How to Get Started in Acting

Three Methods:Beginning From ScratchGrowing Your SkillsGetting Parts

Acting is a wide and exciting career, and there is a lot more work out there than you might think. The more acting you do, the easier it is to start doing auditions and booking parts. The hardest part is getting started. But a few acting tips and marketing ideas can get you from the couch to the stage in no time.

Method 1
Beginning From Scratch

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    Buy a monologue book and start trying out parts by yourself. Found at most bookstores or for free online, monologues are to actors what long runs are to track athletes. You may not ever use most of these monologues, but the practice is invaluable. Read over each one, then make up a character to fit the speech as you read. You should pick one or two and practice them over and over, honing your skills. Once you feel like you have them down, move on to more. Each one will help you train new emotions and characters.[1]
    • Ask yourself-- what does the speaker of the monologue look like? Keep it simple for now -- what do they do with their hands when they talk, for example?
    • What is the key emotion of the speech? What lines do you need to "sell" to make this emotion obvious?
    • What is the progression of the monologue -- is the speaker in a different emotional or intellectual place by the end of the speech?
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    Take acting classes, write and act in some homemade skits, or try out for a low-key role. The best way to practice acting is to get out there and act. While you will absolutely be nervous, classes and small productions are great, low-risk ways to get over your stage butterflies. Everyone is in the same boat as you, and you will all learn and grow together. Look online, check your school's courses and extra-curricular activities, or just make your own videos to start acting.
    • You can study and learn by yourself all you want but acting is, by its very nature, a performance. It requires an audience -- and you have to get comfortable performing in front of one, even if it is just the internet.
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    Use pacing and volume to match the energy of the scene. Likely, your first instinct is to nervously rush through the lines, trying to match the emotion without changing pacing and volume. But the way you say your words is the essence of acting, not the words themselves. Pauses, bursts of volume, sudden rushes through difficult phrases, and other pacing tricks are what make characters appear human. Think about how you naturally talk when feeling certain emotions, such as:
    • Nervous or fearful characters usually rush the words out.
    • Mad, angry, or upset characters their voice and often slow down speech to make a point. But they can also get faster when overflowing with anger.
    • Happy/excited characters tend to speak with an even volume, and quick tempo, or they raise volume as the speech goes on.
    • Pacing can, and should, change within scenes. Your character might start calm and cool, then get more frantic as the scene develops. Your speech must reflect this.[2]
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    Reduce your character to their defining desire. Every character has desire -- it is the basis of plot and story. Your character wants something, and they decide to try and get it. What, exactly, do they want? It seems like a basic question, but that's because you must answer it to learn how to act. What, above all, motivates your character? Love? Greed? Power? Fate/Destiny? Hunger? Any of these motivations can help an actor make a memorable character, even something as simple as hunger (look at the multiple movies of Harold and Kumar, for a silly example).
    • Great actors find glimmers of this motivation in every single
    • Characters, especially well-written ones, can have conflicting, changing, or nuanced motivations. Portraying these scenes, when motivations shift, is often your character's biggest moment.[3]
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    Step into the shoes of your character by relating your own experience to their emotions. You've likely never saved the planet from a last-second alien invasion, but you may have desperately worked against a deadline to finish a project in time. While the events are completely different, the feelings of worry, rushing, steely determination, and passion all carry over. Great actors find the humanity in the script -- the basic human emotions that everyone recognizes, and channel those feelings into their performance.
    • Once you make a decision for a character, commit to it. If you feel like their lines are sad, slow, and thoughtful, you should feel confident in your decision. Do whatever it takes to get those emotions across.

Method 2
Growing Your Skills

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    Think about your character's physical posture and habits, not just their lines. Human beings are enormously complex, and much of our communication comes from body language, not just words. So what is your character's posture like? Do they command the room or slouch in the corners? Do they move around or stay very still? Do they get really engaged when talking, or remain reserved and aloof?
    • You don't need to come up with unique tics and traits for every character, as this will be overkill for many parts. But you do need to think about how they stand, sit, and speak. Basic posture is easy to study if you're unsure -- walk into any restaurant or public setting and just people watch
    • Separate yourself from the character. You might not use your hands when talking, but an older Italian character couldn't stop using them.[4]
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    Pay attention to your reactions to other characters' lines, not just when it is "your turn." Great actors remain in character the entire scene, feeding off their co-actors to keep the scene alive even when they're not talking. Knowing the other actor's lines and being ready to respond to them makes the entire performance better, and helps you stay in character.
    • Real people (not characters being acted) stay in the moment. Don't think about your next scene or a flubbed line from before -- clue right into the present moment.
    • Watch Charlie Day in the show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for a funny example of acting reactions. Even when he's in the background, he keeps up the nervous, unpredictable energy that makes his character (and the actor) so popular.
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    Think about the point of emphasis in each line or paragraph. Where you stress words matters as much as how fast you say them. Take the simple line, "I love you." You can stress all three words and get three different sounding sentences -- "I love you." (about "me"); "I love you" (about discovering love); or "I love you," (about them). You, as an actor, need to decide which of these moments is worth the most attention.
    • If in doubt, talk to the director. They may have a vision for the line or the character's arc that you need to mesh with.
    • Emphasis is also important in monologues and paragraphs. In a long speech there is almost always a moment where the mood, subject, or idea evolves or switches. Find this point and make it a strong transition for your character.
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    Be consistent on stage or set to making shooting a breeze. "Blocking" is where an actor stands, where they move, and when they do it. For film sets, this is usually meticulously mapped out to aid cameras, lights, and sound crews. It is essential that you stick to this blocking, otherwise you can ruin the entire shot, so don't try to improvise something new on the spot. Even theatrical actors need to stick to blocking consistently, as your movements dictate other actors' movements and some stage effects.
    • Good actors rehearse and find the role before shooting. That way they can show up and consistently hit marks and lines instead of trying to figure it out on the fly.[5]
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    Take improvisation classes to improve on-stage reactions and acting. An improv class teaches you the art of acting in the present. To be good at improv, the character will always appear naturally, because it is happening in real time and not dictated by a script. This will help build the essential skill of reacting to the events in real time and not reading off a page. It also raises your on-stage awareness of other lines, actors, and props.[6]
    • Many acting classes offer improv as a warm-up or a unit, so you can often get a little improv practice in with a "classic" acting class.
    • When improvising, focus on building up the scene. Basically, this means always agreeing to your other actors, then adding a twist. To practice, work on responding to each line with a "Yes! and also..."[7]

Method 3
Getting Parts

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    Take all the parts you can, including commercials and student films, as you get started. There is far more acting work out in the world than you think. Most of it, however, won't see a movie theater or TV screen anytime soon. However, as a beginner, this is fine. You can grow experience and your resume and still get paid. Some good places to find gigs include:
    • Craigslist
    • College film departments
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    Take some good, clean headshots of yourself. Headshots are your calling card. They are simple photos taken from your shoulder up showcasing your "look," which casting directors use to make audition lists. If you're willing to drop the money, have them done professionally. Otherwise, you can call up a friend and shoot your own, remembering a few key tips:
    • Use a plain background and simple, flattering clothes.
    • Showcase your entire head and shoulders. Don't turn away or crop the shot to be "artful."
    • Bring in extra lamps and lights to make sure you are evenly lit.
    • Take a few smiling, a few serious, and a few in between. You never know your best look.
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    Audition for an acting agency in your town. More often not, all you have to do is send in some headshots, and you'll get called for an audition if they're looking for your look. You'll show up and read a short monologue, after which they'll decide if you are a good fit for their agency. Agents are essential if you want to be a professional actor -- they are the middlemen between filmmakers and you, and most opportunities are sent to agencies, not the general public.
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    Put together a reel of the best parts you've played. A reel is just a collection of scenes and shots from other acting gigs, edited together on the computer to show off your acting in 2-3 minutes. Not all gigs require a reel, but having one will greatly increase your chance of getting gigs. When picking clips, use the ones that show off you the most in various roles -- monologues, dialogue, and action. Some other tips include:
    • Use the most high-quality footage you have, especially up front. Homemade footage, unless it has high quality, is generally not a good idea.
    • Keep it short -- no more than 4-5 minutes. Even shorter is better.
    • Update this video as you get more roles, keeping it current.
    • Put your contact information and name at the beginning and end.[8]
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    Practice "cold readings" to kill at your auditions. Cold reads are when you're handed the script and expected to act it out immediately after. Sometimes you get a few minutes to read over it, sometimes you just have to get started. To practice, grab the old a book of monologues, pick up a book, or snag a newspaper story and start reading out loud. Practice both reading from scratch and taking 1-2 minutes to prepare.[9]
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    Consider moving to a larger city like LA or New York. To really make it as an actor, you need to be in a location with lots of acting gigs. While there will be more competition in hubs like LA or NY, almost all major productions cast in these locations. Once you're comfortable with your skills, acting in local commercials, plays, or videos, you'll have to decide if you want to be a


  • For many people, acting feels completely unnatural at first. This is okay -- you'll only get used to it through practice.
  • Always ignore the camera or audience, even if you think you made a mistake. Nothing takes you out of character like remembering you are only playing a character.


  • Acting is highly competitive, and casting directors sometimes pick people based on their look alone, not any show of talent. Don't take things personally and you'll be much happier.

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Categories: Acting