UPDATED: September 2011
If you have always dreamed of seeing your name up in lights, the TomCruise.com team is here to help you navigate your path to stardom. To give you a leg up on the competition, we have compiled guides for many of the most popular careers in the entertainment industry, including aspiring stuntmen, directors, screenwriters, producers, film editors and visual effects artists filled with information, tools and resources. We are pleased to announce we have updated our Aspiring Actors guide to include even more tips and tools to help you launch your career as a professional actor.
As always, the team at TomCruise.com welcomes your comments, feedback and suggestions. If you have experience in this field and can provide any additional information or resources, we’d love to hear it so we can add them in our next update. Please use the hashtag #Aspiring2ActWriteDirect in all your social media responses about these guides.
Any actor, Tom Cruise included, knows there’s no business like show business. The adrenaline rush of stepping on stage, walking onto a set or appearing on the silver screen to make people laugh, cry or hold their breath in anticipation may be the biggest reward in the profession. Actors give life to the ideas of writers and directors with a magic that exists only in the soul of a performer. Whether performed live or captured on film, the craft of the professional actor is one that aspiring thespians around the world seek to master. It’s the power to transform a story into something that not only entertains an audience, but also whisks them away to another world and moves them in a deeply emotional manner.
Emerging actors dream of making a splash in the studios of Hollywood or treading the boards in New York or London. However, with so many creative folks around the globe looking to make a name for themselves at the highest level, the competition is fierce! It takes dedication, training and heart to face the rejection that is so common in an actor’s life. But combine those traits with confidence and a strong work ethic and you’re on your way! Just as Tom Cruise persevered to earn his spot in Hollywood through a combination of hard work and a dash of risk taking, so can you find your way to the top!
In that spirit, the team at TomCruise.com has gathered resources from the entertainment world to give a hand to aspiring actors! We’ve rounded up publications, books, professional training programs, university programs and unions for professional actors to aid you on your journey to maturing as an actor. As we’ve previously done for aspiring directors, screenwriters and television writers, we hope to give aspiring actors a jumping off point. While not exhaustive, this guide will give you a good start on your research for a career in Hollywood or on Broadway!
As a bonus, we have words of advice directly from Tom Cruise himself! In the video below, Tom’s appears on Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton to discuss his acting techniques and performances throughout his career.
The Guide for Aspiring Actors Includes:
- An overview of what an actor does, including a glossary of common acting terms and different titles for actors
- Books written by industry experts about a career as a professional actor
- Publications available online and/or in print to learn more about the entertainment industry, including insider information for acting
- Professional training programs run by leading instructors
- Universities and colleges offering training specifically for aspiring actors
- Unions, groups and associations for professional actors
Over time, many industries develop their own terminology. In addition to creating a verbal ‘short-hand’ among co-workers, jargon is a way to signal to others that you are an industry insider. While many acting terms are well known and have become part of the daily American lexicon, such as “Action!” or “Take 2,” the team at TomCruise.com has compiled a list of common but lesser known acting terms.
Audition – The process of trying out for a role, usually includes performing a section of a dialogue from a script but may also require an improvisational performance and/or singing, depending upon the role.
Avail – Refers to the availability of an actor for a specific project or production dates with no contractual obligation by the production company or the actor.
Background – May have multiple meanings within the entertainment industry depending upon the circumstance but in regard to acting, the term generally refers to “extras.” It also serves as a director’s cue for the extras to begin performing.
Back to one – Instructions to the performer to return to the original position, or mark, where they started the scene.
Beat – A deliberate pause within the dialogue. “Take a beat” means to pause or take a silent breath before starting the next phrase or action. Generally used as a device to increase the drama.
Blocking – The physical movements performed by the actors in a scene, usually choreographed during rehearsal to prevent awkward positions, such as an actor standing with his back in front of the camera or outside the range of the stage lighting.
Booking – A commitment for a specific project or appearance.
Callback – An interview or audition following the initial audition. The actor may be asked to perform with other actors in front of a producer or the director.
Call Sheet – A print out or email with the schedule for a specific day of filming, including cast and crew call times, locations, scene information and production needs.
Call Time – The specific time an actor is expected to report on the set.
Casting Notice – An announcement that a film, television, stage or commercial production is seeking actors for one or more roles. The announcement usually includes specific requirements, such as an age range, gender, ethnicity, height, etc. A casting notice may be distributed to actors and agents as well as posted in entertainment industry trades or to the general public.
Cattle Call – An open audition for a wide variety of performers. Often used to cast background actors or movie extras.
Cold Reading – An unrehearsed performance of a scene, usually occurs at an audition or during the early days of a production.
Composite – A series of headshots on an 8’’ x 10’’ sheet demonstrating a variety of looks of an actor.
Copy – An informal term for a script.
Craft Service – Catered food provided on a set. May also refer to the person(s) responsible for providing the food.
Cue – A verbal or visual sign to begin performing or signal an action.
Dailies – The footage filmed that day, usually screened prior to editing.
Demo Tape (Reel) – An audio, video or digital compilation of an actor’s best work, frequently used for audition purposes.
Dialect – A regional or specific speech pattern, which may require additional training or coaching for an actor to effectively duplicate.
18-To-Play-Younger – A performer who is a least 18 years old but is able to convincingly look and play a younger age.
Field Rep. – An individual representing a specific union who ensures all union contractual obligations are in compliance on set.
FX – Special Effects.
Hiatus – The time or duration a television series is not in production, usually for a summer break.
Holding – A designated area where background performers check in and remain until they are needed on set.
Hot Mic (Live Mic) – A microphone has been turned on.
Improvisation – A spontaneous performance without using a script. May be requested during an audition, used as part of an acting exercise or for comic effect in the theatre.
Looping – An in-studio or post-production technique that matches a voice to the footage, used to replace dialogue performed during principal photography/filming.
Mark – A specific position on a set or a stage to ensure an actor will have proper lighting and camera angles, usually indicated by a piece of tape or a chalk mark on the floor.
Monologue – While in character, a performer speaks the character’s thoughts aloud, either directly addressing another character or the audience. Monologues are a common request during the auditioning process.
Off-Camera (OC or OS) – Dialogue or action taking place off screen, unseen by the audience.
Out of Frame – A performer or object that is outside the range of a camera.
Production Company – A business organization responsible for the day-to-day logistics involved in making a film or television program.
Residual – A fee paid to a performer when a commercial, film or television program has been rebroadcast.
Scale – The minimum daily rate determined by a union, such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), for actors under union contracts.
Screen Test – An actor is filmed performing a specific role as part of the casting/auditioning process, though the actor is not usually on set or in proper wardrobe and makeup.
Soliloquy – A dramatic or comedic method to disclose a character’s thoughts to the audience. While in character, a performer reveals thoughts or feelings aloud without addressing any other characters.
Stage Right– Refers to the actor’s right side, the audience’s left side. Therefore, Stage Left refers to the performer’s left, the audience’s right.
Taft-Hartley – A federal statute permitting 30 days after the first day of employment before being required to join a labor union. For actors, this statue applies to an individual’s eligibility for membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
Treatment – A detailed film story synopsis, including an outline of the plot, character descriptions and the highlights of the film.
V.O. – Voice over. May refer to an off-camera voice or dialogue recorded over an existing scene or action.
Wrap – The completion of filming at the end of the day or the completion of the entire production.
Every performer has to get their start somewhere and it usually isn’t at the top. While you are earning your acting chops and paying your dues, there are many types of roles an actor may play. Some of the most common titles are featured below.
Day Player (Day Performer) – An actor hired on a daily basis, as opposed to a longer contract, and is generally hired for the current Screen Actors Guild (SAG) scale (minimum) rate for the day.
Double – An individual who temporarily appears in place of another performer, such as a stunt performer.
Extra (Background Performer) – Individuals used in non-speaking roles in a film or television program. May not require any professional acting training.
Lead Actor/Actress – A principal performer who plays the role of the protagonist in a film, television program or stage production. May also refer to the role with the most dialogue and/or a performer with a well-established body of work.
Motion-Capture Performer – An actor who performs a role while wearing a special suit equipped with multiple motion sensors to “capture” his movements via visual effects software. Visual effects artists then transform the performance into another character by using computer generated imagery (CGI) technology.
Principal – An actor with one or more lines of dialogue in a production.
Stand-In – An individual used as a substitute for a principal performer, frequently used to set up the correct lighting and establish camera angles.
Supporting Actor/Actress – A performer who has a smaller role than a lead but portrays a character that may be integral to the production and/or has significant interaction with the lead(s).
Understudy – A common theatre term for the performer who learns the all lines, choreography and songs of a principal performer in the show in order to take over the part in case of emergency, illness or vacation. The theatre’s management company usually makes an announcement prior to the beginning of the show when an understudy will be stepping into a role.
In the spirit of “there are no small roles, only small actors,” Academy Award nominated actress, Sally Kirkland (Anna), offers practical advice for aspiring actors in the video clip below.
We have compiled a list of books written by leading acting experts but they are just a small sampling of what is available in bookstores, online and in your local library. Whether you are launching your career or continuing to master your craft, these books will provide insider perspectives and practical advice for actors of every level.
An Actor Prepares; Building a Character by Constantin Stanislavski The renowned instructor provides a straightforward look into the “method” of acting in a conversational tone in this legendary book. Stanislavski created a “mock diary” of an actor, describing acting exercises and rehearsals, along with his impressions and analysis of the process. Concepts such as “the unbroken line” are defined and explained in this iconic guide.
Sanford Meisner on Acting by Dennis Longwell The author provides insight into the acting techniques developed by influential drama instructor, Sanford Meisner, such as developing a realistic approach to imagination and creativity. Meisner developed his own lessons adapted from the teachings of Constantin Stanislavsky, the father of Method acting. The book follows a group of aspiring actors and actress as they participate in a 15-month course at Meisner’s New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, including detailed notes from Meisner about the student exercises.
Michael Caine – Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making (The Applause Acting Series) by Michael Caine Whether you want to be an actor, a filmmaker or you just love movies, Oscar-winning actor Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules, Hannah and Her Sisters) provides a straightforward explanation about the entertainment world. Using antidotes and real-world examples, Caine breaks down the craft of acting and explains what it takes to be a working actor.
Acting: Advanced Techniques for the Actor, Director, and Teacher by Terry Schreiber A Broadway director and renowned acting instructor, Schreiber offers a step-by-step guide for acting based on her more than 35 years of experience. The book offers a variety of warm-up exercises focusing on an actor’s senses, such as smell, sound, sight and touch as well as techniques to convey the atmosphere and environment of the script. The training exercises also include methods to create a character, effective uses of rehearsal time and preparations for in-class work.
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen With insightful observations, real world examples and a variety of exercises, the legendary actress helps aspiring actors learn how to connect to the moment, to the other actors and to the audience. Drawing on her many years as an actress and as a coach, Hagen offers numerous exercises with a focus on results. Although some of her techniques are similar to the Method, Hagen also offers practical advice on how to deal with stage nerves and how to maintain focus during long productions.
True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Glengarry Glen Ross), director and instructor, Mamet offers an honest guide into the competitive world of professional acting. Although he often contradicts conventional believes, the practical guide advises aspiring actors on how to approach a part, work with a playwright and audition as well as how to navigate the business side of the industry.
Audition by Michael Shurtleff The respected casting director for both Broadway (Chicago, Gypsy) and film (The Graduate, The Sound of Music) not only helped launch the careers of Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Dustin Hoffman but Shurtleff also created his own teaching program featuring12 acting techniques. Among the exercises and useful tips, the useful guide tells you how to make the most of your audition, a priceless skill for any aspiring actor!
Self-Management for Actors: Getting Down to (Show) Business by Bonnie Gillespie Beyond mastering your craft, Gillespie believes actors should learn how to manage the business side of the industry to establish a successful career. This straightforward guide offers advice about marketing yourself as well as managing your acting career.
If you want to break into show business, it is of the utmost importance to know where and when auditions are being held. For current casting calls, information about projects in development and entertainment news, the following industry trades are considered to be essential reading for any professional actor.
Variety – A perennial staple in the entertainment industry, the publication has been providing insider information since 1905. Available in print or online, Variety provides the latest news in film, television and the related digital arts as well as industry events, award ceremonies, projects in development and movie reviews.
Back Stage – The seminal publication is one of the best and most exhaustive resources available to the emerging actor. Most importantly, Back Stage provides a professional casting database, saving aspiring actors the trauma of dealing with unprofessional casting situations or scams that prey on nascent performers’ inexperience. In addition to casting information, the publication offers advice and reviews helpful to both newcomers and veterans alike in both print and online versions. With insight into the worlds of stage, musical, television and film acting, Back Stage gives performers the tools to develop their careers.
ACTORSandCREW – The aptly named online publication was founded to “fuel your passion for acting and filmmaking,” providing casting information for actors as well as production crewmembers. Available as an online magazine and newsletter, the publication also features production news, interviews, tips and resources for both actors and production crew as well as extensive job pages for casting and featured members profiles to help get your resume noticed by industry folks.
While there are several schools of thought and philosophies on acting, the team at TomCruise.com has discovered a significant trend in the training of many of the most successful actors over the last 50 years and that trend is Method acting. Developed by Russian acting instructor, Constantin Stanislavski, over 40 years of his career, the acting technique is known as the Method. Renowned acting instructors Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner adapted the original teachings of Stanislavski to create their own versions of the technique during the years and eventually, formed their own acting studios.
During his career, Stanislavski came to believe that an actor’s primary responsibility is to be believed, as opposed to being understood. In order to achieve a “believable truth,” the Russian developed methods to create an “emotional memory.” For example, to prepare for role that involves sadness, actors must be able to recall their own feelings of loss and incorporate those emotions into the character. This new method of acting was a distinct departure from classical methods that had taught performers to “become the character” by imagining what the character’s emotions would be and then portraying those feelings, rather tapping into their own emotions.
Method acting overlays emotions taken directly from the actor’s personal life and memories for use in a dramatic role and is considered a highly psychological, emotional and sensory form of acting.
While Tom Cruise doesn’t identify himself as a Method actor, many of his successful colleagues use this technique to prepare for a role. Numerous respected and Academy Award winning actors who have Method training include Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Sean Penn Ellen Burstyn and Jon Voight.
Several of the most renowned acting schools that focus on teaching this realistic and involved style of acting are listed below.
One of the original homes to Method acting, The Actor’s Studio was founded in New York City in 1947 by Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, Robert Lewis and Anna Sokolow and it continues to be an active studio for its members. Born out of the original 1930s Group Theatre and inspired by Stanislavski’s Method techniques, The Actor’s Studio became the home of some of the most respected actors in the world. From 1951 to 1969, legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg was the head instructor at the Studio before moving on to found his own training center. Many famous thespians, such as James Dean, Sally Field, Dennis Hopper, Martin Landau, Jack Nicholson, Sidney Poitier and Christopher Walken, have all studied at The Actor’s Studio. In fact, Landau maintained his close ties to the Studio, eventually becoming the co-director of The Actor’s Studio West in Hollywood along with Academy Award nominated director Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond). Any professional actor who is at least 18 years old is eligible to audition. Potential members are invited to join The Actors Studio after successfully passing through a series of auditions that are presided over by Board members and longtime members of the Studio. All members may participate in any of the Studio activities and use the facilities to help master their craft. Although not a school, the Studio created a completely separate and accredited Masters of Fine Arts degree program with Pace University in NYC.
An early innovator in Method acting techniques, Stella Adler was one of the few adherents of Method acting to receive firsthand instruction from Stanislavski. In 1949, she opened the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City to popularize the immersive style of acting to a new generation of thespians. Among her many famed pupils are Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Warren Beatty and Martin Sheen. The Studio’s professional conservatory offers a three-year full-time program for aspiring actors based on Adler’s techniques. The program is designed to help students acquire the tools and techniques to engage their imagination, analyze scripts in depth and create specific characters. The Studio also offers workshops, summer programs and kids programs. During her careers, Adler taught at the acclaimed Yale School of Drama but since 1969, her Studio has been affiliated with the New York University Tisch School of the Arts Undergraduate Drama Department. Leading to a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, the four-year program combines academic classes with training at the Studio.
Following his tenure as head instructor and artistic director of The Actors Studio for nearly 20 years, Lee Strasberg branched out to found his internationally recognized Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York and Los Angeles. Bringing with him a refined knowledge of Method acting, Strasberg went on to coach acclaimed actors such as Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Christoph Waltz.
Another giant in the world of dramatic instruction, Sanford Meisner created his own variation of the Stanislavski Method by refining the basis of Method acting into his own Meisner Technique. A former member of the famed Group Theatre, along with Kazan, Adler and Strasberg, Meisner took a first founded The Neighborhood Playhouse before going on to establish The Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts. The renowned instructor continued teaching at his eponymous center until late in his life, coaching luminaries such as James Caan, Steve McQueen, Robert Duval, Gregory Peck, Diane Keaton, Grace Kelly and Peter Falk.
While the Method continues to be one of the most influential techniques used in dramatic acting, in the world comedy, improve is king! One of the originators of improvisational acting techniques, Viola Spolin and her son, Paul Sills, taught improv to the cast of Chicago’s Second City and the technique continued to gain popularity as it was used by Compass Players in Chicago during the 1960s. Improvisational acting is based on the unexpected turns of spontaneous performance without the benefit of scripted dialogue, testing the mental agility of the actors while (hopefully) eliciting big laughs. We have included a directory of several of the most respected comedy troupes and improvisational theatre companies in the United States. World famous comedians who trained with these comedy troupes include John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
Established in 1959 as a small cabaret theatre in Chicago, The Second City has evolved into one of the most influential comedy troupes in the world with resident stages in Chicago and Toronto as well as four international touring companies. The largest training center for improvisation and sketch comedy in the United States, approximately 13,000 students a year at training at schools in Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. Classes are available for students of every level, from novice performers to seasoned professionals. Originally founded by Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk and Paul Sills, the troupe became the home to many of the world’s learning comedians who went on to perform on iconic television comedies such as Saturday Night Live and MadTV. Notable alumni include Gilda Radner, John Candy, Eugene Levy and Stephen Colbert.
Founded in 1981 in Chicago by renowned improv instructor Del Close and Charna Halpern, the iO (formerly ImprovOlympic) offered another world-class venue for comedic actors to showcase their wit and train for a professional career in entertainment. Close developed and refined a version of long form improv (connecting several sketches together) called “The Harold” which is the signature of the troupe. The iO hosts a training centers in Chicago and Los Angeles with a curriculum focused on the essential skills to perform improv, including “The Harold,” as well as writing programs and workshops. Alumni who learned the comedic craft with the iO technique include Jon Favreau, Adam McKay, Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler, Andy Richter, Jason Sudeikis and Tim Meadows.
Created by iO alumni, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser and Matt Walsh, the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre (UCB) opened in New York City in 1999 and has emerged as a new force in the training of comedic actors. Founded in Chicago in 1990 as an improv team, the original Upright Citizen’s Brigade line-up included Matt Besser, Adam McKay, Ian Roberts, Ali Farahnakian, Drew Franklin, Rick Roman and Horatio Sanz. Through their success, the team earned a sketch comedy show from 1998-2000. UCB (as the team is informally known) began hosting instructional workshops in New York City in 1995 that proved so popular that it evolved into a full-blown improv acting school. In 2006, UCB opened their comedy Training Center in New York City and now has theatres used for training in both New York and Los Angeles. The instruction is noted for a combination of experimental and surreal. Many students have gone on to appear in and write for stage, television and major motion picture productions, including The Office, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and 30 Rock.
The Groundlings was founded in Los Angeles in 1974 to teach and produce sketch comedy shows employing the improvisational technique. One of the few world-renowned venues for improv not directly descended from The Second City, The Groundlings has carved out a seat among the comedy elite through great performances over thirty years. The company members, a “Groundling,” write and perform in the theatre’s shows as well as teach classes at the Groundling’s School. With a direct pipeline to the cast of Saturday Night Live, many actors who have trained at The Groundlings have gone on to great success. Some of the distinguished alumni include Will Farrell, Phil Hartman, Jimmy Fallon, Kathy Griffin, Will Forte, Jon Lovitz and Julia Sweeney.
While training as an actor doesn’t necessarily require a college degree, many of the best actors benefited in becoming well-rounded and cultured people through a university education. Several American universities have deep and established ties to the world of dramatic arts and boast a number of highly successful alumni as a result. Below are a few of these institutions of higher learning, along with some of the most distinguished alumni to find success in the world of film and television.
- Julliard Drama Division – The famous NYC performing arts school currently offers a four-year professional actor training program leading either to a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree or to a Diploma but is also developing a Master of Fine Arts acting program. The Diploma option is geared towards students who already hold a baccalaureate degree but either program requires four years of residency at Juilliard with each incoming class limited to 18 students. The Lincoln Center-based school for dramatic arts was provided training for Academy Award winning actors such as Kevin Spacey (Best Actor, American Beauty, Best Supporting Actor, The Usual Suspects), William Hurt (Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Robin Williams (Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting) and Kevin Kline (Best Supporting Actor, A Fish Called Wanda). Oscar nominated actors from the school include Laura Linney (Best Actress, The Savages, and You Can Count on Me, Best Supporting Actress, Kinsey) and Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress, Doubt).
- New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts – Aspiring actors, dancers, musicians, filmmakers and screenwriters can receive professional training and an undergraduate degree in their chosen area of performing or media arts. An artistic review is required for admission to all Tisch School of the Arts programs and each department has its own specifications for review (e.g., an audition for Drama, a portfolio for Film and Television). The Drama Department offers comprehensive conservatory training in acting as well as directing, musical performance, production, design and stage management. In addition to classes lead by respected working artists, an established internship program connects students to New York’s famous professional theatre community. The BFA Drama program is affiliate with the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Alumni from this East Coast institution include Academy Award winners Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Actor, Capote), Burt Lancaster (Best Actor, Elmer Gantry), Louis Gossett Jr. (Best Supporting Actor, An Officer and a Gentleman) and Marisa Tomei (Best Supporting Actress, My Cousin Vinny).
- Pace University – Offering a Master of Fine Arts in Acting, Directing and Playwriting, the accredited program is officially sanctioned and supervised by the Actors Studio. Masters candidates are taught the Stanislavski System and the Method with a curriculum designed and supervised by Actors Studio leaders, including the Presidents of the Actors Studio, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. Regardless of the area of concentration; all students train side-by-side as actors, including directors and playwrights and all students also participate in the Craft Seminars, better known to the public as the television series, Inside the Actors Studio, hosted by James Lipton.
- University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Theater, Film and Television – Located between Hollywood and the beaches of Los Angeles, UCLA offers a wide variety of theatre, film, television and digital media programs, including the Undergraduate Theater Program (BA) with specializations in acting, playwriting an musical theatre, Undergraduate Film, Television and Digital Media (BA), Acting (MFA), Theater (MA) and Theater and Performance Studies (PhD). Rather than focusing on any one specific technique, the acting classes provide a variety of philosophies, techniques and ideas to help an aspiring actor to determine what works best for him or her in a particular role. Students are given access to unique resources through the UCLA partnerships with the Geffen Playhouse and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. While noted as a home to directors and screenwriters, Oscar winners such as James Coburn (Best Supporting Actor, Affliction) and Tim Robbins (Best Supporting Actor, Mystic River) also attended UCLA.
- University of Southern California (USC) School of Theatre – Since 1945, the USC School of Theatre combined artistic training in a conservatory environment with academic studies. Nationally ranked among the top five undergraduate theatre programs, The School produces more than 20 shows annually using multiple facilities, including the Bing Theatre, the Scene Dock Theatre, the Massman Theatre and the Village Gate. Students are encouraged to acquire professional experience and academic credit through internships, such as internship opportunities through a partnership with Center Theatre Group. One of the leading professional theatres in the U.S., the Center Theatre offers a variety of internships from performing to administrative. Based in Los Angeles, The School attracts respected leaders from the stage, screen and television as guest speakers and lecturers. Three-year graduate programs in Acting and Dramatic Writing are also available. Award-winning directors, writers and producers who attended USC include Academy Award winning actors Forest Whitaker (Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland) and John Wayne (Best Actor, True Grit).
- Purchase College, State University of New York (SUNY) Conservatory of Theatre Arts – Featuring an intensive BFA training programs in acting and dramatic writing as well as a BFA and an MFA training program in theatre design/stage technology, the State University is located less than a hour from downtown NYC and the theatres of Broadway. A limited number of students are accepted each year into one of four schools in the Consortium of Professional Theatre Training Programs to be taught by respected faculty drawn from the ranks of professional theatre. Students interested in the history and aesthetics of the world of performing arts may pursue a BA program in theatre and performance offering a broader liberal arts curriculum. Successful actors who attended Purchase College include Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci (Best Supporting Actor, The Lovely Bones) as well as multiple Emmy winner Edie Falco, Golden Globe winner Ving Rhames, Parker Posey and Wesley Snipes.
- Yale School of Drama – The Ivy League University offers a graduate professional conservatory for training in every discipline of the theatre arts, including acting, production design, directing, playwriting, stage management and technical design. The School of Drama operates in partnership with the Tony Award-winning Yale Repertory Theatre and the faculty are respected for their professional accomplishments and dedication to teaching. In addition to Master of Fine Arts and Doctor Fine Arts programs, the School of Drama also offers a Certificate in Drama for students who do have an undergraduate degree from an accredited college. All students are admitted based on their talent and career potential and each applicant who meets the MFA or certificate requirements must audition in person as part of the admissions process. Distinguished alumni from the renowned university include Academy Award winners Meryl Streep (Best Actress, Sophie’s Choice; Best Supporting Actress, Kramer vs. Kramer), Paul Newman (Best Actor, The Color of Money, Honorary Award and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award Oscars). Frances McDormand (Best Actress, Fargo). Academy Award nominees include Sigourney Weaver (Best Actress, Aliens and Gorillas in the Mist, Best Supporting Actress, Working Girl), Patricia Clarkson (Best Supporting Actress, Pieces of April) and Paul Giamatti (Best Supporting Actor, Cinderella Man).
Like many industries, professional organizations and labor unions were formed to ensure safe working conditions and protect the interests of its members. In the entertainment industry, actors may choose to join one or more of the unions listed below to gain valuable industry contacts, attain health benefits and ensure a minimum rate of pay. In fact, achieving membership in a union is often a major milestone for an actor because many television and film productions are “union-only.”
Founded in 1913, the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) represents the interests of performers and stage managers working in live theatre. Known informally as ‘Equity,’ the union sets minimum standards for pay and organizes benefits like medical and dental insurance for working actors. Members also have access to exclusive auditions and casting calls for union represented stage plays and musical theatre. Please note, the U.S. labor union is a separate entity from the British entertainment industry union, Equity.
Representing film performers, including Tom Cruise, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was founded in 1933. Similar to the Actors’ Equity Association, SAG protects the interests of actors by setting the industry standards for salary, working conditions and employment benefits. Each year, SAG also hosts an awards banquet with actors honoring their peers for their cinematic accomplishments. Obtaining a SAG card is considered an important rite of passage for the nascent actor. To qualify for membership in the Screen Actors Guild, an actor must work on a SAG film in a principle (speaking) role, meet the background entry requirements or fulfill the necessary requirements for ‘Taft Hartley’ status.
Actors, artists and journalists working in radio and television also have their own labor union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, to set the industry standards for benefits, salary and working conditions Commonly referred to as AFTRA, the union was originally founded in 1935 to represent radio artists. As the entertainment industry evolved, the union expanded during the 1950s to include television performers. These days, the union works in concert with the Screen Actors Guild to represent the professional interests of its members working in television and film.
So there it is, aspiring actors! If you have anything to add, such as links or resources we may have missed, feel free to let us know in the comment section or through our social media channels, Facebook page, Twitter, Orkut and Weibo, by using the hashtag #Aspiring2ActWriteDirect. We’re always looking to hear from fans and love it when you guys bring useful information to our attention.
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