Do I Need an Acting Degree to Become an Actor?

Wendy Alane Wright

Wendy Alane Wright

Hi. Wendy Alane Wright, the Hollywood talent manager in Los Angeles, California, I’m going to answer a very important question that a lot of actors, a lot of actors ask me. 

Should I get a degree in theater? Or should I study something else?

Listen, I give advice and suggestions and guidance based on my 30 years experience in the business, what I say is simply a suggestion. These choices are choices you have to make based on your own prayer, meditation and consultation with yourself. Okay, but I will give you my experience. And if that helps guide you in some way, I’m happy. That’s fantastic. 

Okay, here’s what I know, I’ll tell you what I know. And then you do what you do, do what you want. 

Casting directors are looking for actors who are trained. 

They want actors who know how to act. 

And while everybody in the world who wants to be an actor may think they can act. The fact is, not everybody is believable when they act. A lot of times you can watch an actor work, and you just don’t believe them. And the actor may think they’re fantastic, but we just don’t believe them. 

Believing that that actor is really having those emotions, and really feeling those things, requires training and practice.

You, as an actor, have to train and practice three, four times a week, to get good at bringing up your own feelings and emotions and throwing them out there in front of everybody – on the spot.

That stuff doesn’t just come naturally, you know, fear of public speaking is the number one fear in the world, even more so than death. Okay, speaking in public, imagine having emotions in public, sharing your feelings in public, if you don’t do it really fully, it will not be believable. So practicing that is really important. 

Because if you get in front of a casting director, and you’re supposed to be really having an emotion, and we watch you, and we don’t believe it, you’re not going to get the job. So you’ve got to train and learn how to be a great actor.

How Do I Get In Front of a Casting Director Without a Degree?

You have lots of options. Maybe it means you take college courses, maybe it means you go to film school or drama school, maybe you study at the actor studio, or at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Maybe you majored in theater, I don’t know what you got to do. Maybe you coach on a weekly basis with a great acting coach. Maybe you have a great acting class in your home state or country where you are really learning how to be real. 

It comes down to being real. 

The kind of real when you go to a movie, and you watch an actor act, and they feel something and you feel it, and you’re crying, and you’re upset, because they are. I’m going to cry, just thinking about that. 

That is my favorite thing that a human being does is acting, I don’t know why I’m so addicted to it. I’m in love with actors, I’m in love with the craft. I’m in love with you people. And I’m in love with you when you get it right, and you do it great. 

It’s just an incredible gift that you have to do this, but you got to train it. 

And so if you come in front of a casting director, and it’s not good enough, it’s not believable, you’re never ever gonna get the role. So you got to figure out how to get good. And it doesn’t matter if you think you’re good.

 If other people don’t think you are, you can believe what you want, you still won’t get the job. So you’ve got to be humble. 

And you’ve got to take criticism. That means if someone says to you, I didn’t believe it, you cannot be like, well, I’ve been trying good, you know, I this I’m that you can tell yourself a whole lot of bullshit. But it really has to be believable.

Now, that being said, every actor that gets good does not attend Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, you know, some learn how to be really good at directing class, out back in the farmland in Kentucky or Kansas. 

I don’t care where you learn it.

How Do I Become Good at Acting Without a Degree?

The likelihood of getting good is usually by having really great teachers. So some actors will really make sure they have great teachers. 

They’ll study in New York, they’ll study in London, they’ll study with other top coaches, that does not even guarantee they’re going to get a job. coming out of college with a degree in theater does not mean you’re going to be on television or films. 

Every year I go to showcases with the graduates from Yale, from Juilliard, and I see some bad actors. They spent a whole lot of money to get that training, but I still don’t believe a word out of their mouth. 

So the training is important but how you get it is up to you. 

Do you need a degree in it? No. 

We hire actors all the time that don’t have degrees in theater.

 If you have two actors, and one has a degree from Juilliard, but we don’t believe them, and the other actor has been training in local Kansas, and they’re believable. Which one? Do you think we’re going to hire?

The Good one. So just get good. That’s your goal, right? 

That being said, this is show business, I cannot stress this enough. There are a lot of actors that come out of film school and theater school who know nothing about business. 

And this is a business. When you become an actor, you are a sole proprietor, you are running your own acting business, there are startup expenses, your headshots, your resume, your online acting, profiles, your acting classes, all kinds of stuff. 

So you have an idea, it can be very expensive to live and pay your bills in LA. So you need to know that there are a lot of expenses because it’s a business. This is not a hobby. 

For the people that work here in LA agents, managers, casting directors, movie people, you know, movie studios, this is a business. So studying business is just as important as studying how to act. Because just being an actor is not enough. You’ve got to understand how to market yourself, how to network with people, how to run your business, how to file your taxes, how to save your receipts, and how to write things off. 

And there’s just so much you have to learn for business. So I suggest every actor take business courses. Now, the complicated thing is, let’s say you say, “Well, my parents don’t think I should be following this acting dream. Because you know, only one in like 1000 actors ever works. 95% of the actors that belong to sag AFTRA are broke, only 5% can pay their bills from acting.” 

This is true. 

Most actors have a second job. They almost all make their money from something else. If you booked one TV show a year, like Big Bang Theory, and you got paid 3,800 bucks to be on that show one time, that doesn’t pay your bills. So you could have a big show like that one every year for 20 years on 20 shows, but you’re not paying your bills from it. 

So how are you going to pay your bills? This is the dilemma actors have right? The dilemma is how do I have a job that gives me free time. So I can audition, and work as an actor. If you have a job, like you’re an accountant for a major company, and they’re like, “well, you can’t just take a week off and go shoot, you can’t take the day off and have auditions.”

Figure Out Your Own Path

You’ve got to figure this out. There’s no easy solution to this. Some people own their own businesses like an online business, or they are Pilates instructors, or art teachers or tutors, or they substitute teach, or their real estate agent or whatever they have to do. 

You have to talk to actors and figure out what they do to make money and figure it out for yourself. You have to find a job that you can make enough money to support yourself and put some money away because you need savings. And still go on all your auditions. 

And this is the dilemmas of actors, you’ve got to figure this out.

It’s part of the job, right? It’s part of your business. 

So my answer is get your training however, and wherever you have to and do it realizing you have a lot of competition. 

So you need to really practice and be good. And study business. 

And if you wanted to get a degree in theater, that’s great. But get another degree with a minor in theater and major in business or whatever – you can major in theater, but minor in something else that will actually help you with your craft. And if you want to be an engineer, listen, you can decide to put everything on hold for your acting career and go 1,000% into it and immerse yourself completely in your career. 

And some of you may become stars and some of you may become working actors. And some of you may not all of that is okay. If you’re pursuing what you really want to pursuing. You’ll have no regrets. 

The problem in life, people get to the end of their life and think oh my god, I should have done that. That was my dream and I never followed it.

Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let that happen to you. Follow your dream.

But if you have to do it sensibly, if you’re married, if you have kids, you can’t just tell everybody you know, screw it, “I’m gonna go follow my dream. I’ve got no money.” 

You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be sensible. And a lot of times you can start building your career where you are short films, student films, get together with other actors put on your own productions. Create your own short films, create your own web series, create your own feature films.


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