Performing arts


Actors use speech, movement and expression to bring characters to life in theatre, film, television and radio.

Annual Salary


Average UK salary in 2018 was £29,588 (source Office for Statistics)

Working hours


What's it all about?

You’ll spend a lot of time:

  • researching your role
  • learning your lines
  • rehearsing
  • attending fittings for costumes
  • preparing for and going to auditions
  • contacting actors’ agents and finding the next job

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course
  • a college course
  • volunteering
  • applying directly
  • a course at drama school


You could do a foundation degree, degree or postgraduate diploma in drama, or other relevant subject like:

  • performance studies
  • contemporary theatre and performance
  • acting
  • musical theatre

You'll usually need:

  • to pass an audition
  • at least 1 A level for a foundation degree 
  • 2 to 3 A levels for a degree
  • a degree in a relevant subject for postgraduate study


There is no set entry route to become an actor but it may be useful to do a relevant subject like:

  • Level 2 Technical Certificate in Performing Arts
  • Level 3 Extended Diploma in Performing Arts - Acting
  • A level in Drama and Theatre
  • Level 4 Diploma in Speech and Drama

You'll usually need:

  • 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) for a level 2 course
  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) for a level 3 course
  • 1 or 2 A levels, a level 3 diploma or relevant experience for a level 4 or level 5 course

Volunteering and experience

Acting is very competitive and you'll need to develop your skills by getting as much practical experience of acting as possible. You could do this through:

  • amateur, community or youth theatre
  • college and university drama societies
  • student drama festivals and competitions

This can also help to put you in touch with people in the acting profession, who could be useful contacts when looking for work.

Other routes

You can study with a private drama school or conservatoire. Many offer full-time courses, as well as short courses and summer schools.

You'll need to pass an audition to get into a drama school. You may also need A levels or a Level 3 Diploma in Performing Arts, though this is not always essential if you can show enough talent and commitment.

You may be able to get funding to help with fees and living costs at a private drama school.

You could also take graded exams in acting, musical theatre and performance art through Trinity College LondonUniversity of West London or London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).


There is no set income for actors and only the most well-established actors earn a high salary.

Most actors are self-employed and are paid a fee for each contract or performance.

Equity is the UK trade union for professional performers and it sets minimum rates of pay for its members. These depend on who you're working for and where. For example, as a performer in theatre you may earn around £420 a week.

Pay rates may differ if you work for an organisation that pays non-Equity rates.


Working environment

You could work at a recording studio, in the community, in a theatre or on a film set.

Your working environment may be physically and emotionally demanding and travelling often and spending nights away from home.

If you can show an agent you have potential they may put you forward for auditions and castings. Agents usually take a fee of about 10% to 25% from your earnings.

You could take further training and move into directing, scriptwriting, drama therapy or teaching.

Career tips

You'll need to get as much practical experience of acting as you can, and create a show-reel to demonstrate your acting skills to agents and casting directors.

Professional and industry bodies

You can join Equity for professional recognition, training opportunities and to make industry contacts.

Further information

You can find out more about becoming an actor through Creative Choices. You can also get extra support from organisations like Shape Arts, if you have a disability or special learning need.

Skills required and how your skills match up

What skills are required?

You'll need:

  • knowledge of the fine arts
  • the ability to work well with others
  • persistence and determination
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • to enjoy working with other people
  • to be flexible and open to change
  • knowledge of English language
  • knowledge of media production and communication
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device
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