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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.