What are the essential skills for acting? (With tips)
Updated 17 January 2023
Acting aspirations are common in the entertainment industry. This means acting is a highly competitive field and achieving success as a well-known actor can entail hard work and persistence. When learning how to break into the acting profession, it helps to know what steps to take to become an actor and the skills you need to be able to find success in acting. In this article, we explore the skills needed to be an actor, how to improve your acting skills and how to highlight your skills as an actor in your CV.
Fundamental skills for acting
Here are some of the most important skills actors need:
Vocal ability is just one aspect of your overall performance as an actor. Your confidence, non-verbal communication, presence and ability to convey the emotions of your characters are all essential features of your acting skill set. It's almost impossible for somebody who lacks these skills to become an accomplished actor.
Whether it's in acting lessons or your personal life, attempt to communicate with people frequently, whenever the opportunity presents itself. You may find it far easier to communicate onstage or in front of a camera if you develop your social skills in everyday life.
Related: What are communication skills?
Creativity is an essential skill for acting as it helps actors deliver a more skilled performance, which allows them to get noticed more. Creativity can involve improvisation, such as improvised dialogue, or it can mean having a creative approach to how you deliver your lines. Often, directors guide actors on their line delivery, and being able to take a flexible and open approach to a director's guidance can help you perform at your best.
If you become a stage actor, you're likely to need to be skilled at memorising lines for most acting projects, and if you're a theatrical actor, you'll likely be required to learn an entire play's worth of lines.
For many, the acting skill of learning lines is the most intimidating part of becoming a theatre actor. Fortunately, numerous memorisation exercises mean you can worry less about forgetting the script and more about your performance. Reread your lines as often as possible, whether it's during early rehearsals, while using public transport or before falling asleep. During theatre rehearsals, try to refer to your script less each time you perform, while also learning your lines at home, and you should be able to recall all your lines relatively quickly.
Dialogue is a key part of acting but an accomplished actor is capable of conveying meaning without it. After all, for the first decades of the cinema, actors were silent while on screen. Physical performance is vital; if used correctly, it lets the audience know a great deal about your character before you even open your mouth. Your voice and your body need to work together to produce the most complete performance possible.
To develop those physical skills for acting, one of the oldest and simplest methods is to rehearse in front of a mirror. Focus on both large and small expressions; you can convey a sense of character through gestures as seemingly insignificant as how you open a door. Dance lessons can also be highly beneficial, regardless of whether or not you intend to perform in musicals, and many acting schools incorporate dance with this in mind.
Related: How to become an actor (with steps)
The practical side of acting is evident when we watch performances on the stage or screen. Even so, a great deal of theoretical work has likely influenced the final performance that the audience witnesses. Many of the most talented actors have studied the theoretical side of acting, which reaches back thousands of years. Familiarity with the theatrical trends and acting techniques utilised throughout history only benefits your acting career in the long term.
This pursuit of knowledge not only improves your acting skills, granting you a deeper understanding of some of history's most significant works but also helps you fall in love with theatre and all forms of acting. Becoming a professional actor is not an easy path and cultivating a passion for the arts will provide you with the necessary motivation to keep going when suffering some of the inevitable setbacks faced by aspiring actors.
As an actor, you'll rarely be working alone; even monologues depend on the work of numerous people behind the scenes. Be aware of the importance of establishing positive relationships with your co-stars and crew. An adversarial relationship with a fellow actor might not doom a production but it certainly makes success less likely.
One of the most important pieces of advice for actors early in their careers is that they should be willing to accept advice and guidance from more experienced performers. Conversing with your peers and watching their performances is invaluable for your development as an actor. Look at each rehearsal as an opportunity to learn from others, in addition to focusing on your own performance.
How to improve your skills for acting
While many actors can be said to have an innate talent for performance, many skills of an actor can be learned and refined. So, use the following tips to hone your acting skills:
1. Take acting classes
Even the best actors take classes to refine their skills for acting or to take their acting style in another direction, so consider utilising acting classes available to you to improve your skills for acting. Attending acting lessons is as much about networking as studying; the best teachers are also able to offer advice regarding auditions and might even be able to recommend you to local theatre companies.
2. Join a theatre group
Almost every town and city has options for amateur dramatics classes, and besides getting to practise and work on improving your abilities, meeting with like-minded people is another excellent networking opportunity. Theatre groups are great places to learn about any upcoming opportunities such as extras work or local auditions that are currently available.
Amateur productions won't help you pay the bills but they give you important experience, credits and exposure.
3. Study others
Whether you're observing the performance of other actors on TV and in movies or studying human behaviour in the world around you, watching others is an effective way of thinking about your own skills for acting and performance, and which aspects of humanity you can bring to your acting.
4. Learn supplementary actor skills
While singing and dancing aren't skills needed to be an actor, they are adjacent skills that many actors also possess, so being able to add a supplementary skill to your repertoire can be advantageous to boosting your actor skills and increasing your chances of getting more roles. You could also consider learning presenting skills. The more showbiz skills you can learn, the better.
If singing, dancing and presenting aren't your thing, consider how you can diversify your range when it comes to acting, such as through developing a specialisation in accents or voiceover acting. These are both skills for acting that could set you apart from the competition and get you more auditions.
Related: The importance of upskilling
How to highlight your actor skills on a CV
An actor's CV is quite different to a general CV and includes additional features, such as headshots. Here are some of the different ways that you can demonstrate your acting skills on your CV while growing your profile:
1. Include your personal statistics
Alongside featuring your height, eye colour and hair colour, also include the age range that you can play, where you're from (in terms of accent) and which accents you do well. Demonstrating your range is important for highlighting your skills for acting.
2. List your acting credits
Whether you've appeared in well-known films, been an extra in a TV show or performed in a local play, all experience is valuable when it comes to demonstrating your acting skills. TV extra work indicates that you have experience on a set or on location, are familiar with some of the procedures surrounding acting work and are aware of the hours and demands that can be placed on actors, so don't be afraid to include these smaller roles.
3. Include your extra skills
If you have other talents that might be relevant to an acting role, be sure to include them in your acting CV. We've already discussed acting-adjacent skills like singing, dancing, accent work and voiceover skills, but remember to include anything else relevant that you're good at. Examples of skills for acting that can be useful in certain roles include:
Martial arts skills
High fitness levels or ability in a particular sport, e.g. football or gymnastics
Ability to play an instrument
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