Although most acting professionals don’t become household names, you can still have a successful and rewarding career working across a range of visual and audio mediums.

In addition to strong technical acting skills, aspiring actors need a very strong work ethic, tenacity, enthusiasm, resilience, flexibility and the ability to work well with different types of people and sometimes in challenging conditions.

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The majority of actors work on a freelance basis and even those who are employed by an organisation, are often employed under fixed term contracts eg: actors working on TV/Radio series. Before deciding on this career path, it’s important to think about whether you’re suited to this “freelance” working style and also perhaps needing a second job/alternative employment when you’re waiting for your next acting role.


There are a range of options as an actor, including but not limited to the following:

  • TV & Film
  • Theatre
  • Radio
  • Advertising
  • Multi-Media Platforms eg: YouTube
  • Radio
  • Video Games
  • Audio Book Recordings
  • Education/Training
  • Therapy
  • Voice-overs

Although it’s good to know which your preferred medium is, it’s important to remain flexible as in a highly competitive market, roles are few and far between, so being open-minded will improve your chances of getting work and could help you to expand your experience and skills.


It’s important to gain as much acting experience as you can, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s amateur or professional. Not only does the experience help you to develop your technical skills, it also demonstrates true passion and commitment to future employers and/or training providers and will provide you with an insight into whether this is the career you really want.

Oxford is a great place to gain experience as there is a thriving acting community, both within the university and outside. Join the OUDS (Oxford University Dramatic Society) an essential resource for drama related news including, auditions, upcoming productions and events. Most colleges have a drama society, so get involved and if you’re college doesn’t……perhaps start one! There are also a number of Oxford based dramatic societies you can join such as the Oxford Theatre Guild, and for musical theatre Oxford Operatic Society (OXOPS).

You can also earn money as an “extra” on professional productions and Uni-versalEXTRAS is a website placing extras on film and TV productions (there is a registration fee)

There is no single entry point into the industry, however nowadays most people entering the profession will have some form of professional training at a drama school, typically Foundation Diplomas, Undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications in acting or performance.

However you don’t have to do a full-time drama degree to become a professional actor, for example the National Youth Theatre Rep Company (for aspiring actors aged 14-25) offers some free courses (ranging from 6 days to 9 months) and generous scholarships/bursaries. 20 Stories High in Liverpool and the Television Workshop based in Nottingham (for under 19s only) also offer free and/or reduced cost training to young aspiring actors. Most of the larger and more established drama schools also run short courses of varying lengths and you may find that doing one of these can help you develop specific skills.

Training (whether at a drama school or not) is essential to learn the necessary skills to stand out in a very competitive marking, most courses cover subjects such as acting, voice, movement, singing, stage combat, audition techniques etc – carefully check each course to see what they cover and if they offer training in the techniques you are interested in. Another added benefit of training is that institutions often offer exposure to and networking opportunities with professionals in the business, such as successful actors, producers, directors, casting agents and practical career guidance on how to best navigate the industry once you’ve completed your course.

How to choose your course

When choosing a course (regardless of length) detailed research is imperative. You need to be sure about what the course does (and does not) offer AND that the training will assist you in gaining the skills to be a competitive applicant in the sector. Also check what their alumni have done since graduation – are they working and/or doing the type of work that you are interested in?

The drama school application process is rigorous and highly competitive, requiring a lot of work and detailed preparation. Many people are accepted into a drama school on their second or third attempt – so keep perservering if you’re not successful first time around. If your application isn’t successful, try to get detailed feedback on what you need to improve and focus on that before you apply again – there are a number of short courses which could help you develop specific skills (see list in “external sources” section below).

There are many drama schools in the UK, offering a range of course options, including new schools offering part time courses such as Identity School of Acting whose most famous alumnus is John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Detroit, Woyzeck – the Old Vic). There are also longer established schools such as RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) whose alumni include Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok, Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre)  and Cynthia Erivo (Widows, The Color Purple – Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, New York) and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with alumni including Charlie Cox (Daredevil, Stardust, The Theory of Everything).

There will be a number of considerations you will need to take into account when deciding on a course, such as location, price, type of course and course content. The  Federation of Drama Schools  has a list of courses accredited by them and also career advice and tips for working in the industry.


Most people fund their own studies, either with savings or personal/bank loans, as government Student Loans are not available for all courses (however check with each institution). Most schools also have scholarship programmes, so it’s worth checking if you’re eligible.

This is one of the most competitive industries and most actors spend the majority of their time “resting” i.e. looking for work/not working as an actor, so you may need to have an alternative source of income during these times, especially early in your career.

You will need to be pro-active and resourceful when looking for work. Although there are advertised roles, many aren’t,so you will need to build your own network of contacts. Websites like the Stage  and Mandy are a good source for current events and roles in theatre and stage. The Knowledge also has information on upcoming productions and lists of production suppliers. Keep up to date about upcoming film and TV productions on (InternetMovieDatabase) or IMDB Pro (there is a subscription fee) to contact production teams and casting directors.

An additional benefit of attending drama school is that most offer careers guidance on how to navigate the job market and also skills around auditioning techniques. Auditioning skills are integral to your job, so make sure that you are well prepared and make a good impression (whether successful or not) as even if you’re not right for this role, they may remember you for a role in the future.

Networking is also key. With only a fraction of roles being advertised it’s important to find other sources of information on potential jobs. Pro-actively reach out to casting directors, theatre companies, production companies to put yourself forward for opportunities and/or find out if anything is happening in the future. Wherever possible attend industry events, workshops etc. BAFTA runs a number of talks, workshops and masterclasses, during their GURU Live festivals in London, Cardiff and Glasgow. This is an opportunity to hear from various industry professionals, attend workshops and network with people at varying stages of their career.

Although salaries can be very high for the most high profile actors, they are the exception, not the rule. You can find more information on minimum wages on the Equity website, which is the trade union for creative performers. Securing an agent can help with getting work as s/he will actively work on your behalf to find suitable roles. Depending on the contract/agreement they have with an agent, some actors still pro-actively look for their own work. Securing an agent is also a competitive process and will often require you to contact them directly yourself or apply and often inviting them to see you perform. When looking for an agent, choose one that reflects your skills and interests and works with (and finds work for actors) in the type of roles and productions you are interested in.


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • How to Get a Job in Television, Elsa Sharp
  • The Radio Handbook, Carole Fleming
  • Contacts 2012
  • On Air – A career in TV & Radio, Chris Alden
  • Careers in Media and Film: The Essential Guide, Georgina Gregory, Ros Healy, Ewa Mazierksa
  • The TV Presenter’s handbook, Kathryn Wolfe
  • Getting Into Films & Television, Robert Angell

Podcasts of past events

Routes into Professional Acting

In collaboration with the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS), the Careers Service hosted ‘Routes into Professional Acting’ in TT17. This panel talk was aimed at students interested in an acting career and brought together different perspectives from an acting agency, drama school and a successful working actor. Speakers included:

  • Alex Nair, New Applicants (Actors) & Drama School Liaison, The Avenue (acting agency)
  • Aly Spiro, Head of Acting at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA drama school)
  • Edwin Thomas, actor and Oxford alumnus (featuring in ‘The Happy Prince’, due to be released later in 2017)


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