Starting from “Zero”
AN ACTOR’S LIFE FOR ME?
Beginners: This page is for you.
Let’s assume you’re not an actor and have never performed. But maybe you’ve seen a play or movie musical or a documentary abut voice overs or some DVD extras and, man, that looks like fun. Perhaps you’re a bit of a showoff and family or friends indicate that you have some talent. Or maybe you’ve always dreamed of “giving show biz a try.”
You love the idea of voice acting but you’ve never been in a show or recorded your voice. You think you might want to go for it, but you’re unsure, maybe even a little afraid. Where to begin? And should you? Read on…
Why be an actor?
There are so many reasons to aspire to be an actor- to be seen and accepted on a stage, to connect and collaborate with others, to hear applause, to get paid to pretend, etc. For me, the enjoyment is the best reason to start acting and the best reason to keep doing it.
No matter your motivation, to become a voice actor you need to first explore acting or at least live performing of some kind.
Trying acting can be a bit scary and there will be a learning curve, but as you explore it, it should be fun, something you love, that feeds your life, whose enjoyment feeds your enthusiasm and progress.
It doesn’t start high stakes. Think of it as merely trying out something for fun- just as a hobby to start.
First Things First!
Worry about skill, money, fame, and self-promotion later. In fact, forget worry and for now let’s shoot for seeing whether you enjoy performing and whether it’s a good fit for you.
When I started acting as a kid, I wasn’t aiming at fame or money or a career at all. I wasn’t even aiming. I was just having a blast being on a stage or in front of an audience or just creating something to show others. It was many years before acting was anything more than a hobby for me. So, what’s the rush?
My advice for a beginner is to approach this new frontier at an easy pace, looking for the fun. Forget about getting an agent or a gig- that comes much later.
Can anyone be an actor?
Becoming an actor isn’t like becoming an electrician, where pretty much anyone can study up on a standard body of information, get certified and become a competent professional who people want to hire. Yes, it will take experience and study to develop acting talent, but you can’t just buy a book, read a website or take a few classes and suddenly have it. Yes, it’s a job, but it’s also an art.
Acting certainly requires a good grasp of certain learnable skills, but at its heart, acting is also an art form. Success is conditional on possessing a good amount of in-born talent. Either you have it or you don’t. But- it may take many years of exploration and work to find if you really have what it takes to go pro (get paid)!
It took me a couple decades of acting before realizing that voice acting was going to be both a source of fun and income!
An actor must have a strong, indefatigable drive to perform and create for and with others. You need an innate ability to draw an audience to you and hold their interest with what you create. You must also be able to win the confidence of those who cast and the respect of those you perform with.
You gotta get in the ring and last the round.
In addition to talent, acting also requires a certain kind of personality and temperament. Acting is a highly social activity. And it’s not a steady career- it has lots of ups and downs.
You must be okay with rejection as well as change and be able to learn from it. An actor must be able to thrive in the face of rejection and failure. You must have the capacity to hold your own in a performance, roll with the punches and bring your own sense of humor to the collaborative process that is acting. It is an ever-changing employment landscape that calls for constant nimble adaptation.
But at its core, its about talent and enjoying hills and valleys- the process- of a freelance artistic career.
You can’t learn talent, but it can be revealed, cultivated, polished and strengthened if you have it. Do you have it? You won’t know until you try it out…
One way to start acting: Pay to play in a classroom.
Classes and workshops can be a good way to get your feet wet in a supportive environment and see if acting in some form might be a thing for you (these are mostly online at this point). Just know there is no class or guru that can make everyone into a good actor, let alone voice actor. No guru or program offers the golden key- you must find your own version of that over time!
But let’s not worry about that for now. Forget about finding an agent or creating a demo- that’s for later! Let’s first approach acting as something you are trying for fun.
A class is also useful in that you learn from the success and missteps of others who are trying this out, too. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by watching others taking a run at a scene or audition.
But a class is ultimately a protected environment that is removed from the real life dynamic of the working world. It is a safe exercise area, where you can develop your “acting muscles.” But a classroom is not your final destination. You eventually want to get away from a pay-to-play classroom and get onto a real world stage, where the stakes are higher and there is no net.
Check my “Learning to act” page for a discussion of the many ways available to you to begin exploring becoming an actor.
Another way to start acting: Get in front of an audience.
For most of my life, my preferred method of learning to be an actor has been to actually do it rather than to study it. I’ve always found live performing to be the best teacher of all. (E.g., try doing a play, musical, stand up, talent show, open mic, etc.) Hopefully this option opens up as more of us get vaccinated.
On a stage or in live performing situations, you can see what actors are like, what the process is and find what works, and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t work for you in front of an audience. You learn when you soar and you learn more when you stumble and get back up and try it again.
The key ingredient here is a live audience.
Also, you learn from working with people who are more experienced, more skilled, more confident than you. You must seek these people out, even if you feel a bit self conscious about how far you feel you have to go.
You don’t get better at tennis by playing with others less skilled than you! Same goes for acting.
Why wait when you can start NOW?
But why wait for a class to start this journey? Start performing NOW by finding any way you can to get on a stage, get in front of an audience, a camera or microphone (perhaps in a Zoom class). Learn by doing!
You want to be a creator? You need to cultivate the habit of creating!
There are a hundred ways to come at this. Try any or all of the following: Plays, musicals, puppetry, stand up, improv, theme park shows, podcasting, open mic nights, radio, home produced YouTube or TikTok projects, play in a band– anything that sounds fun that fits your skill set! Just get yourself in front of an audience in a creative capacity.
Seek out others who create the kinds of things you love and make something together! If you can’t find someone else’s show or project, make your own!
But what if you live in “Nowheresville?” What if there is “nothing happening” in your neighborhood/city/school/chapter in life? Then it is up to you to find ways to start creating, find your creative community and get yourself eventually to where something is “happening–” where more advanced creative types are that you can learn from. You must hunt it out!
Maybe you decide to save up for an out-of-town class or a special trip to be in a show or audition for a play or try your ideas at an open mic night. Perhaps you go see a performer who inspires you and say hello and get some quick advice at a convention panel. Maybe you find a pro who can consult with you online or who teaches. It may take time and saving some money, but you gotta do what you gotta do if you really want to try this, right?
There is no good reason to wait. Start now! You’ve got to not just have talent, but you’ve got to want it! It must become a habit woven into your daily life! If you want it enough, you’ll find a way to go for it.
When the going gets tough…
Don’t be intimidated by the inevitable roadblocks, false starts and endless rejections on the path to becoming an actor! That all goes with the territory! You will sometimes (rightfully) feel utterly outgunned and outclassed (I certainly have!). At times you may feel a complete failure (that too!). So what? You’re learning and everyone starts at zero!
Just remember that every intimidating or experienced pro who exudes confidence and fearlessness was once a total beginner! Trust me, they still have their low points and bad days just like you do! And no matter how far your career advances, there’s always a missed cue, a flubbed audition, a terrible choice in a scene, a miscast, a recast, an epic bomb or some roadblock that life throws in your life-path. That is acting! Beyond the fun of performing, you must enjoy the entire process if this is to be a long term thing!
Your missteps or stumbles are universal to all performers. If you are to be an actor of any stripe, you must ignore rejection, failure and dead ends, or better yet, learn from them! That is essential. And you keep going and don’t give up.
Being an actor can often be fun, but it’s not always easy. Hey, if you want easy, go bake some muffins.
Becoming an actor means becoming yourself.
Study the paths of your actor heroes, learn from them. But remember: Your path will be uniquely yours, one to find on your own initiative and in your own time and in your own way. Becoming an actor is not about becoming a copy of [fill in the blank with your favorite actor], it is rather about becoming your own unique force-to-be-reckoned-with!
You become a better actor as you become more yourself, is how I might put it.
Eventually becoming a professional artist— and that is the eventual goal here– isn’t about following or “fitting in.” It isn’t about just being polite or “eager to please” either. It’s not about merely following a check list of rules. It’s about tapping into and gaining control over your unique creative powers and becoming an artist in your own right, someone who is paid to create with your own voice.
As a professional artist, you have this power “on tap”– one that is uniquely yours!
For a voice actor to become the characters on the page, she must first become herself. Actors may appear to pretend to be someone else, but an actor must paint from an inner palette that is their honest own. This is why acting isn’t just a skill- it’s an art.
Even sitting where you are, you can begin learning from the best and start stretching your “voice actor wings” right now! Check out the resources on my Voice Acting Academy page and if you want to start working your voice acting muscles, try the suggested exercises on my VO Home Workout page. You can do it now!
From hobby to career…
Now, after trying voice/acting out and having fun with it as an unpaid amateur for a while, you might begin considering voice/acting as a career path. This switches from a project of just having fun (a hobby) to one of becoming a creative entrepreneur.
It now becomes more than just a fun side activity or even an artistic outlet– it becomes increasingly about competition, business sense and a whole range of other “big picture” things that a pro should focus on to book the gig and earn some money.
Fleshing out these more advanced specifics while growing your artistic powers is the focus of the rest of my site. It’s about going “pro.”
Will there be obstacles and frustration along the way? Always! But if you love acting and have the talent– if acting is something you were born to do, even have to do– none of the time, money or other challenges will matter. With grit and luck, you will find a way to make it go.
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This was a great read. Specially the section about becoming yourself. I understand this.
Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.