I have received some email lately asking about aspiring actors and education. One student wanted to drop out of high school to become an actor. Another saw no reason to study in high school because he didn't think it would help him become an actor. Yet another thought my book, The Tao of Acting, made it clear that going to college was a bad idea for an aspiring actor and that all he had to do was be a waiter in the day time and act at night. Of course it is highly dependant on the level of the aspirant's maturity and experience, whether he or she continues getting an education after high school; but even if a minor were fortunate enough to get a professional job before graduating, they would be required by child labor laws to study with a tutor provided by the producer. A minor cannot drop out of high school and become an actor. That is impossible.
Furthermore, no one wants a stupid actor. Actors play roles from all historical eras, and they have to know how people lived and behaved in those days. Studying history and literature is excellent preparation for an actor. Actors also need to know how to write business letters, do simple bookkeeping to look after their finances and taxes, how to behave in social situations, and do a myriad of other things that they learn as they mature and as they study more about their language and their world. In many cases it is also desirable for an aspiring actor to go to college to achieve maturity and get needed acting experience.
It is true that I don't agree with having something to fall back on. The aspiring actor who has something to fall back on will do just that because it is so hard to earn money as an actor. But the actor does need to know how to earn a living while trying to become an actor, but that is part of the process and not falling back on something other than acting. It is important that aspiring actors learn how to support themselves before ever trying to become actors.
It is also true that I believe many colleges and professional schools are a waste of time and money. But again, that depends on the individual. And I make that clear, I hope, in my book; and since acting deals with every possible subject in the world, a solid educational background is not a waste for an actor. The aspiring actor has to know so much about so many things other than acting that staying in school and getting a good education is actually a requirement of being an actor. No one just has to “act” to be an actor. There are so few jobs and so many actors that the aspiring actor has to be able to compete intellectually as well as with talent. The actor must have lots and lots of experience acting. There is no on the job training. Professionals are expected to know their craft before they are hired. Acting is first and foremost a business and like other businesses it requires financial investment for tools and supplies and books and classes. Professional actors are always in classes for keeping sharp and for networking.
Someone aspiring to be an actor needs an impressive resume and that includes acting classes, some with noted teachers or at respected studios or academies. The academic degree is not a requirement for an actor, but it is not a hindrance either. As I said, no one wants to work with a stupid actor or one that cannot use the language correctly. Naturally, some students make connections and get opportunities via their academic pursuit. I have three academic degrees in theatre, and they put me in good stead when I did semiprofessional and professional work.
Acting is not for the intellectually lazy. It is difficult work mentally and physically. In my blog posts of Nov 13 and Oct 24 I state several advantages of going to college or professional school. I think there is much wrong with actor training in our country, but I also think it is very important that the actor be trained and in many more things than just acting.