. With the most common venue being a live stage, theater acting does not include the benefits of multiple takes and editing that film and television actors enjoy.

How to Become an Actor in the Theater

Required Education

Though a Bachelor of Arts in Theater is not necessary for becoming an actor or actress, formal training and education often help in this challenging and competitive industry. Earning a B.A. in Theater provides the opportunity for aspiring actors to learn acting skills in a structured environment and to practice their creative dramatic expression in front of live audiences. Providing more than just acting classes, a 4-year bachelor's degree in theater includes courses in all major aspects of performance and production, such as acting, directing, theater history, play writing, production design, costume design, makeup and theater technology.

Skills Required

Natural talent, persistence in pursuing auditions and luck are prominent factors in the success of a career in theater acting. The ability to memorize scripts and improvise under pressure are also helpful for aspiring actors.

Career and Economic Outlook

Theater actors may join the Actors' Equity Association (AEA, www.actorsequity.org), the national union representing theater actors. Members can receive contract benefits as well as career counseling, training seminars and access to auditions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reported that the median salary of actors working for performing arts companies as $22.78 hourly in 2012 and that actors often work in other fields as needed to supplement their income.

Also per the BLS, a 4% job increase is expected for all actors from 2010-2020. A lack of funding for theaters is expected to cause a decrease in number of performances held and therefore the number of jobs available, though well-known theaters should continue to provide opportunities. Theater actors with a bachelor's degree may be looked upon more favorably to fill roles.

Alternate Career Options

Set and Exhibit Designer

Often required to have a bachelor's degree in theater, set or scenic design, these designers create sets for theaters, television and movies. The BLS anticipated 10% growth for this profession, from 2010-2020, which was about as fast as the average occupation at that time. Set and exhibit designers earned a median hourly wage of $24.18, or $50,300 per year, in 2012.

Dancer or Choreographer

With average employment growth of 18% overall expected from 2010-2020, the BLS notes that dancers use movements to express ideas in performances, while choreographers audition the dancers, choose the music and teach the more complicated routines. Formal dance training is required and choreographers usually begin as dancers. According to the BLS in 2012, choreographers earned an annual median salary of $38,120, or $18.33 per hour, and dancers took home a median hourly wage of $14.16.

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