Theatre Careers & Performance Arts
Working in the theatre and the performing arts sector covers a number of very different roles. You could be a performer, a writer or director, part of the production crew or work on the sales and marketing side. This is a demanding, exciting and competitive field to break into and will most probably be based around a long-standing passion and desire to work within this industry.
Although your degree will be important, this is an area where experience, skills and attitude will be crucial in ultimately deciding how successful you will be. Like most creative job areas a proactive and positive approach is critical to forging a career within the industry.
Where do I start?
Within the theatre and performing arts sector you could be looking at a wide range of occupations. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.
Jobs roles in this sector include (but are not restricted to):
- Arts administrator
- Community arts worker
- Make-up artist
- Production designer, theatre/television/film
- Theatre director
- Theatre manager
- Theatre stage manager
As part of your job-hunting strategy you will need to keep up to date on developments in this sector and keep track of any vacancies that are coming up. Below are some key resources to help you research opportunities available. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.
- ArtsHub - Publishes essential jobs and news information to professionals working in the UK arts and cultural industries.
- One Dance UK - The website of the industry body for dance in the UK offers career advice, jobs, contacts and event listings.
- The Stage - Website for the theatre and performing arts industries that features news, training and job opportunities, advice and audition listings.
There are more people who wish to work within the theatre and performing arts industries than there are jobs available and so, like most creative industries, this is a tough area to break into. More than most sectors your practical experience, skills, attitude and determination will be crucial in breaking into the industry.
However, finding experience will take time and effort; employers receive many CVs and applications every week so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through the Purple Door website. In addition to this the University of Portsmouth Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, in conjunction with Purple Door, have developed a Creative Careers guide, an online resource with CV and application information focused on the creative industries.
Working voluntarily is an effective way to gain fantastic experience. Purple Door offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Purple Door careers centre. A number of varied opportunities with local theatres are available on an ongoing basis.
If you wish to instigate voluntary work experience during the vacation periods please refer the 'External sites' on the voluntary work experience section of our website.
Tips to build experience:
- Portsmouth has a number of local theatres including The New Theatre Royal, The Kings Theatre and Groundlings Theatre that can be contacted in order to gain experience within performance or production. A little further afield there is the acclaimed Chichester Festival Theatre that provides similiar options. Gain paid work or volunteer front of house, this is a great way to meet people and hear about potential opportunities.
- Gain performance experience through getting involved with local groups and productions, attending workshops and starting your own projects with friends.
- Look into attending open auditions and sign-up with casting agencies for extra work in the holidays.
- Network as much as possible. Try to meet people working in theatre at events and ask anyone and everyone for advice, people will be happy to help!
- See as much theatre as you can, this shows enthusiasm and people are bound to ask you what you've seen recently. It will also help you decide the kind of company you might want to work in.
Finding a job
Like most creative industries, breaking into theatre and the performing arts is tough and the reality is that most likely voluntary and sporadic work will be a regular feature initially. This will require personal resiliance, determination and the support of either family and friends or alternative work that will help to subsidise your main career aim. Whether you want to work in performance, writing, directing or production, previous experience, skill and technical knowledge will be crucial to start building a career within this area.
Postgraduate study or other specialst courses at drama and dance schools are a useful way of gaining more skills, experience and contacts. You could undertake an MA in Acting or Dance or enrol on a summer school or short course to focus on a particular aspect of performance although entry is extremely competitive.
The range of employers who recruit in these areas includes:
- Full-time, continuous work is largely the preserve of technicians and stage managers who can be employed by a venue or production company.
- Performers will almost always work on a freelance basis. For each new production a new team of creative people are brought together and then move away on to their next job. Most directors, designers and writers will not be linked to a particular company or theatre and so they need to keep finding new jobs.
- Repertory companies can offer longer spells of work for actors as they will employ performers for a season, during which they perform in a number of different plays, each one usually running for a specified period.
- The diversity of venues and productions is vast. You could find work from anything from a small fringe theatre company up to a huge West End theatre.
- Performing dance companies will employ dancers on a longer-term basis.
- You could find work as a dancer in clubs, on cruise ships and in cabarets.
Below is a list of useful websites to help you start your job search
- Creative Choices - Includes jobs listings; areas covered include theatre and music.
- Arts Council England - The Arts jobs list details current vacancies and opportunities in dance, music, theatre, combined and interdisciplinary arts. Searchable by region and salary.
- Spotlight - Spotlight provides a casting database for film, television, stage and commercial work.
- Media Volt - Website lists paid roles for actors, presenters, performers and TV/film production crew.
Tips for finding a job
- Before starting your job search think carefully about what it is you want to do within theatre and the performing arts because roles can be extremely varied.
- If you are looking for work as an actor within theatre then getting an agent or working with an agency can be an effective way to gain work. For information on how to get an agent visit Acting in London.
- To work as a professional actor you will need an Equity Card. However, this requires gaining work and credits in the first place in order to be eligible. For further information visit Equity.
- Similiar to the tips for gaining experience, see as much theatre as possible and get involved in as much as possible. Attend workshops, network, get involved in student productions and build your portfolio and experience.
- Attend open auditions that don't require an agent sign-posting.
- Don't reject any opportunities. You will most probably have to work in a voluntary role at first in order to build-up crucial experience, credits and contacts.
Need more help and information?
How can Purple Door help you?
Purple Door offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:
- Career options
- Further study
- CV and Covering Letters
- Application forms
- Job search
- And more......
Please visit services for you for more details about our support and services.
Purple Door has an online Jobsboard advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Recruitment Consultancy team that delivers a personalised matching job service.
Remember if you are not on campus you can still access our services via telephone or skype booked appointments, please contact us to discuss your needs.
If you need more information why not check out some of the resources below to help you to research a sector in more depth.
Working in Theatre and the Performing Arts
- Arts Professional - Provides industry news and views about key issues plus a jobs board.
- Arts Culture Media Jobs - Lists vacancies in theatre, music and dance.
- Arts and Media Jobs - A free website listing arts and media jobs and vacancies for arts and media professionals.
- Creative Access - Paid internship opportunities for those from under-represented minority backgrounds.
- FilmExtras - Search for extras jobs and castings including theatre work and dance.
- nest - University of Portsmouth’s support network for current students and graduates who wish to work self-employed offering advice and guidance, office space and networking opportunities.
- Freelance UK - Information for creative freelancers including a forum, news & events and tips on starting out.