Television Actor Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a television actor career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a television actor is right for you.
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A Television Actor Career: Pros and Cons

Becoming a television actor may seem like a glamorous career option, but you need to be aware that there are also downsides to the job. Read more about this career in the pros and cons tables.

PROS of Becoming a Television Actor
May require little or no college education*
Most training is done on the job*
Higher than average earning potential (75th percentile of earners made over $49.70 an hour as of May 2014)*
Possibility of becoming famous and well-recognized by the public*

CONS of Becoming a Television Actor
Periods of unemployment are common*
Slower than average job growth (4% from 2012-2022)*
High level of competition in this field**
Some jobs may require union membership**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **EntertainmentCareers.net.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a television actor, you may work in sitcoms, dramas, reality TV, talk shows or other programs that air on television. Your main job is to portray a character and perform from a script. As part of your job duties, you must memorize scripts, follow the director's orders and work with other actors to develop your character. To secure a job, you have to audition, and you may have to research the character or role to develop the right characteristics and mannerisms.

Work as a television actor is generally done indoors on a stage, but you may also have some scenes to shoot outside or in other locations. Unemployment is common in this field since there are many people vying for a limited number of jobs. You may need to hold a second job to provide a steady income. Work hours can be irregular, and long work days are common. You may have to work evenings, weekends and holidays. You may be expected to perform stunt work and/or wear cumbersome or elaborate costumes.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a 4% job growth rate, slower than average, for actors from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). New television shows may provide some new jobs, but the number of jobs is not expected to match the number of prospective actors looking for work.

The BLS reported in May 2014 that the median hourly wage was $19.82, with the lowest-paid 10% earning less than $9.00. The highest-paid 75th percentile earned more than $49.70 per hour.

Training Requirements

Most actors gain their skills through acting classes or by participating in acting opportunities in high school and college. You may also gain experience in small television roles or through independent projects or local theaters. A college degree is not required, but some type of acting, drama or related training is usually necessary. Typically, training is a lifelong process. You may need an acting coach to guide you as you develop characters or prepare for auditions.

The skills you need to have to be an actor can vary greatly from job to job. For instance, a job may require that you know how to sing or dance. You may need to be able to speak in different accents or portray different physical characteristics, such as walking with a limp. Other skills you need to have include:

  • Creativity
  • Memorization skills
  • Physical and mental stamina
  • Good reading skills
  • Articulate speaking skills

What Do Employers Look for?

When employers are looking for actors to fill a role, they don't usually place job ads. Instead, they put out a casting call. In a casting call, employers are usually very specific as to the look and age of the actor they wish to hire. Sample casting calls from April 2012 included:

  • A casting call for an unscripted television show in Nevada was seeking males or females in their 20s, 30s or 40s of any ethnicity or race.
  • An infomercial casting call in California called for Hispanic or Latino actors of various ages who can speak fluent Spanish.
  • A cable television station in New York was looking for Latina or Latino actors with big personalities and knowledge of Latin pop culture, music and fashion.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Becoming a successful television actor can hinge just as much on luck as on talent. However, to get an edge, you may want to try to work as much as possible to gain recognition and experience in the field. This may include taking on unpaid and non-TV positions. This unpaid work could entail acting roles in community theaters or other productions. Becoming a professional and joining an actor's union such as the Actors' Equity Association or the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) may also help you. However, joining a union may also limit your work opportunities, since some employers won't use union actors, and the union may limit what jobs you can take.

Alternative Career Paths

The unpredictable nature of an acting career may not be for everyone. If you are looking for something more stable, yet still related to entertainment, you may consider becoming an announcer, multimedia artist or self-enrichment teacher.

Announcer

As an announcer, you can work in radio or television. You present and provide voiceovers in a variety of situations, such as award shows, television commercials or radio programs. The BLS projected a slower than average (7%) employment growth for this occupation from 2010-2020. You can get ahead in the field by seeking formal education and being willing to work in smaller markets.

Multimedia Artist

As a multimedia artist, you use your creative skills to design visual effects for television or other media. The BLS anticipated a slow job growth of 8% for multimedia artists from 2010-2020. You can increase your chances of being hired by showcasing your creative talents and developing skills in computer graphics.

Self-Enrichment Teacher

As a self-enrichment teacher, you instruct students in subjects that they may be taking for personal enjoyment or self-improvement. Subjects may include music, improvisation or scuba diving. According to the BLS, jobs for self-enrichment teachers should grow by 21% from 2010-2020. This faster-than-average job growth should make it relatively easy for you to secure employment in this field.

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