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Vancouver Actors Report 2020: Auditions, Work & Success

An illustrated report summarizing survey data about Vancouver actors’ work, career satisfaction, earnings, training, auditions, and opinions.

Over the past few months, I surveyed Vancouver actors with questions about their career, salary, auditions, challenges, and opinions about being an actor in Vancouver. 

The results is the Vancouver Actors Report 2020: a comprehensive, illustrated report that helps us leverage our community to get answers to those nagging questions that keep us up at night

We’re using our collective experience to get real, useful information about industry standards in this city, common practices, and the day-to-day life of being an actor in Vancouver.

This is important because a big part of an actor’s career is uncertainty, and a large portion of the decisions are made behind closed doors.

I hope these insights point you toward some answers in your acting career and help you understand our collective outlook as actors in this lovely city. 

Most of all, I hope these findings direct your energy towards greater compassion for our fellow artists and a greater sense of belonging to the artist world.

Remember, you matter to this community, and your art is worth making and doing.

With that, please enjoy the 2020 Vancouver Actors Report—if you find it useful, please participate in the 2021 survey when you’re done!

Who Are We?

Here’s a breakdown of basic info of the actors who participated in the survey:

The majority of respondents (76%) were not union actors. For reference, there are a reported 6,500 Union Members of the Union of BC Performers (UBC/ACTRA).

The majority of respondents (83%) had an agent. 

graph showing how many vancouver actors have agents
The majority of respondents to the Vancouver actor’s survey had an agent.

An aside about agencies:

There are about 65 talent agencies in and around the Vancouver area. 

I personally emailed 37 of them a few years ago when I was looking for representation for the first time. One said yes.

So if you don’t have an agent, don’t be discouraged. Keep doing your art. You’ll make it, one way or another.

In terms of years of experience, participants were pretty evenly represented.

  • Newbies = 10% (Less than one 1 year)
  • Intermediate = 50% (From 1 to 5 years)
  • Advanced = 21% (From 6 to 10 years)
  • Seasoned = 19% (More than 11 years)

I think it’s encouraging to see that newcomers as well as season actors were well represented, reinforcing my belief that Vancouver is a great place to start, build, and maintain a healthy career as an actor.

The majority of us do something besides acting.

graph showing how many actors in vancouver have a job outside of acting
The majority of Vancouver actors have a job outside of acting.

Beyond identifying as an Actor/Actress, 77% of respondents also identify with one or more job titles, including:

  • Hospitality: Barista, busser, banquet server, baker
  • Digital: Content marketer, SEO digital strategist, copywriter, writer, sales & marketing, admin, IT consultant, development manager, project manager
  • Arts: Director, producer, musician, podcaster, theatre artist, performer, performing artist, dancer, filmmaker, casting director, stand-in, background actor, photo double, comedian
  • Trades and services: Supervisor in construction company, carpenter, RMT, courier, 3D printer, general clerk, translator/interpreter
  • Education: Coach, university instructor, student

Vancouver Actor Auditioning Statistics

We all want to know, but we don’t ask: 

  • Am I getting a normal amount of auditions? 
  • I’m not getting called in…has work dried up? 
  • Are my expectations too high? 
  • Is it my agent…?

We have this notion that, when our careers take off, “we’ll be booking all the time” or “we’ll be auditioning all the time”.

What is “auditioning all the time”, and is that realistic to expect of ourselves?

Here’s your answer:

How many auditions do you have in an average month?

*Note: This question asked specifically about normal times, not during the height of COVID.

A combined 63% of actors have 2 or fewer auditions per month, and almost a quarter of us have zero auditions on an average monthly basis.

graph showing how many auditions actors have on an average month
A combined 63% of actors in Vancouver do 2 or fewer auditions per month.

A takeaway: If you’re not getting more than 1 or 2 auditions a month, you’re within completely normal bounds. There’s nothing wrong with you. 

quote about actor auditions

So. If you’re getting down on yourself because you’re comparing yourself to an imagined majority of actors who are getting a boat load of auditions—like more than 10 every month—you’re actually comparing yourself to a very small portion of our community. Just 3% of actors are doing more than 10 auditions a month. So deep breath. You’re doing fine.

For me, these stats drive home the importance of making your own stuff in addition to auditioning. If you really want the chance to put your craft on film, do it! Don’t wait for that audition. 

Easier said than done, I know. But easier done than regretted for not doing. 

FYI: Our perception about auditions is a bit “off”

Do you feel like you audition more or less than your peers (peers = people with similar qualifications)?

I threw this question out there and didn’t know what would come back. The stuff that came back was weird:

71% = I feel like I audition less.

Look at that for a minute—71% of us have this notion that we audition less than our peers. It’s pretty statistically unlikely that we’re all correct on this one. 

statistic showing that 71% of actors said they feel like they audition less than their peers
The majority of actors in Vancouver feel like they audition less than their peers—luckily this is not very likely to be true!

This is weird because it’s the opposite of the well-documented phenomena of “self-enhancement” (also called illusory superiority). That’s the phenomena where we see that most people will rate themselves as above average—above average drivers, morally superior to most other people, etc. 

In our case, actors are rating themselves as below average—most of us believe we audition less than our peers, not more.

While it’s possible because this survey did not interview 100% of Vancouver actors, it’s still highly unlikely that 71% of us audition less than our peers. It’s probably more around 50%.

The takeaway: If you feel like you audition less than your peers, you’re not alone—but you might be wrong.  

quote saying that if you feel like you audition less than your peers you're not alone-but you might be wrong

Yes, you! Give yourself a glorious little break. You may very well be dealing with our old friend Imposter Syndrome.

You can refer to the section above to understand where you fall within Vancouver averages, but we all know that everyone’s path in acting is simply different. You might audition more, or less, and that’s okay.

Do “you”. Average, above average, normal, weird, who cares? Go have fun with the acting process and the rest will take care of itself. Have a little faith. Take it from Dolly. She knows what she’s talking about.

Vancouver Actor Training Statistics

Outside of official acting work—auditioning, working on set, or prepping for set—how much time do you spend training?

Most actors in Vancouver (28% of actors) spend 6-10 hours a month training. Another large portion (24% of actors) train about 11-16 hours a month

It’s less common, but we do see actors who spend more than 20 hours a week training, and those who said they spend no time training at all.

Graph showing how many hours actors in vancouver train every month
Most actors spend between 6 and 15 hours training every month outside of their acting work.

Most of us sit in the middle of this bell(ish) curve:

  • No time 9%
  • 1-5 hours 19%
  • 6-10 hours 28%
  • 11-15 hours 24&
  • 16-20 hours 7%
  • More than 20 hours 14%

It’s a bell curve except for the very high end, where there’s a considerable number of actors who spend 20+ hours training per month—probably due to the fact that a few acting students took the survey.

Vancouver Acting Income, Expenses & Money Attitudes

In the hope of getting the most useful answer possible, instead of asking for averages or estimates, I asked actors in Vancouver to report on how much income they actually earned from acting last year.

Reported income ranged from $0.00 to $140,000. The average income for a Vancouver actor over the last year came out to $11,096.

However, don’t think of that number as an average annual salary for full-time actors, nor a baseline for what you can hope to earn as a full-time actor. 

This is because most actors (66%) who took the survey said that acting was not their full-time profession.

Many work other jobs outside of acting, or they are students. So their reported income was a reflection of what they actually earn from acting in their current part-time or multi-job setup.

How much do full-time actors earn in Vancouver?

Full-time actors on average earned $32,803 last year, with income reports ranging from $0 to $140,000. 

This is based on a small sample, though, so take it with a grain of salt. I only included answers where the respondent reported being a full-time actor and confirmed that they felt sure about this answer—no full-time school, no other full-time jobs to make them second-guess their status as a full-time actor.

How much do part-time actors earn in Vancouver?

Part-time actors on average earned $5,577 last year, with income reports ranging from $0 to $45,000.  

Bear in mind that this includes people from many walks of life—actor students, people who did some background acting while training, etc.

Here’s an illustration to sum up average part-time and full-time actor salaries in Vancouver:

Graph showing vancouver actor salaries for full and part time work
Actor salaries ranged from 0 to 140K, with full-time actors earning about 33K and part-timers bringing in about 6K for the year.

What about income from background acting?

When filling in earnings information, three respondents didn’t seem sure about their income. Two specifically mentioned background work—they weren’t sure whether to count their background acting income as acting income.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts.

How actors feel about what we earn

Over half (60%) of respondents said they were somewhat or extremely uncomfortable sharing information about their income—many said it was because of privacy reasons.

For many, revealing our income brings up negative feelings beyond privacy concerns.

People brought up that they were uncomfortable sharing because:

  • they’re not working as much as they’d hoped
  • they wish it were more
  • their income from acting doesn’t feel like a sustainable income
  • it’s embarrassing
  • it brings up feelings of shame and guilt for not earning more

These responses are a little troubling, but for anyone who’s set out on an acting career these thoughts probably aren’t very surprising.

Everyone has their own personal and even spiritual relationship with money, but I think we can start to help each other out by being more transparent about what we earn and how we feel about it.

I’d love to see more discussion around earnings and how we can manage our expenses, maximize our income, and really nail the business side of acting.

Vancouver Actor Expenses

How much do actors spend on acting? 

I asked actors to consider any expenses that they’d report on their taxes—training, supplies, transportation, memberships, etc.

graph showing how much actors spend on acting

The most common response came from about half of actors, who said they spent between $500 and $2,500 on acting last year. 

Very few people (combined total of 7%) spent more than $7,500.

Opinions On Common Advice For Beginner Actors

Our community weighed in on a few questions that beginner actors often wonder about. 

Graph summarizing people's opinions on common acting advice for beginners
  1. Is it a good idea for actors to attend casting director workshops? 83% of respondents said yes.

2. Is it a good idea for brand new actors to start out in background/extras work? 67% said yes. 

More actors agree that attending casting director workshops is a good idea—a much smaller percentage said that starting in background work was a good idea, even though the overall consensus was that it’s a good idea.

The Most Important Thing For Actors To Succeed

There were two answers tied for the top:

  • 21%: Relationships. Connections, and a strong network.
  • 21%: Thick skin. Thriving despite rejection, tolerating feeling vulnerable.

In second place, another tie:

  • 17%: Adaptability. Open, flexible, quick learner.
  • 17%: Discipline. Patience for and willingness to do non-fun tasks.

People were only allowed to choose one answer, so this even spread tells us that collectively, actors consider pretty much all of these things to be important.

Finally, 16% thought that artistic ability (acting skill, technique, craft) was the most important, and in last place with 9% of responses we had self-care (mental health, wellness). 

Here’s a chart summarizing the answers:

Illustration showing the top things actors thing you need to succeed
Relationships and thick skin tied for first place in our ranking of most important things for an actor to succeed.

Acting Career Satisfaction

 How successful do you feel you are, as an actor?

If you’re thinking “barely successful”, then unfortunately, you’re not alone: 

50% of Vancouver actors said they felt “barely successful” as an actor, and 15% said they didn’t feel successful at all.

🙁

On the flip side, 29% said they felt moderately successful, and 5% said they felt very successful.

There’s hope for us, however—even though we get down on ourselves for not being more successful, it looks like we feel more happy than we feel successful.

Actor Success vs. Happiness

Good news!

While a third feel moderately successful, close to half (43%) feel moderately happy with our careers. 

Similarly, while 5% feel very successful in our career, almost triple that amount (14%) feel very happy.

Graph comparing actors' feelings of success versus feelings of happiness
Even if we can’t say we feel very successful, we actors can say that we feel very happy. I think that’s good news.

Another reminder that “success”—however you define it for yourself—and happiness are two different concepts. Looks like a lot of us question our success but are happy, nonetheless.

Biggest Challenge For Vancouver Actors in 2020: “Getting Work”

Respondents could pick 1 challenge out of a list when asked, “What’s your biggest challenge this year?” 

For most people the top challenge was getting work (but honestly, we kinda expected that). 

Here are the top 5 biggest challenges Vancouver actors are facing:

  1. Getting work 31% 
  2. Getting cast in bigger roles 24% 
  3. Finding an agent 12% 
  4. Building my skills/techniques 10% 
  5. Getting over personal obstacles 10% 
Pie chart summarizing the biggest challenges for Vancouver actors in 2020

A very small number of people said that their top challenge was getting cast in different roles, producing their own projects, and building connections/networking, or another challenge.

Note that “getting over personal obstacles” made the top 5 list. In a craft where your whole self has to show up for the work, it’s understandable that personal obstacles can pose a significant block and consume a lot of our energy.

Side Note:

For any actor working through personal obstacles, I’d definitely recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

I went through the book with a group of creatives this year and would happily do it again if anyone wants to. Feel free to reach out and let me know—there’s a contact form here.

The Hardest Part About Being An Actor

People wrote in a huge variety of answers to this question. The most common answers can be summarized into these general categories:

Illustration showing statistical ranking of the hardest parts about being an actor

Uncertainty included things like financial uncertainty, not knowing what to do, not knowing what casting directors are looking for, trying to figure things out for yourself.

Finding good work included things like booking regularly, getting flexible work, quality roles, and paid work.

Believing in myself included challenges around rejection, facing your own blocks, dealing with low motivation or the feeling that others are succeeding while you aren’t.

Factors being out of my control included things like long dry spells between auditions, the inconsistency in getting auditions, being dependent on others, or being dependent on luck.

Getting access to opportunities included challenges in meeting decision makers, discrimination based on accents/ethnicity, finding outlets for acting when not booking, and getting into the room.

The Best Part About Being An Actor?

Actors responded with so many reasons—and I was surprised that so many of the most common answers were the same, word for word:

  • Exploring ways of being 19%
  • Just acting itself 15%
  • Working 13%
  • Having fun 13%
Illustration showing statistical ranking of the best parts about being an actor
The thing Vancouver actors love most about acting is exploring new ways of being. This included things like “expressing yourself in new ways”, “being other characters” and “experiencing different types of life and identity”.

Exploring ways of being included things like living life in someone else’s shoes, expressing yourself in new ways, being other characters, experiencing different types of life and identity.

Just acting itself included all answers where people said they simply liked the craft and art of acting. Straight up. 

Working included many responses specifically around how people liked being on set. It also included folks who mentioned getting work and getting paid work.

Having fun was a surprisingly common response. Many people mentioned how they love having fun, love being able to play, or love the joy they experience while acting.

Other things people brought up as the best part of acting:

  • Creating and telling stories (12%): Bringing stories to life, creating moments.
  • Relationships and people (8%): The people you meet, fellow actors, being recognized.
  • Doing what I love (7%): Simple that. Many people responded with this phrase, word for word.
  • Freedom (5%): People talked about creative freedom and having the license to create
  • Purpose and meaning (5%): Satisfaction, personal fulfillment, mastering something.
  • Enacting change (4%): Changing people’s minds, making them feel something

So many things to love about being an actor!

The Toughest Question

Here’s what I think was the toughest question in the survey:

Is acting your full-time profession?

Why do I say this question is tough?

Because of all the questions, this one had a big drop-off rate: 13%. A large portion of folks were so turned off by this question that they simply went no further with the survey. 

I’m asking you: “Is acting your full-time profession?” If you had to answer “yes” or “no” what would you choose? 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says plain and simple, “Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules.”

Even though it’s acknowledged as an industry standard that few actors work full time, I think there’s still a lot of self-consciousness among actors who consider ourselves part-time actors. We’d rather not face the let-down, so we shy away from the question.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone—when asked, “How sure do you feel about your answer to the previous yes/no question?”, it was clear that many people didn’t feel sure about whether they worked full- or part-time:

  • I felt sure = 57%
  • I felt unsure = 43%
Graphs comparing how many actors are full-time and how sure they are about that
Close to half of actors did not feel sure about whether to consider themselves full- or part-time actors.

The majority of actors who said they felt unsure about being full-time vs part-time (22%) said it was because they were both full-time actors and they have other jobs.

That’s a lot of busy actors, folks. Remember to take a break and be kind to your busy selves!

Get Involved With The 2021 Report

The Vancouver Actors Report is an evolving passions project. It’s a comprehensive, illustrated report that helps us leverage our community to get answers to the tough questions that keep us up at night!

Our work as actors is full of uncertainty—a large portion of decisions feel like they’re made behind closed doors.

Actors get tons of advice and opinions, but we suffer from a lack of transparency into what’s actually going on in our industry.

Our community is one of our most powerful assets. Let’s use our collective experience to find some answers:

Please share with anyone who you think would benefit from it!

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By Sarah Tolle

Acting. Writing. Storytelling. Content operations. Digital marketing, branding, and publishing. Teaching. Salsa dancing. Honesty. Courage. Fun.

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