Every year, thousands of young people and non, decide that they want to pursue an acting career. The problem is that many of them believe it is as simple as getting a picture taken, putting together a resume and getting an agent. That kind of thinking is precisely the reason why most aspiring actors never make it. Here are the REAL first steps!
Find out what it really means to pursue the career in acting you say you want to pursue. Talk to both working actors as well as those who have been struggling to get work or who have been working sporadically. You can learn what to do and what not to do from both groups. Learn what a typical day could look like, especially at the beginning of your career.
Start reading up on acting techniques. Read books like Sanford Meisner on Acting or The Art Of Acting by Stella Adler. They will help you to understand that there are different techniques that, first of all you will need to fall back on time and time again in order to be able to deliver consistently compelling performances and also how acting classes are conducted. You'll know what to expect and also have some basis on which to choose a school.
Choose an acting school. If you have choices, don't just try and get in the first school you come to. Shop around, know what you exepct from your training, interview teachers and ask lots of questions before choosing. Once you start studying the craft, count on continuing to do it for a good portion of your career.
Study the industry. Learn how it works. Learn what agents and casting directors do and what they expect from actors and actresses. Learn why they are in the business they are in. Learn who casts the different projects there are. For example if you are in New York, you will want to know who casts for certain Broadway shows, for Law & Order, Guiding Light, as well as other even smaller projects. Learn about the different ways that actors can ensure their work gets seen.
Learn some basic business skills. On my site for new and aspiring actors, I have listed and described only 10 of the 21 I wrote about in my book. However many you study, you need to know that first of all as an actor, you are a free-lance professional and as such, you must sell yourself in a positive way to your 'customers' (casting directors, agents, directors, producers, etc.)
Start putting together some of your basic marketing materials: Headshot (commercial & legit (dramatic), Acting Résumé, Acting Cover Letter, Monologues (at least two: short comical monolgues and dramatic monolouges), but you will probably need more. Now the concept of type begins to be more important, because you want all of these things I mentioned here to all communicate the same message about who you are as an actress/actor.
Make sure you have a financial base! Many aspiring actors don't make it, because they don't think about this step at all before they throw themselves into the mix. An acting career can be a full-time or part-time thing. If you want it to be full-time, you MUST have the time to dedicate to it, because chances are in the first couple of years at least, you might not be making enough money to support yourself, so you will need either a base of money to fall back on or you will need to have streams of residual or passive income coming in so that you don't have to worry about how you will pay the rent.
Try and get some experience: community theatre, low-budget theatre projects, student films, indie films, background work on tv or in film. Background work is a great education in the beginning of your career AND you make a little money at the same time. The more you perform, the more comfortable you will feel. You can also contact your local acting unions (sag, aftra, equity, etc.) or your local film commissions to see what kinds of films, etc. will be filming in your area.
Now use your research of agents and of the industry to find the right agent for you. There are different ways to do that. You can meet agents (and casting directors generally) in a few different ways: 1. do a mass TARGETED mailing with regular follow ups. When you do that though, start to understand and learn what the interview/meeting with the agent will be like so you know what to expect! 2. Meets and greets or Schools that hold seminars in which they let you audition. They do charge a fee, however. 3. Forums with casting diretors and agents. Usually last a few hours and give you the chance to audition for and/or have a one to one meeting. 4. Acting Showcases in which you perform. Industry professionals are usually invited to check out the talent. 5. Invite them to a show you are in, to see a televison program or a movie you are in.
Continue to study! Other than continuing to hone your technique, you will want to start boning up on your audition skills, monologue performance, cold reading skills, improv skills, etc.
Now your business skills will come in handy, because now you must realize that you are the CEO of your own company, of your own brand. Your ability to market it or not, will have an effect on how successful your acting career turns out to be.
Acting is a tough business! You must have thick skin, because you will be hearing the word NO a lot. You must be prepared for that and know that is not to be taken personally. It's part of the game.
There are a lot of scam artists out there. Beware of them. They will sometimes pose as agents and then tell you everything you want to hear about how they will launch your career, but that you FIRST have to pay $XXX! Don't do it, no matter what they tell you! Talent agents don't cost money. They take usually 10% of whatever the job pays AFTER you have actually done it!