What does it take to be a child actor?
While kids are growing up, often they have favourite TV shows they love, with kids their own age in them. Over the past decade, there have been some great Australian children’s television series produced – from Little Lunch, through to Hardball, First Day, The Nowhere Boys, and further back, series like Lochie Leonard and Dance Academy. But how did all those kids get to be on TV?
It’s a question that young actors and their parents often ask.
To get started as a professional (paid) child actor, you’ll need to make yourself available to audition for roles. An audition is like a job interview for actors – but it’s less about the conversation, and more about the demonstration of your skills as an actor.
Normally for an audition, you memorise and present some text from a script. Sometimes that script is given to you in advance by the company doing the casting, and sometimes you find your own script to work from. Through the demonstration of your skills, the casting director can see if you’re suitable for the role they have available. If it's a large or highly paid role, you might even want to get coaching ahead of your audition, to make sure you get your piece performance-ready.
While in the past auditions were often done face-to-face, more frequently now it’s done by making a self-tape at home. A self-tape can be filmed at home on a phone, or in a studio. It’s not so much the quality of the tape itself that counts – it’s about what they can see you do in the tape.
Sometimes you see auditions advertised on social media – and you can follow some of the leading Australian casting directors, such as Barrett Casting, Macgregor Casting, Mullinars or Ben Parkinson Casting – but more often than not, to access the better roles, you’ll need an agent. Unlike these public call-outs, talent agencies receive casting calls directly from industry, then find people within their agency to suit the descriptions provided. When they show their range of suitable actors to the casting directors, a self-tape or live audition may then be requested.
So how do you get an agent? Well, usually you need to have some actor training behind you, like acting classes. Those skills are important. Then, you need to apply to the agency, and go through their interview process. After that, if you’re accepted, they’ll instruct you to have some professional photographs taken, and to begin creating a self-tape library that reflects your range as an actor.
Not everyone who applies to an agency is accepted, however. The agent needs to feel like they can get you work – because the actors they accept make them money. An agent makes their money by taking a percentage of the fees you earn as an actor. In most cases, you can expect this to be anywhere from about 10-13%. Moreover, there are not as many roles available for children, generally speaking, as there are for adults, so not all agents are interested to take on children in the first place.
You never know what will come up, in terms of roles. It all depends what people are writing. So you may get a little work, or you may get a lot. You just don’t know. And it partly depends on your look. All shapes and sizes are needed for all kinds of characters – it’s not really about how gorgeous or handsome you are. Instead, you need to think about your ‘type’. Type is a word that applies to an actor’s look. Do you look like a school cheerleader? The schoolyard bully? The small and weedy kid who becomes a hero? The geek? The surfie? The smart girl?
Your ‘type’ is important because it reflects the kind of roles you’ll be cast in. Your type has no bearing on your actual personality, of course – it’s just about your look as a storytelling device. It makes it easier for the audience to pick your character type from the moment you appear on screen. Your agent can help you work out your type.
Beyond the mechanics of getting cast in roles, parents of child actors need to be aware of the implications of moving down this path… it can be quite a commitment. It may mean travelling to auditions when they’re face-to-face, or to locations for filming or voice recording. It means helping your child film their self-tapes, and submitting them on their behalf – sometimes with only a couple of days’ notice. It sometimes means taking time off work – if parents are required to be on set when their children are being filmed. It means schooling may be interrupted from time to time. It means liaison with agents and casting directors. It may even mean managing your child’s social media pages. And more than all of that, it means monitoring your child’s wellbeing – when is it too much? When is it time to stop? When should you pass up an opportunity?
It all sounds very glamorous to have a child actor in the family. But in fact, the parental input required can be quite significant. And then we need to ask the question – who wants this? Is it the child? Is it the parent?
Ultimately, the child needs to enjoy acting. It is a job, after all.
When it comes down to it, it may be that your child is happier participating in their local drama class for now.
Or it may be that a professional acting career can wait till they’re older. In this case they should do actor training like our Certificate or Advanced Diploma – some students can begin while still at school, whether through our Young Professionals Program or simply by studying part-time in the evenings, while other students jump in head-first after finishing Year 12, with a full-time course.
Whichever path you and your child take, just make sure it's one you can both commit to.
For many of us, musical theatre has subtly and definitively woven itself into some of our most enduring memories. Given just the starting line or two of a song, most of us could launch into gusty renditions of at least some of the classics, complete with character voices and the key moments of action!
Let’s try one…
‘I’m gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware!’
‘Well, I’ve never seen a king of beasts with quite so little hair!’
Did you get it?
It is, of course, The Lion King’s ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’, which although originally a cartoon version, has since toured the world with a full cast of well costumed humans singing, dancing, and acting up a storm.
Or, for one that is quite possibly going to be etched in you and your child’s psyche forever…
‘Let it go, let it goooooooo!’
Apologies, apologies, you probably didn’t want that classic from 2013’s ‘Frozen’ stuck in your head again! But it’s been made into a real, live singing, dancing, and acting musical theatre extravaganza too and is still touring with great success.
The Trend Towards Musical Theatre
There’s also a noticeable trend towards turning any piece that was a great literary or film success into its musical theatre equivalent. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, ‘Pretty Woman’, and ‘Mean Girls’ are all Broadway hits. Musical theatre is a dramatic art form that is growing in impact and opportunities.
Other classics that were originally musicals, or have since been made into musical theatre productions, include ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘La La Land’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘The Greatest Showman on Earth’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’. We’re willing to bet that at least one of those titles got you humming to a favourite song.
The point is, musical theatre has probably been a bigger part of your own creative and entertainment foundations than you may have originally thought. And it’s likely to play a part in some of your child’s most joyful, enduring memories of their own childhoods. Just think, in a few years time, we’ll have legions of teens and young adults who gleefully start yelling the lyrics to Frozen when they’re indulging in a moment of childhood nostalgia!
Musical Theatre The Perform Australia Way
At Perform Australia, we want to help expand those joyful memories. Imagine being able to belt out the lyrics to some of the most iconic musical theatre songs of the time AND be taken straight back to memories of friendly camaraderie, creative exploration, great teamwork, and the thrill of being on stage! That’s the experience we want to help create for your children.
Our musical theatre program for children is heaps of fun and is perfect for those young performers who are already interested in drama and would like to expand their repertoire. Musical theatre is a great vehicle for becoming a more well-rounded performer as it combines the top three performance skills of singing, dancing, and acting into the one program.
New students don’t need existing singing or dance skills as Perform Australia has a strong focus on building from wherever your child is up to currently. As always, it’s not just about musical theatre; it’s about your child learning great communication, presentation, and teamwork skills. And having lots of fun while creating some of what may well become some of their strongest creative foundations.
New opportunities to join Perform Australia musical theatre programs are available throughout the year, get in touch to find out more.
Labelled one of the world’s fastest growing cities, Brisbane has quickly seen its rise as a culturally diverse, vibrant playground – with room for innovation and creativity. With more and more emphasis on arts and culture being valued alongside traditional education, this also means a growing and thriving arts community throughout its neighbouring suburbs. For us at Perform Australia, this is good news because it means more opportunities to connect and engage with the next generations through our mobile performing arts classes and programs offered in various locations throughout Brisbane.
While performing arts classes can be a fun way to let loose or be a great extracurricular activity for kids, there are actually many significant benefits associated with drama classes at any age.
In this article, we highlight 5 benefits you may not have known about performing arts classes.
1. Builds Self-Confidence
It’s no secret that Drama Works Academy’s performing arts classes help build self-confidence amongst our students.
By giving students an opportunity to speak and perform in front of others, while providing a positive, safe environment, we have seen many individuals flourish from shy and insecure to confident and outspoken.
For those who may have learning or developmental difficulties, or who are naturally more “left-brained” it also gives them an opportunity to thrive and excel in an area of study they enjoy.
2. Creates Balanced Brains
Believe it or not, drama has a significant impact on brain development. While traditional academic subjects generally focus on left brained skills – such as studying theory and solving problems hypothetically – drama and the performing arts are associated with the right brain – the seat of creativity.
Whether performing in a production, or helping out behind the scenes – students are able to better perform in other areas of education through the development of valuable cognitive abilities.
Allowing students to be on their feet, active and interacting with others also helps with focus in a seated, classroom environment.
3. Improves Communication Skills
In our social media age, children are increasingly turning away from real human interaction to spend time isolated on phones, tablets, and social media.
Our performing arts classes encourage teamwork through numerous group activities, and allows children to naturally explore their communication and leadership abilities.
4. Develops Emotional Intelligence
Like many other artistic avenues, the performing arts are a wonderful outlet for all ages to explore and express their emotions.
Not only does exploring human expression through acting and performing teach individuals how to deal with their own emotions more effectively, but it also allows students to develop a sense of self and learn how to express their feelings towards others in more productive ways.
5. Boosts Career Opportunities
While certainly not all of our students have an interest in pursuing the performing arts as a career choice, our performing arts classes can certainly serve as a solid foundation for those who are interested in pursuing an acting career.
With many opportunities to perform and develop skills, we also offer an acting certification in Brisbane: 10915NAT Certificate IV in Acting. Coming soon - the Advanced Diploma of Performance!
To find out more about Perform Australia's wide range of performing arts classes and programs, available for all ages, you can contact us via our website, by phone, or email.
In the modern Australian mainstream schooling system that still puts so much weight and focus on standardised assessments and tests, Drama as a subject often rates as a poor cousin to subjects like Science and Maths. Drama is seen as being too subjective and unwieldy, and regularly ‘weird’. After all, how do we standardise and assess creative exploration and the experience of growing into a character?
In the modern Australian mainstream schooling system that still prizes the minority of students who can (and will) sit still for extended amounts of time and learn well from information presented purely in text form, students with different styles of learning often suffer. In fact, many students do so poorly when tested by the highly constrictive standardised metrics that they are labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’.
However, across many revolutionary teaching institutions and educators worldwide, it is becoming widely acknowledged that, much of the time, it’s not ‘learning difficulties’ hindering a student’s progress and development, so much as it is ‘teaching difficulties’. The common theme among progressive educators is this – if a child is not learning well, the teaching strategies must change, not the child.
We live in an age of unprecedented access to information – high quality, in-depth videos at the touch of a button, professional standard research papers available free to view to anyone with an internet connection, services such as ‘Google’ and ‘Siri’ offering more information in an instant than our grandparents had access to in a lifetime. (And virtual reality is about to shake-up the whole game even more!) Schools and teaching organisations are no longer the only, or even primary, place to access information. So, if we don’t particularly need teachers for the information anymore, what do we need them for?
We need teachers for the experience – the creative experience.
A good teacher, a creative teacher, can lead their students on a grand adventure. Whether the subject is officially maths, science, or english, the use of drama and principles of performance and audience engagement is what real life, in-person teachers can offer that technology cannot. The ability to draw the group together in an emotionally bonded experience, to demonstrate abstract and inventive thinking, emotional responsiveness, and creative curiosity is something that only another human can do.
Christopher Emdin, university educator of teachers brings the issues and possibilities to the fore in his 7 minute TED talk Teach teachers how to create magic. He talks about dramatic examples of excellent teaching from places as wide and varied as ‘black churches’, rap concerts, and barbershops. He points out that leaders and teachers in these arenas have mastered the art of engagement, of dramatic storytelling. And he concludes that our school teachers need to be learning these things to bring the magic to education.
‘They listen to his metaphors and analogies, and they start learning these little things that if they practice enough becomes the key to magic. They learn that if you just stare at a student and raise your eyebrow about a quarter of an inch, you don’t have to say a word because they know that that means that you want more. And if we could transform teacher education to focus on teaching teachers how to create that magic then poof! we could make dead classes come alive, we could reignite imaginations, and we can change education.’ – Christopher Emdin
What is drama but the ability to tell a story well, to convey information, in a way that engages and stays with the audience? This could very well be the definition of good teaching too! Tone of voice, subtle movements, the ability to develop an engaging story arch – they may not have been focused on in teaching school, but they’re essential elements to creating magic (and excellent results) in the classroom.
If you’re a teacher struggling with deep, creative student engagement, maybe Perform Australia can help. We offer classes not just for children, but for adults too, and we would love to work with you in bringing out your more creative side. We can also come to your school and run a workshop. No matter what subject you teach, the foundational principles of drama and audience engagement can be fundamental to leading your students to the next level. So get in touch if you're keen to connect.
What makes a great acting school? The question has different answers for different people.
For some, it’s about the experience.
If you’re joining an acting school for personal growth, to improve self-confidence, or develop your ability to stand up and speak in front of others, you’re really there to explore yourself and your potential through dramatic art. So for you, it might be about connecting to others, creativity and enjoyment. In this instance, you’re looking for a supportive atmosphere – teachers who’ll help you rather than criticize you, and a safe space to try new things.
For others, it’s about career.
If you’re career focused, in that you want a career in acting or a related field, it’ll be about content. You want to be sure that you have all you need to get started as an actor. You’ll want to learn technique. You’ll want to become comfortable in front of the camera or on stage. You’ll want to learn skills like learning lines. And you’ll be focused on getting acting jobs around Australia – how to find them, how to audition, and how to win the best roles.
Often people think you have to go to NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) to become a successful career actor – because that’s the only acting school they’ve heard of. It’s true that this is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious acting school, and it has delivered many successful actors to industry, like Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving and others. But the truth is, there are many people now working in the industry who went to other schools and successfully built a career. You only need to attend an industry networking event and chat to some other actors to discover this.
Other well-known schools include WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and VCA (Victorian College of the Arts).
With these big acting schools, you usually complete a Bachelor degree in acting. They’re difficult to get into – you have to audition to get in, possibly move your life interstate, find a job to support yourself there, as well as committing for duration of the course, which may be three years. With courses like those at NIDA, rumour has it that they accept 25 people each year out of around 2,500 who apply. Not only that, many people don’t actually make it through the course, even though they managed to get in. Dropouts from these big schools are plentiful. So an acceptance letter is not a sure-fire way to become a successful actor.
But if you don’t have opportunity to go to those schools, it doesn’t mean that you can’t build a career as an actor. Training is just the first step. If university is not your thing, a vocational qualification like those offered by Perform Australia will be more your style. You learn the practical skills of the actor quicker, as the courses are usually shorter, without the need to write lengthy academic essays that are often demanded at university level.
So for you, the best acting school may just be around the corner. The best acting school may in fact be unique to you, and your personal needs and goals. It may well be Perform Australia. Check out our faculty here and our qualifications here.
The Importance of Live Action Role-Play (LARP) - AKA PRETEND
Almost all children role-play as youngsters. Whether it’s pretending to be a cat, a superhero, or a mummy or daddy, imaginative play in which a young child spontaneously and deliberately inhabits another character is seen as an important part of social development.
According to Doris Bergen, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, “Although play has been a well-established curriculum component in early childhood education, the increasing emphasis on accountability appears to have led to a corresponding decline in the general understanding of the important contribution that high-quality play—especially pretend play—can make to children’s cognitive development in the early years.”
LARP is the immersive role-play version of pretend
As they move into adolescence, many young people in this technological day and age continue, and expand, this natural inclination towards roleplaying by engaging in video games. Many of these games require players to create a custom avatar, build online communities, and achieve specific objectives in wholly imaginative lands. ‘World of Warcraft’ is the globally dominate example that has seen countless teenagers living complex, deeply immersed virtual lives parallel to their ‘real’ lives – although for many World of Warcraft devotees, their ‘real’, physical lives rank more as a secondary, annoying distraction to their virtual lives! And these immersive games of role-play are not the realms of the solitary classroom computer geek as they once were – the creators of World of Warcraft report that over 100 MILLION accounts have been created since its inception!
Immersive role-play i.e. acting out a character other than one’s own… (which is the definition of drama), is something that young people are instinctively drawn to engage in, and one Danish school is using this natural engagement to their advantage. Instead of learning about history or politics exclusively from textbooks or other passive mediums, students become historical or political figures – complete with school provided costumes and props.
Role-play in Education
As American researcher and recreation therapist Hawke Robinson explains, ‘So if you want them to know about the European Union, they [the students] actually role-play foreign ministers having a meeting, or they have an environmental conference where they try to solve the world’s problems.’
At Østerskov Efterskole, a boarding school in Hobro, Denmark, ‘LARP’, or ‘Live Action Role-Play’ is fully integrated into the curriculum. Although considered fairly experimental even by Danish standards, the school has shown many positive results, especially for those students with significant barriers to traditional teaching methods, such as autism and major ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Given that the focus is taken away from written book learning to experiential understanding, children with other learning difficulties such as dyslexia also benefit greatly.
The school was founded by Mads Lunau, who is also the school’s principal. He founded the school in part because he “observed a lot of young people absorbing a lot of knowledge in order to play the games (such as the complex role-play board game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’). Thick books in foreign languages containing complex descriptions of processes, rules and environments, or large quantities of different fiction—or historically based literature,” and came to the same conclusion that games companies have been making millions off for years – Young people will happily, even compulsively ‘study’, if they are invested in the ‘game’. In this case, Lunau merely took the extra step of integrating the ‘game’ into an officially acknowledged academic curriculum. No cajoling or threat of detention required! These students WANT to learn!
How to improve and perfect your role-play skills
If you’re interesting in finding out more about LARP, in particular the benefits it has had for one student with Asperger’s Syndrome, here is a fascinating short documentary ‘LARPing Saved My Life’ available to watch online.
Here at Perform Australia, we see over and over and over again how engaging in dramatic role-play can be life changing for young people. While we’re yet to get to the complete immersion the Danish have welcomed, we offer multiple opportunities each week for your child to experience the adventure and learning inherent in becoming a different character in a different world! Click here to find the option that’s best for your child.
Today we take a look at the array of options available in pursuit of a dramatic career. There are few areas of study that provide a more holistic and transferable skill set than the performing arts.
Performing arts students develop:
· emotional intelligence
· communication skills
· creative thinking and problem-solving skills
· research, analytical and critical evaluation skills
· negotiating and presentation skills
· literacy skills
· planning and organisational skills
· teamwork and collaboration skills.
These are all skills that will benefit you in almost any career you choose, especially given the skills that will be required to thrive in the workplace of the future.
For some people however, studying performing arts is about more than developing a holistic skill set for the changing workplace. For those of us bitten by the performance bug, mastery of drama becomes a lifelong passion leading to a career in the performing arts.
At Perform Australia, an academy for performing arts across Brisbane and Canberra, we’re often asked about career opportunities in drama. We’ve provided responses below to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from students looking to turn their interest in drama into a career.
What careers are there in the performing arts?
Firstly, a caveat for anyone wanting a career in the performing arts, you’ll need to be prepared to be flexible. There’s often travel involved and it’s rarely a 9am to 5pm job, many great opportunities will involve evening and weekend work, particularly in theatre - or sometimes very early mornings, in film and television.
Performing arts covers a broad range of career opportunities in music, dance, visual and performing arts, theatre, broadcast (television and radio) and film industries. There are a variety of support, production and presentation roles and employment opportunities including:
· Actor / Actress
· Performing artist
· Creative and visual artists and designers
· Broadcast presenter
· Stage or studio manager
· Playwright or scriptwriter
· Sound and lighting support
· Costume designers and makeup artists
· Set designers
· Dramatherapy / Creative Arts therapy
· Community work
· Drama teacher
· Arts administrator
· Art consultant
· A range of roles within media, journalism or marketing.
Common employers include art organisations, media, local governments, educational institutions, entertainment companies, not-for-profits and community groups.
How do I build my experience?
If you want a career in the performing arts, you’ll need as much experience as possible in front of an audience or camera. So whether you’re starting out, or in between acting jobs, make sure you’re constantly looking to build your portfolio and experience.
A great way to do this is to network, get involved in the industry and talk to people. A lot of organic opportunities arise from meeting people and discussing ideas. You can also generate some of your own opportunities by:
· Contacting local community centres to see if you can support them
· Searching the internet for local community projects to be involved with
· Supporting not-for-profit organisations in the development and delivery of creative programs
While paid work is the ultimate goal, don’t hesitate to take up work experience or volunteer projects in the meantime as that will help you build your experience, contacts and portfolio.
If you have your own project that you’ve been wanting to bring to life, research grants and funding.
If you’ve already got a fair bit of experience, make sure you’re regularly attending auditions and taking any feedback on board. You might also think about hiring an agent or adding skills such as singing or dancing to your repertoire.
Do I need qualifications behind me?
Solid performance skills and techniques will give you a good foundation for a career in the performing arts. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a university degree, but some formal training through acting classes at a drama academy will be very helpful.
Perform Australia is the first and only drama academy to offer 10915NAT Certificate IV in Acting and the 10295NAT Advanced Diploma of Performance. These qualifications are the perfect addition for anyone looking to polish the professionalism of their acting skills to build a career in the performing arts. Participants will learn:
· A variety of methods for character development
· Applying acting techniques to stage and screen
· Expanding your vocal capacity and skills
· Broadening your physical skills through movement techniques and nonverbal communication
· Audition techniques
· Industry and professional practice.
There's also opportunity to study musical theatre with Perform Australia. Find out more about our Certificate and Diploma.
To find out more about Perform Australia qualifications, visit our website at www.perform.edu.au. Our team of dedicated and experienced professionals are committed to nurturing the next generation of performing artists of all ages and stages.
When you think of musical theatre history, what comes to mind? Does it seem like theatre was an invention of bored modern-day man? Or can you imagine its origins to be deeply buried in the past? In today’s world, we recognise musical theatre as the acted storytelling of a drama, through which song and dance play an integral part.
Musicals have long since been a favourite amongst live audiences. Some of the most famous Broadway musicals of all time include Cats, Les Miserables, Wicked, Beauty and The Beast, and The Lion King. As the popularity of musical theatre increases, we’re seeing it shift to the big screen. From classics such as Grease, and The Wizard of Oz, to the more recent film productions of Mamma Mia and Bohemian Rhapsody, it seems like the world just can’t get enough!
Whilst musical theatre of recent times has been intended as art and entertainment – was this always the case? To discover the answer, we must trace musical theatre history back to its beginnings in Ancient Greece.
The Greek God Dionysus And His Role In Musical Theatre History
Dionysus – God of the Vine, also known as Bacchus, he was worshipped in Ancient Greece as the god of all things grape and wine, of fertility, ritual madness, and religious ecstasy. So, where does he belong in musical theatre history? Dionysus was also the god of theatre. Given the prevalence and importance of wine amongst Greek culture and society, he was a popular mythological figure of those times and many religious festivals were celebrated in his name.
The cults of Dionysus used these festivals to perform ritual ceremonies whereby they worshipped their god through drama, song and dance – the beginnings of musical theatre history as we know it today.
Greek Amphitheatres In Musical Theatre History
One of the most famous theatres in history is the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, situated in the Athenian Acropolis. Believed to have been originally built in 4th century BC, it had seating capacity for approximately 17,000 people and boasted superb acoustics.
Without the luxury of modern technology, the Ancient Greeks used architecture and design to create sound amplification. While it may seem impossible that they were able to generate sufficient amplification to reach such large audiences, they had a few tricks up their sleeves. For example, did you know that the specific geometry of the seating area was key to the quality of acoustics within classical Greek theatres?
Musical Theatre History In The Making
Do you want to make musical theatre history? Or would you simply like to explore acting, song, and dance as a means of self-discovery and creativity? If you’re looking for a safe and collaborative environment in which you can grow your confidence in performance and as an individual, Perform Australia is just right for you.
As a mobile performing arts school based across Canberra and Brisbane, Perform Australia offers musical theatre classes taught by professional drama teachers who love what they do. Having fun is always at the heart of our teaching programs, and we delight in encouraging and supporting our students of all ages and stages.
To learn more about our performing arts classes and programs, please see our website or call us on 1300908905 and speak to a friendly member of the Perform Australia team.
In movies and TV, an extra is a “background artist” or “background actor”. Movies and TV productions have extras on set to “fill out” the background for the main action of the scene and make scenes look more realistic. Imagine a scene shot in a large city like New York, with two actors walking down the street having a conversation, but the street completely empty of other people – it wouldn’t be real. Extras are needed to make the street look as busy as it might on an average day in New York.
In real life, during the film shoot, the street might be closed off to traffic so the film can be shot without disturbance. But extras are hired to recreate and enhance the reality of the scene.
Extras may have roles as passers-by in the street, people sitting at a café, drivers or passengers in cars or buses, or members of a family in a park. On film, they may appear as blurry images in the background, or they may be in focus around the main actors. It’s really up to the director to decide how they’re going to shoot the scene and how obviously the extras will appear. In the picture below, from Season 6 of the Netflix series, The Crown, you can see a host of extras around Princess Diana - photographers, security people and people in the street. These would all be extras - but costumed for the role they need to play, and handed props (like cameras) by the production's Art Department.
An extra doesn’t usually have any lines to say.
A featured extra, on the other hand, may have a single line to say – or, they may have a particular non-speaking action which contributes to the story – something more than walking down the street or sitting still in a café. But once the requirements on you extend beyond these basic functions - that is to say, into lines of dialogue and pushing the story forward - you move into the realm of the actor, and out of the world of the featured extra. You then have a "bit part" or "guest role" - in other words, a small acting role in the project.
Do extras get paid?
Most commercial films and TV productions have a budget for extras, and in fact, in Australia, there’s an award rate for extras, set by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. At the time of writing, it’s $35.24 per hour for a four-hour call-out for TV and digital commercials. Sometimes featured extras receive a little more money for the extra tasks they have to do.
Sometimes you see student films and no-budget or low-budget films issue call-outs for extras, but with no pay attached. If you want to apply for one of these, just be clear on the nature of the production and payment arrangements – know whether you’re doing it to help out a student who’s learning the art of filmmaking, or an emerging filmmaker with no money - or whether you’re being duped by a company who should be paying its extras, but isn't. Believe it or not, they’re out there.
Is being an extra a path to becoming an actor?
You may have seen Ricky Gervais’ comedy series called Extras, about an ensemble of characters who work as extras, constantly hoping for their big break as an actor. For most of them, it never happens. Generally speaking, working as an extra is not a direct route to becoming a well-known actor.
Being an extra can be a great way to experience and understand movie sets, however. As an extra, you’ll gain insight into how the screen industry works. The days can be long, and the work repetitive (“Right…. Now walk from here to here! Action! Cut! Let’s do it again!”) but it can still be a thrill to be a part of a big movie. You’ll be in contact with extras coordinators, costume people, assistant directors, camera people, and possibly even stunt people where the script and story demand them. You’ll probably not be talking to them very much – your job is to focus on your task alone, and let them do their jobs (which are often stressful and busy during a shoot). But you’ll be able to observe how they operate, and by watching, learn about what’s involved in making a film or TV program.
An extra is effectively an unskilled role – you need no particular talent to become an extra, except to match the look the director is after.
So if you truly want to become an actor, it’s about learning the skills of the actor. An actor, in contrast to an extra, needs to:
At Perform Australia, we train people in these acting skills – and much more! So if you'd like to learn, consider these options:
It's an old chestnut: "You can't teach acting - you either have it, or you don't! You don't need to go to acting school to become an actor!"
Have you heard this one? It implies the ability to act well is a gift, something natural, something unique to some individuals, and absent from others. And, above all, "you can't teach it, and you certainly can't learn it".
But does this theory really hold water?
A simple google search will turn up lists like "Seven Actors Who Never Went To Acting School" or Youtube videos chronicling the "big breaks" in movies of pretty young women spotted by talent scouts as teenagers.
It's true - they're out there, and some of these actors have done very well for themselves.
But the reality is, most successful actors aren't spotted by talent scouts at age 13. They have to work for it - they study their craft, they put themselves out there, they audition for roles, and they work hard.
But even an actor who doesn't have a qualification in acting, but who somehow scored a role in a big production, usually gets some on-the-job training at one time or another. Vocal coaches, accent coaches, and even stage combat coaches and personal trainers, are brought in on major projects to help improve actors' performances. That's actor education - structured actor training - just in the workplace, rather than in a school.
Private tuition and one-on-one coaching for auditions are also services that top-name actors use when working towards a big role. From time to time, talent agents or managers also recommend ways for actors on their books to upskill. Even the very act of working with a director can be a form of coaching.
Not only that, but working actors have the opportunity to discuss the process of acting with other actors they meet on their projects. The learning is constant. It's like any other profession, where two people from the same field come together, professional dialogue takes place. You quiz your peers about what works for them, what technique they use, and their creative process. This helps inform your own work. So there's definitely something to teach, and something to learn.
Similarly, if you live in Los Angeles, where many actors get their big break, there's a culture of attending acting classes. Drop-in acting classes are available everywhere around the city. You attend to develop your skills, meet like-minded individuals, and make important contacts. So be aware that when you read the Wikipedia entries about big-name actors, it may not mention the many drop-in classes they did en route to stardom. These biographical summaries are more likely to mention if an actor did go to a particular university or acting academy, than if they did actor training via workshops, short courses, and private tuition at several different outlets. Overall, it's highly likely that successful actors without a degree have still accessed some form of actor training program throughout the years. To say they're "training-free" is probably erroneous.
So "on-the-job training" is not the only route to becoming an actor. The fact remains that there are many distinguished and respected academies teaching acting - even universities. So to say that there's "nothing to teach" or "nothing to learn" at acting school flies in the face of the evidence. Either these institutions have been fooling us for a long time... or there's something in it. Training at an acting school is an efficient way to gather the skills and knowledge needed to become an actor.
For every actor who didn't go to acting school, there are many thousands who did, and who have achieved as much, or more. Here are just some well-known actors currently working in the industry who have had actor training:
Why Go To Acting School?
Here are some of the benefits of going to acting school, if you want to become a professional actor:
From my experience of many years in the actor training business, you don't need to have a special "it" to become an actor. I have seen people who were very meek and unassuming at their drama school audition become amazing actors, through training. It takes time to become good at something - and more time to excel. Acting is no different.
Sometimes people develop more charisma than they originally had through the process of actor training - and that's a huge asset. Was that something they were born with? I'd say it's something they developed. The skills of an actor can be learned. Actor training can unlock and release the actor within.
Sure, the skills may come easier to some than others. But for all actors it requires work, thought, and process to become the kind of actor who can take on any role. Acting is a job, a profession, a craft and an art form. Like any job, there are methods, processes and techniques involved.
The field of acting is in fact a huge field of endeavour - with a history of many different practitioners, theorists, and even gurus. The more you know about these people and their ideas, the more you'll have in your toolkit as an actor. Go to a quality acting school, and you'll hear all about them.
So next time you hear someone say, "You can't teach acting - you either have it or you don't", you can sigh once more... and point them to this blog!
These blog posts are written by Perform Australia staff.