How to Survive as a Stage Actor

by Nicole Vulcan
Developing skills in singing, improv or comedy can boost your stock as an actor.

Developing skills in singing, improv or comedy can boost your stock as an actor.

It looks like one of the most glamorous professions out there, but when you're standing under those bright stage lights you know that the world of acting is not one big song and dance. Surviving -- and thriving -- as a stage actor is a full-time endeavor and one that can require you to burn the midnight oil in order to pay the bills. If you're still ready to try it, give yourself the best chance possible by following some basic steps.

Develop a side business that allows you the flexibility to take on roles and attend auditions. Not only can stage acting be low-paying, it often requires you to be at the theater every night for weeks -- or even months. Some stage actors survive by working days at a cafe or working nights in the box office of a theater; others manage to pay the bills by nannying, freelance writing or selling vintage goods online. Another way to pinch pennies: consider a group housing situation, in which you share an apartment or room with others.

Stay abreast of what's happening in the industry by reading as much as you can and attending other shows. Read magazines or websites such as Variety and Backstage often, but also keep your eyes open for posters, fliers and online forums that alert you to casting and training opportunities.

Take every acting or theater gig that comes your way -- at least at first. Don't be afraid to take that nonpaying role in a community theater or to volunteer as a stagehand in a bigger production; the more time you spend in the theater, the more connections you'll make, and the more opportunities will come your way. As you get more connected, you may be able to turn down the lesser-paying roles or gigs in favor of the ones that will actually give you a living wage.

Invest in marketing yourself. Great headshots are a must -- but also consider creating a portfolio website that includes clips of you on stage, as well as your resume and other information about you and your career.

Care for your instrument. Stage actors have to be able to project their voices and to endure long jags of stage time without a break -- something you won't be able to do for long if you're not taking care of your body. Avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Exercise as much as you can. If you can afford it, enroll in dance or movement workshops that will give you a chance to exercise and learn a new facet of your craft.

Find a group of supportive people who can help you through the rough patches. As a stage actor, you'll have periods of joy when you get that coveted role -- but you'll also have to deal with big disappointments. A group of fellow actors or just a sympathetic friend can be a big help in coping with ups and downs.


  • At some point in your career, you may have to consider getting a talent agent. Before you take the plunge, talk with your network of fellow actors and try to get as much information as possible about how much work individual agents are bringing them, what agents' fees are and the pros and cons of paying someone else to find you work.


About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images