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Center stage
The 20 Careers Theater Majors Will Love — And Thrive In
Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash
Leslie W. Price
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Theatre director, writer, and arts educator.
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Go ahead and take a bow! You worked hard for that theater degree, and you deserve to celebrate your success. Now that you have that all-important diploma, will you really be able to put a theater major to use? Absolutely! That old stereotype of the out of work, underpaid artist doesn’t have to be true for you. Making a living in the performing arts is doable with a little bit of creativity and hard work, and your college experience has no doubt prepared you for what lies ahead. 

To succeed in the theater, you may want to consider moving to a city with lots of jobs in the performing arts. New York is definitely the heart of the American theater world, but there are plenty of other options, too. Chicago is an excellent place to land as you build your resume and make lifelong connections. There are many theater towns up and down the West Coast, too: Seattle, Portland and San Francisco to name a few. A successful theater career tends to be easier to build in a large city, but don’t rule out regional theaters and touring gigs. Just like any other field, the more open you are to all of the opportunities available, the more likely you are to find your perfect job.

5 transferable skills every theater major gains

You have more to offer your future employer than you probably even realize. Whether you’re pounding the pavement in search of your next role, looking for a great side hustle, or expanding your career prospects to other fields, keep in mind that theater majors are almost always skilled at:

  • Collaboration: Theater majors are masters of teamwork since plays and musicals are, at heart, massive group projects. Performances simply don’t work if people aren’t able to work together blending lots of ideas into one project.
  • Creativity: It sounds obvious, but theater artists are super creative. Don’t under-estimate your creativity as a valuable commodity.
  • Communication: Everyone from the folks on stage to the people running the box office have to know how to communicate effectively. Understanding how to talk to people or share information in writing will transfer to almost any other industry.
  • Presentation skills: Actors aren’t the only theater professionals who are able to stand up in front of people and talk. Most theater majors —including folks working behind the scenes — learn how to present ideas in a clear, concise way
  • Adaptability: No rehearsal, performance or production is the same as the last one, and theater majors are highly trained at being able to adapt to new circumstances with ease. 

Top 20 jobs for theater majors

1. Performer

It’s the job everyone thinks of when they hear you have a theater degree. If you’ve trained to become an actor, go for it! Plan to go to lots and lots of auditions, and be sure to tout your collaborative skills as much as your talent.

2. Stage manager

There’s a shortage of stage managers in almost every major theater city, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Stage managers are invaluable partners to everyone involved in a production, keeping things running smoothly, taking lots of notes, and solving problems with ease.  

3. Director

Directors have amazing collaborative skills, understanding how to pull together a team of artists to tell a great story on stage. Directing jobs tend to be one-off opportunities in big cities or regional theaters. If you’re prepared to travel a bit and don’t mind piecing together your schedule for the season, it’s a good option. 

4. Arts educator

At some point, most theater artists do a bit of teaching, and there are opportunities to teach people of all ages and skill levels. It’s a great option as a full-time gig or as supplemental income. 

5. Choreographer

Part dancer, part director, and part teacher — a choreographer creates the dance and movement included in musicals and cabarets. Like directing, working as a choreographer tends to mean piecing together several gigs throughout the season to make a living.

6. Designer

Virtually every show — big and small — involves design components. Lights, sound, scenery, costumes, projections, puppets, props... somebody has to design those things, and skilled artisans are valuable. As with all theater work, you’ll have to do some networking and create a great-looking portfolio to land jobs.

7. Scenic artist 

If you really want to focus your career into a niche, scenic artistry can be very lucrative. In addition to plenty of individual gigs, there are major scenic studios throughout the U.S. that hire artists full-time to paint scenery for everything from theater to commercials to conventions. 

8. Box office manager

If you’re gifted at dealing with the public, have a good phone personality and are able to do some simple bookkeeping, you’ll be a whiz managing a box office. Job requirements vary depending on the size of the organization. Managing a box office can be a part-time side hustle or a full-time career. 

9. Arts administrator

Take on a greater leadership role and help guide an organization toward its goals. More recent college grads will be viable candidates for roles such as education director or outreach coordinator while more experience is usually required for positions like artistic director or executive director. 

10. Facilities manager

Who better to look out for the needs and schedules of a theater than a theater major? Folks with technical theater skills are especially well-suited to this work since you need to understand the unique needs of the equipment used in theaters. 

11. Development professional

You’ll do everything from grant writing to schmoozing as you help raise money to keep an organization going. A great job for someone who has a love of the arts and a savvy business sense. 

12. Dramaturg

Take a deep dive into a play or musical, and support the other theater artists in learning more about the story they’re bringing to the stage. A dramaturg does additional research about history, topics, playwrights and style, and works with the production team to bring the script to life

13. Writer

Freelance writing is an excellent side hustle for artists. You can generally work on your own schedule as long as you meet your deadlines. Some gigs are more lucrative than others, but writing reviews for performing arts magazines is a good way to see lots of shows for free.

14. Stylist

Styling people is a lot like costuming a play. The only difference is that you’re dressing your clients for real life. Department stores and high-end boutiques often hire stylists, and online subscription retailers also depend on stylists to put together looks for clients.

15. Graphic designer

People who design scenery tend to use many of the same tools as graphic designers. You may need to take a quick class or two to learn some nuances unique to graphic design, but those courses are readily available and affordable. 

16. Wedding/event planner

What’s a wedding if not a kind of a performance? Theater artists — especially those with directing or stage management experience — are amazing event planners, paying attention to details and making sure everything goes off without a hitch. 

17. Professional party motivator

Yep, this is a real job, and party motivators are usually hired for pre-teen parties and bar/bat mitzvahs. They get things going on the dance floor, make balloon animals, hand out glow sticks, and help the kids have a great time together. It’s a great part-time gig for outgoing actors and dancers who enjoy working with young people.

18. Child wrangler

Speaking of kids, did you ever wonder who looks after the children in a professional production? The child wrangler! You’ll keep an eye on the young people in a show, make sure they’re safe, and that they’re ready for rehearsals and performances. 

19. Recess coach

Schools are realizing it was a mistake to eliminate recess. They’re putting it back, but kids don’t know how to play recess games anymore. Professional companies are partnering with schools to solve that challenge, and outgoing, compassionate actors are perfect for this flexible, daytime gig. 

20. Birthday party performer

There is absolutely nothing wrong with dressing up as Elsa and belting out “Let It Go” with a bunch of 5 year-olds. The money is good, and the hours allow you to work around auditions and rehearsals.

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Leslie W. Price is a theater artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio

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