Career as an actor

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David Roberts wants to do nothing more than act – even though he can go months without getting a role. Between jobs, he has to take on additional work to make ends meet, but he enjoys every minute of it.

What's your typical day?

Actors are employed on very short contracts – often just for a few days at a time, so there's not really a routine. I might be attending a casting for a commercial, an audition for a theatre or TV role, or learning lines, rehearsing, performing, having a singing or dance lesson. In one day, I might be doing any or all of these things.

The most common thing of all, though, is looking for a job. If you don't find anything in time, you might have to rely on other work to supplement your income.

What have you been working on this year?

I have toured with children's versions of two Shakespeare plays, appeared in the London premiere of a musical and done some readings for Radio 3.

How important is English in your job?

It's essential. You have to be able to analyse the text you're working on – be that Shakespeare or Eastenders – and understand everything that is going on for that character. You need to be able to communicate with your director and fellow actors. In an audition, you may be asked to read a section of script without having seen it beforehand.

How do you prepare for a new production?

You have to keep your voice and body in good condition at all times. That means singing lessons and practice, and going to the gym or dance classes and so forth. You usually have to prepare yourself for a part at home – possibly researching the background to a character, story or period. And you have to learn your lines. Most theatre directors will expect you to know your lines within a couple of weeks of starting rehearsals, and TV directors will want you word perfect on the first day.

What's the most difficult part your career as an actor?

Not working! There is such huge uncertainty in this line of work – you can go weeks or even months without an audition, and then suddenly get a phone call on a Friday offering you a job that starts on the Monday.

What are you doing at present?

I'm working on some murder mysteries at the moment. Each play has less than two week's rehearsal before we perform. Our rehearsal day is 10am to 6pm unless the company is performing in the evening, in which case we finish at 2pm I'm rehearsing one play in the day and performing a different one in the evening.

David's route to his career as an actor

  • Degree in drama.
  • After several years of trying to break into acting, an agent advised him to go to drama school.
  • Auditioned and won a place at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

David's acting career tips

  • Theatre places huge demands on your speaking voice, so you need to get properly trained.
  • Singing, dancing and playing a musical instrument are very useful skills, as are basic business skills for keeping accounts – actors are classed as self-employed.

Acting related jobs












  • Arts administrator
  • Musician: classical
  • Musician: popular
  • Dancer
  • Dramatherapist
  • Entertainer
  • Music therapist
  • Popular musician

Salary of an actor

  • Equity, the actors' union, negotiates minimum pay rates.
  • For an actor working in aWest End theatre, this would be around £14,800 for nightly performances and£17,400 for twice-nightly performances. However, jobs tend to be short contracts.
  • Equivalent annual income for those working outside London on nightly performances would be £12,200.
  • Actors may earn much more than this as they build up a reputation.

Career as an actor

  • It is not essential to have professional training, but the National Council for Drama Training (NCDT) does recommend it, and most working actors have been to drama school.
  • Entry to courses is by audition and is very competitive. An average, only one in 20 who apply is offered a place on a drama course.
  • There are no formal entry requirements to most drama courses. Some courses, though, do ask for academic qualifications in core subjects such as English language and literature.
  • Some universities and colleges of higher education offer degree courses in drama. These courses are usually academic rather than aimed at training performers.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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