An Acting Career

In a previous post, I shared my daughter’s disappointment in not making it into Honors Drama in her middle school. Kristie is all of thirteen so a lot of things could happen between now and the time she is ready to start sending out resumes. At various times in her life, she wanted to be a doctor, work in a nonprofit, or be involved with nature and animals. Still, if she does decide to become an actress, I wanted to find out a little more about this field. It is a well-worn adage that acting is a difficult way to make a living so a few questions came to my mind. How difficult is it to actually make it in this profession? Would she need to supplement her income? What are some ways to do that? Would she encounter any particular challenges due to her gender or ethnicity?

Here’s what I found out. It is an understatement to say it is hard to make a living as an actor, but some people are able to make money at it. This article from Backstage.com by Piyali Syam was particularly helpful. The author provided a number of ways to earn rent money through acting, including Web series, YouTube, commercials, voiceover, cruise ship jobs, and theme parks. 

Most actors supplement their income through side jobs and this article from Balance.com by Phil Breman listed several ways to do that: Bartender, office temp, script reader, and process server, among others. 

People who work in talent agencies have a unique perspective because an agent’s income depends on the success of the actors she represents. Wendy Alane Wright is a talent manager in Hollywood. In her article, she cites the following statistics: “So many people who go into acting think they are going to become famous stars. But the truth is almost everyone who is an actor will NEVER be a star. .0000005% will be a star and 1% of actors will work consistently. The rest? Well they will work at projects you NEVER hear of.”

John Kolinofsky is the president of Callidus Agency, a talent agency in Dallas, Texas. In his article on LinkedIn, he writes, “85% of movie actors make less than $5000.00 a year.”

Stefanie O’Connell is an actress and has been in a production in Madison Square Garden. For that, she made $527 a week. In her article, she gives the following numbers: “According to NPR, of the 49,000 members of Actors' Equity Association, the professional theatre actors union, around 17,000 are estimated to work in any one year. Of the members who do work, the median income from work in theatre is approximately $7,500 a year!”

And if that’s not bad enough, it appears the casting couch is very real in the entertainment field. This article in The Telegraph uncovers the seedy nature of the industry, where a lot of young women are exploited.

But the news isn’t all depressing. In this Forbes article, Alexandra Talty spotlights Rachel Lin, an Asian actress who lives and works in New York. Lin talks about the glass ceiling for Asian actors, but she says the situation has improved and there is reason for hope.

After reading these articles, I think if my daughter wants to become an actress, she has a lot of hard work ahead. At the same time, if she goes into acting because she has a passion for it, then I will support her. She just better find a good day job!


For those thinking about acting, here are some real-world statistics to help in your career decision making: