From Zero to Hero: How to Start Acting With No Experience

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Starting an acting career without any prior experience might seem like a daunting task. But here is the good news – all of your favorite actors had to start somewhere! 

With the right mindset, dedication, and willingness to put in the hard work, it’s entirely possible to build a successful career in the entertainment industry.

For aspiring actors, understanding the essential steps and the numerous opportunities available is crucial in taking the first step towards a fulfilling acting journey.

In this article, I will detail some of the most important things that will get you started in the acting industry with little to no prior experience.

The Importance of Formal Training: Drama Schools and Acting Classes

Acting School Class in session

One of the most important things for an aspiring actor is to acquire formal training.

Drama schools and acting classes serve as the foundation for honing acting skills.

You can find good acting programs at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels at colleges and prestigious universities around the globe.

Here’s a list of colleges with good acting programs.

And here’s a list of the most prestigious acting schools worldwide.

These institutions provide a structured curriculum that covers various aspects of acting, from scene study and character development to improvisation and voice acting.

It’s a great way to start understanding the intricacies of the acting profession.

These programs not only help new actors develop skills in the craft of acting but will also teach you about the business of the entertainment industry.

This route may not be feasible for every actor, but it is the most efficient way to gain skills and training all in one place.

However, we will explore other ways to get you started if full-time drama school is not the right fit for you!

Choosing the Right Acting School: Short Courses, Online Classes, and Community Offerings

Short courses and workshops are a good idea for those who prefer not to attend full-time drama school.

Many institutions offer short-term acting courses that provide an introduction to acting techniques.

Online courses have also become increasingly popular, offering flexibility in terms of time and accessibility.

Community theaters often provide acting workshops and classes, providing a space for beginners to learn from experienced professionals.

In Los Angeles, renowned acting teachers such as Howard Fine and Jeffery Marcus offer private and group acting classes and coaching. 

Stella Adler offers a variety of online acting classes, ranging from learning the fundamentals of acting to more specialized workshops. She is a great place to work on your craft online.

You can read more about Stella Adler’s acting technique here.

Acting training is not one size fits all, so I encourage you to explore a variety of classes, methods, techniques, and teachers.

In addition to being a student of your craft, acting classes are also a great place to connect with other industry artists.

Building Your Skill Set: Special Skills and Unique Talents

Femaile martial arts special skills acting

As an actor, showcasing special skills can set you apart.

Whether it’s martial arts, proficiency in a foreign language, musical abilities, or any particular skill, highlighting these skills can open up more acting opportunities.

Casting directors often look for actors who bring something unique, making special skills an essential part of an actor’s calling card.

I encourage you to think about your unique skills outside of acting and focus on harnessing those skills.

Particularly in commercial work, you never know what special skill will be needed and could get you the job!

For example, athletic wear companies might cast for “real long-distance runners,” or a kitchen supply company might request auditions from “real home chefs.”

Take time to think about and document your unique skill set and seek opportunities to showcase you!

Understanding the Industry: Networking, Industry Professionals, and Talent Agents

Networking and talent agents in the acting industry

Networking is an important part of the acting business.

Attending industry events, workshops, and seminars is a great way to meet industry professionals, including talent agents and casting directors.

It’s essential to make connections and build relationships within the industry.

Joining online communities and social media groups dedicated to acting can also provide access to valuable opportunities and advice.

Backstage offers a robust online community with resources and community forums in addition to the site’s audition listings.

Make sure to read everything you can about the craft of acting and the business of acting.

Get familiar with terms such as casting director, independent film, talent manager, and more.

Knowing the industry from a business standpoint will help you ensure you make great first impressions at networking events.

One on One offers workshops, seminars, meet-and-greets with industry professionals, and showcases to connect actors with casting directors, directors, and talent representatives.

This company vets their industry guests, so you can be sure that the opportunities are worth the investment.

Crafting Your Acting Resume: From Extra Work to Theater Roles

Building an acting resume, even with minimal experience, is crucial.

All acting jobs, whether extra work, minor roles in independent films, or community theater productions, contribute to your acting resume and experience.

It’s important to list all acting experience on your resume, no matter how much or how little.

A well-crafted acting resume can help casting directors and talent agents gauge your experience and potential.

Design programs such as Canva offer templates for acting resumes. Be sure to research and get familiar with the format of an acting resume – as it is somewhat different from a traditional job-seeking resume.

Actors often divide their resumes into the following sections:

  • Film,
  • Television,
  • Commercials/Industrials,
  • Theater,
  • Special Skills. 

Your special skills section can include previously well-thought-out special skills that make you stand out, such as proficiency in a foreign language, advanced sports skills, and exciting hobbies.

As your resume begins to fill up, you can start becoming picky about which roles you would like to include on your resume. Your resume will always evolve, but it should never exceed one page. This is the industry standard.

The Power of Professional Headshots and Demo Reels

Actress headshot

Professional headshots and demo reels are an actor’s calling card. A headshot is the first thing casting directors see and can make a significant impact.

Investing in a professional photographer for headshots that capture your essence as an actor is wise.

Be sure to book a headshot session with a photographer with experience shooting acting headshots.

These differ from other portraits, and booking a photographer with experience working in this medium is essential to putting your best foot forward. A casting director will often see your headshot before they can read your resume.

This is one place that I recommend investing your resources, as having a great headshot will lead to more auditions and casting opportunities! 

Your headshot should reflect your identity when you enter the audition room. So, if you make any major changes, such as a new haircut or color, you must update these materials.

Otherwise, it is best to take new headshots at least every two years.

Similarly, a demo reel showcasing your acting abilities in short video clips is essential for demonstrating your range and talent.

Your demo reel, like your resume, will always be evolving.

If you do not yet have any film or theater experience, you can self-tape any scene that showcases you well and use this to demonstrate your skills. 

The demo reel can be cut together on a video editing platform like iMovie or Adobe Premiere. Here’s a list of free video editing software you can use.

Here, you can find free tutorials on how to get started in Premiere Pro.

As you gain more experience, you can add your newly taped scenes to this demo reel.

The scenes should showcase you as the primary actor in the scene.

Auditioning: The First Step Towards Landing an Acting Job

casting call / audition / voice acting

Auditioning is a critical aspect of an actor’s journey.

In the audition room, actors can showcase their skills and make a lasting impression.

Understanding audition techniques, selecting appropriate monologues, and being prepared are crucial.

The first audition might be nerve-wracking, but it’s a necessary step in pursuing an acting career.

Auditions can be found nationally on platforms such as Backstage and Casting Networks.

On these sites and other casting platforms, you will create a profile and then submit your headshot, resume, and demo reel to be considered for an audition.

If voice acting is of particular interest, here’s a guide on how to find voice-acting casting calls.

Then, if the casting director invites you to an audition, you are one step closer to booking a job!

For some jobs, such as extra work, casting directors often cast actors directly from their materials without needing an audition.

This can be a great way to get onset experience and gain confidence in the industry when you are first starting. 

When you get an audition – read all instructions carefully, research the creative team, audition in a timely manner, and have confidence that you could be the missing piece of the casting puzzle!

Exploring Acting Opportunities: Student Films, Independent Projects, and Community Theater

Community Theatre

Student films, independent projects, and community theater are excellent avenues for beginners to gain acting experience.

Student filmmakers often seek fresh faces, providing opportunities for actors with no prior experience.

Engaging in these projects builds acting skills and helps in understanding on-camera acting techniques and working in a professional setting.

Transitioning to Bigger Opportunities? Get an Agent!

As actors gain more experience and refine their craft, they can aim for bigger opportunities in the entertainment industry.

Auditioning for theater productions, television shows, and independent films in bigger cities like New York City or Los Angeles opens doors to a wider range of roles and exposure.

Talent agencies become instrumental in helping actors secure auditions for these significant projects.

Tips and tricks on how to get an agent

Research reputable talent agencies in your area or industry hubs like Los Angeles or New York City.

Look for agencies that represent actors in your age range type and with similar career goals.

Attend industry events, workshops, and seminars where agents might be present. Networking provides opportunities to introduce yourself and make connections.

Most agencies have submission guidelines on their websites.

Follow the submission guidelines meticulously when sending your headshots, resume, and demo reel.

Personalize your submission by addressing the agent by name and expressing genuine interest in their agency.

Craft a concise and professional cover letter introducing yourself, stating your goals, and briefly highlighting your experience. Avoid generic templates; personalize your letter for each agent.

Include your materials, such as your headshot, resume, demo reel, and any self-taped auditions or scenes that showcase your skills.

If an agent shows interest, they might invite you for a meeting or an audition.

Treat this as a professional interaction. Be punctual, prepared, and showcase your best self.

I also recommend you read this more in-depth guide with tips on how to get an agent.

Remember, getting a talent agent takes time and perseverance. Focus on improving your craft, networking, and presenting yourself professionally.

Landing the right agent might be a process, but with dedication, it’s an achievable goal in an actor’s career journey.

Casting Directors play a crucial role in an actor’s career. They help actors secure auditions and negotiate contracts.

Building professional relationships with reputable casting directors can significantly impact your career trajectory.

Research casting directors in your area or field of interest (film, TV, theater, etc.). Understand their work, their projects, and their casting styles.

Whenever you audition for a casting director, be prepared and professional.

Even if you don’t land the role, leave a positive impression with your professionalism and skill.

Keep casting directors updated about your career developments without being intrusive.

Send occasional updates on recent projects, performances, or new skills acquired. Building relationships takes time.

Keep nurturing these connections without expecting immediate results.

Continue to be professional, reliable, and positive, and you will be an actor that casting directors enjoy being able to audition.

Understanding Different Facets of Acting: Voice Acting and On-Camera Skills

Voice acting

Acting isn’t limited to stage and screen. Voice acting for animations, video games, or commercials is a specialized field within the acting profession.

Developing skills for voice acting requires specific techniques and practices. Additionally, mastering on-camera skills is essential for actors transitioning between theater and film or television roles.

Voice acting relies on the voice’s power to connect with the audience. Characters are built through vocal inflections and nuances, making the audience visualize the character without physical presence.

If you want to explore a voice acting career path, here’s a handy guide with tips on how to get you started.

On-camera acting utilizes the entire body to create a visual and emotional connection with the audience. Facial expressions, body language, and eye contact are crucial in conveying emotions and engaging the audience.

Take classes and develop your skills in both of these mediums. Gaining skills in one can positively affect your work in the other!

Fostering a Successful Acting Career: Persistence, Hard Work, and Long-Term Goals

Success in the acting industry requires persistence and hard work. Long hours, constant auditions, and rejections are part of the journey.

However, maintaining a positive attitude and focusing on long-term goals is essential.

Successful actors often emphasize the importance of continuous learning, dedication, and a strong work ethic.

Rejections are inevitable in the acting industry. Every “no” brings you closer to a “yes.”

Embrace persistence by continually auditioning, seeking opportunities, and learning from setbacks.

Commit to honing your skills through acting classes, workshops, or self-study. Embrace challenges that push you out of your comfort zone.

Establish clear, achievable long-term goals in your acting career. Whether landing specific roles, working with renowned directors, or gaining recognition in a particular genre, having a roadmap guides your actions.

While long-term goals provide direction, remain open to adjustments. The industry can be unpredictable, so being flexible in your approach allows adaptation to new opportunities.

Conclusion

Embarking on an acting career with no prior experience is indeed a journey filled with challenges and opportunities.

From taking the first steps in acting classes to building a robust portfolio with professional credits, every experience contributes to an actor’s growth.

Continuously seek opportunities to learn and grow as an actor. Embrace feedback, take classes, and expose yourself to diverse experiences contribute to your growth.

Understanding the industry, networking with industry professionals, and honing acting skills are crucial elements in navigating the world of show business.

By staying persistent, dedicated, and open to learning, aspiring actors can pave their way toward a successful and fulfilling career in the acting profession. Break a leg. You are going to do great!


Author

  • Quinn Hemphill

    Quinn Hemphill is a bicoastal actress with a BFA in acting from Syracuse University. When not acting, she enjoys sharing what she has learned in her own career with other creatives. Catch her as the newest cast member in the "Bad Boys" franchise in 2024!

    View all posts

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