Tips for the Beginning Actor

by Ruth Kulerman

Cute young girl smiling with braces

Let's take a good look at the real basics. Why do you want to act? What is your goal? How do you feel about performing in public or auditioning?

Recently a man phoned to say that he had retired early and had always been interested in acting. Henry (not his real name) had never studied acting, had been in one high school play twenty years earlier, and now had time to explore something that interested him. Henry is 37. People have asked if 27 is too old to begin. Or 55. Or 21.

By the end of Henry's first coaching session, I realized the earlier article on getting started in acting presumed that the actor already had taken acting classes, already had headshots, already had something to put on a resume. In other words, my earlier notion of "getting started" actually was way past the real "starting line." Actors with classes or theatre diplomas, with headshots and resumes were light years ahead of Henry, who was starting with nothing but a twenty-year delayed dream.

And so let's back up and start with the delayed dream. That is, let's look at the real basics of the basics. I am an Olympic expert in this area, having been way past middle age before taking my first coaching session. I write as one who stumbled and fumbled and had nary a notion of what to do or how to begin my own delayed dream.

Back in the 1980s when the urge to act could no longer be ignored, I assumed I should take some classes. In spite of a basket full of degrees, I didn't have a clue what "taking classes" in acting meant. Perhaps in some Oz land I expected just to stroll down the gold brick road, sight an emerald stage, get up on it, and start acting. That did NOT happen! Over a hundred coaching sessions later I auditioned for and booked my first role.


Preliminaries: Self-examination
  1. A vital question: Why do you want to act? Henry's response was, "I don't know. It just always interested me." My own answer: "I wanted to act all my life."
  2. Next question: What is your goal: Fame? Money? Performing? Self-exploration?  Henry said he just wanted to see what he could do if he studied some. My own answer: Conquest.
  3. Another question: How do you feel about the idea of performing in public or auditioning? If it terrifies you, then go back to question #1 and do some real soul-searching. Why? Because until radio drama returns, acting is something that almost always involves auditioning and performing in front of people. It occurs on a stage in front of an audience or in front of a camera with dozens of techs around. Acting is in front of people!
After asking and answering those questions, what then? It's time to discover HOW YOU FEEL IN THE ACT OF ACTING. How?  Coaching or classes.

In a larger city, finding a coach or acting classes is not difficult. In a small town, ask the high school principal or go to your local junior college and ask about acting courses. Someone somewhere not too far away has acted and can point you in the right direction.

I strongly feel that a brand-new adult actor should consider coaching rather than taking a class--unless he can find a class composed solely of serious adult newcomers like himself--not dabblers. Being in a class with younger or experienced actors can be overwhelming. This is the most vulnerable stage in a newcomer's acting life. Avoid discouragement at this step.  Discouragement awaits us all, but hopefully by the time it hits we'll have enough confidence
to not crumble. A newcomer's confidence level is notoriously low. So go the coaching route rather than the class route. There's less stress and more personal attention.

Another way to start acting is in community or church theatre. Volunteer. Talk to the head of the acting group. Tell them what you would like to do and ask their advice. If necessary, form your own group.  


What are the really basic necessities?

One absolute necessity is a knowledge of the vocabulary of acting. You have to know Stage Right, Down Stage, ad lib, upstage left, close-up, hit the mark, and...action!  The first commercial class I took in NY taught me only one thing: The word "slate." For that one word I paid over $200 for a six weeks course. That's pathetic! Which is precisely the reason for this article on the basics of the basics. To help you avoid being "pathetic." 

I realized the importance of a basic vocabulary during the first coaching session with "Henry."

He was reading a short monologue from "Homicide, Life on the Street." At some point during our session I said to him, "OK, let's start from the top." His blank look spoke volumes. "The top???" Vocabulary is a basic.

Therefore? Find a book containing basic acting vocabulary. They exist. I have seen them. Try a bookstore or or visit

Another "must" for an adult newcomer is to start working on material immediately. The most basic acting requirement is the ability to say a line and sound real. It's hard to imagine an audition or a scene without having to speak. And his potential to sound real when he says a line is precisely what all beginning actors must discover. This is BASIC.

If you cannot learn to sound real, then acting is not for you.

It's best to discover your level of sounding real before spending too much money and building up great expectations. You MUST find out if you can say a line believably. THAT IS THE BASIC OF THE BASICS.

To summarize, if you are an adult who has always wanted to act, begin either with community theatre or with coaching sessions. After several lessons you can then decide, based on an intelligent assessment of your potential and an honest evaluation by your coach, if you want to spend the next several years following the delayed dream.

PS: A word of encouragement to the older newcomer: Every minute for fifteen years I have loved LIVING THE DELAYED DREAM. My regret? Not having started when I wanted to--at age five! Live your delayed dream!

Ruth Kulerman is an actress and coach, known for "The Off Season," "A Walk in the Dark," and "Satan Hates You." Her series of articles is copyright by Chad Gracia and ActorTips. All rights reserved.
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Reader Comments

These tips are so realistic ! As we know beginners usually has the fear of camera so many of them are used to forgetting lines. These tips would surely help them.

Posted by Shashi Ranjan (2017-05-03) 12819

Great headshots will get you work. They are your calling card. They get agents and casting directors interested in seeing you. Get recommendations for photographers from agents, casting directors, and working actors. Meet with your prospective photographer and study his or her portfolio. Look for incredible headshots that are full of life and personality. Choose a photographer who is comfortable to be around and gives you plenty of time and direction.

Posted by Ben@McConley (2015-09-07) 7212

I am 13 years old and English, but I live in Danish speaking country and this immediately limits my opportunities for auditions. Recently, I found an audition for an English film where you can apply online, but it says you must be 16 or older. I am tall and mature for my age and I easily look 16, do you think I should apply?

Posted by Karolina (2013-11-17) 6580

I'm over 40 yrs old and have wanted to act for some time but with a family of 6 it is not something that i can afford, my son has gone off to collage to act and my oldest daughter is going off soon to dance.
But still have two more to go and a wife who is a high school teacher that loves her job, so to ask her to move from ct. to California or new york is not going to happen. Any thoughts on what i can do?

Posted by Jeff Bowling (2013-02-27) 6423

I don't know where to look for a coach, can you help?

Posted by Rene D Pearson (2013-02-11) 6414

i don't have any experience acting but i really want to be an actor and i have a addition coming what do i need to have , what do i need to do. any tips

Posted by mohamed (2012-11-02) 6323

Hi- I am in a pickle! Almost everyone in my family has an acting degree. I have always wanted to be the center of attention and I LOVE to make people laugh. But when I told my parents I wanted to get involved with theater and movie making they said I shouldn't because it is not worth it. Now I love to act. Do you know a way to persuade them to see this would make a wonderful career for me?

Posted by Madeline (2012-03-27) 5709

Im a good actor...acted off since I picked up on it and love it.

Posted by Landru (2011-08-17) 4513

myself ashish............i think i am a gud crowd puller and i can make people remmember me...i have not done any acting classes nor i have taken coaching.....i hvae never participated in dramatics in school or college...
can you help how i should start my career???

ashish m. kothari

Posted by ashish m kothari (2011-06-28) 3674

I'm 17 and I wanted to act too. This is the only thing that I became passionate about after all those lessons that my parents gave me. It was too bad though that I wasn't able to pursue it further. I want to do it again though. I just don't know what will happen to me if I start again. I'm not so experienced and I'm scared that maybe everyone's going to be so much better than me, but this article encouraged me! Thank you very much!

Posted by C (2011-04-15) 3000

Ok well this article is more for adults. I'm 13 and want to start acting. should i take classes or get a coach. i watch all the popular 16, 17, and 18 year olds act and i started to think i should go for. and according to the people around me i am VERY dramatic. so i decided acting is gonna be my profession. but i need to know if classes or a coach is right for someone my age

Posted by noah (2011-03-24) 2976

Acting is my dream, my life, my hobby, my ambition. I like Acting this website improves my confident level. I from Chennai, India.

Posted by babujee (2011-03-15) 2934

My sights aren't set on getting famous, but finding a craft that I'm passionate about and love to work on. I've owned my own business since I was 25 and started it because I thought I liked it, which I do, but I don't love it. It doesn't jive my turkey if you know what I mean. My turkey needs to be jived at what I do at all times, lol. Hopefully, I can find this in acting.

Posted by EB Pickett (2010-12-20) 2814


I really want to be an actress but i have an accent, like i have trouble pronouncin my R's and my voice is high pitched.. Do you think i have a chance for auditioning for anything and landing it??

Posted by Isabella (2010-08-13) 2670

Hi. Im 13 and i have always wanted to be an actress. I have an audition this Saturday. I have not had any experience,Except for acting sick :D But i really want this to work out Do you have any advice??

Posted by Haylee (2010-06-20) 2596

I have always wanted to act for a career but I've never acted in a play at school
or don't even know what to do in auditions but I'm not sure if I should even start acting now or just not act at all cause I really don't know too much about the acting business but I would do anything to become a stat. Do you have any advice on what I should do???

Posted by M (2010-06-13) 2584

p.s ( i always though actors would think of something really sad..) to produce the tear look.. (but instead i believe they use the power of the other actors voice to produce the emotions)

Posted by CHRis *again* (2010-06-05) 2577

hello. recently i have considered acting as a career . Highly because of this actor.. who's ability to act in weird roles.. and of course more serious roles... truly inspired much that i can compare to the way he acts in his weird roles.. .i am weird myself the way i talk,walk,act, .. and the way i can change emotions..and how i feel these emotions so strong...just a hour ago.. my friend was saying mean stupid things to me.. and i knew he was kidding(we always do this to each other).. but for some reason i could feel 2 different emotions .. like a part of me was not caring knowing he was kidding(dominant) and the other part felt a sad emotion.. i think why is because i used his words (in the not caring state of mind) to PRODUCE the emotion of sadness so much that i produced tears.(always wondered how they made themselves try now i know how) a answer to mean harshness of the words..i felt as if i was acting... i pictured some director telling me to be upset and cry to during this now i am here finishing this long paragraph... asking you or anyone if this means something if i should pursue acting or just a thing.. let me know thnx

Posted by chris (2010-06-05) 2576

pretty ok site

Posted by alecenia (2010-04-22) 2491

I am considering acting as my career but i am only 18 yrs old, where is the best place for me to start and how should i go about approaching it?

Posted by Dylan Gardner (2010-02-03) 2326

am a new practicing actor, i have a problem with facial expression to depict a particular scene.
my coach always tells me that my facial expression is not good.
can you please help me.

Posted by Festus Crabbe (2009-09-20) 2105

I'm 16 and a junior in high school never acted, but I'm very good at making people laugh and i was thinking of doing stand up/ Acting/ improv for starters and getting my name out. Me and my family are low on income I'm not looking at acting as a way out, its just that i have a desire for some reason to act. I have no previous experience in acting. I'm new to this game. But is it to late to start at 16? Ive done my homework and i see that most "actors" are born with middle class parents who can afford acting lessons and taking them all over to make their kids known. My mom and sis are all i have. And we have trouble making it. But through our odds we're making it. Also say i did get it, my family cant move to Hollywood or New York. If your in a low income family then what happens were do you go? Anyway I'm in band right and i play the drums i was going to change one of my electives to drama class. And beginning my career their. Before i wanted to be an actor i wanted to be a doctor or a video game designer. I figure that if i had to choose between those i should choose the one ill most enjoy. So what if you were in my shoes. what would you do?

P.S. this letter is to help me figure out what i should do and thank you for your time.


Posted by Michael Young (2009-06-22) 1637

Thank you so much for this article. I just came back from the first ever acting class of my life, where i practiced cold reading along with experienced actors. It was such a bumming experience. I almost did not want to go back next week. But in your article, I appreciate you pointing out about the "A newcomer's confidence level is notoriously low". Hehehe, true. Makes me feel normal.
My acting coach said I was being an "entity" in my own self, when i had to interact with my partner. She advised me on the practice of listening. Any comments?

Posted by Juveri (2009-05-05) 1407

thanks for u for create this valueable website. this web help me to find many new thing about acting. I am a theater actor, u r information is very gud & full with experinces of the times. Well,i have some small thing to ask from to .
1. if u have a student who is blocked in his feeling & expressions but he/she want to became a star.How u handle them? How u open his/her blockes?

Posted by rakesh (2008-12-29) 726

Which Coaches could you recommend in the Los Angeles or surrounding areas? I am now over 40 and would like to change careers and have always wanted to act and or sing. I have been told a couple times that I have a great voice when I was recorded a couple T.V. commercials. Can you help?

Posted by Rick (2008-12-07) 650

Hi my names Victoria,
I am like everyone else here....I have a passion for acting. I just have a few questions, because Im planning on auditioning for this agency.
-What kinda of talent do agencies look for when looking at a resume? Do you have to have been in movies? Also how do you know if the agency is just a scam?
Please help me out.

Posted by Tori (2008-09-29) 439

hi im a very good actor.actually inoticed right from child hood, but i lack one thing finance.HELP OUT

Posted by Richard Mattew (2008-09-20) 385


You've convinced me that a beginner like me who is already 40 years old with no acting training or experience would do better with a coach instead of in a class. I live in New York City (Manhattan). Would you please recommend a coach?


Posted by Regarding Tips for the Beginning Actor (2008-08-06) 184

I want to do acting but nowhere near me does it, and people with my accent don't get far...but I can fake the american and southern english accent. Anybody got any idea of what I can do to boost my conifdence? And the only plays i get to do at school are Shakespeare and they're so stupid. I can't remember the script as it has weird language, I'd love to do a comedy similar to disney stuff coz i remember the lines really easily.

Posted by Kimberley (2008-02-03) 31

i like to act but i'm not sure i'm good at it. i also can't afford classes but my schools drama club sucks. what do i do?

Posted by Cassidy (2008-01-22) 25

I have a problem with my voice. I'm having a hard time differentiating between tones and expressions. Any advice?

Posted by Kimberly C. (2007-12-09) 11

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