How to Start a Career with a Degree in Theatre Arts

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Are you a theater artist by profession or passion, or perhaps considering studying theater arts and you are wondering what the job prospects are? This is probably a concern shared by many in the world of theater arts, largely due to the intense competition currently suffocating the job market.

In this long article, we aim to answer many of the questions you might have regarding survival in the highly competitive theater arts industry. We also present a blueprint to ramp up your chances of success. If you follow the guide here, it’ll advance your goals of becoming the next accomplished artist in any particular niche of theater art you pick. So where should you start?

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Have a Comprehensive Understand of the Field

Theater art is a broad field and the career options are extensive. Theater artists typically work together on any single production. Every movie or music you know brings together the skills of artists from a diverse range of professions. There are playwrights, performers, designers, and scene experts. That is why theater is probably the most comprehensive among all arts, and also the most challenging and exciting because it only takes the failure of one group of artists to undermine the entire show.

To better prepare yourself, it’s recommended after your degree to do at least one internship in theater art, undergo further training or study, volunteer with relevant organizations in teaching drama, or being a part of some production crew. You must also be enthusiastic and have a positive attitude towards the career you’re pursuing, as creativity requires passion, perseverance, and patience, to bear fruit.

Understand The Industry Landscape

You must approach this career with the acknowledgment that having a college degree in any of the theater majors doesn’t translate to a successful career in the industry. There are far too many artists and talented people for all to have a spot in the world of theater. However, having a college degree is the best way to prepare yourself to perform well and also increase your employability in the job market. With the cut-throat competition that artists have to overcome in order to succeed, you must prepare to set yourself above competitors to make it.

You should know that there are a lot of successful theater artists that didn’t have any formal education in theater art. And you’ll also be competing with them. But the fact you have a degree or plan to have one in theater Arts gives you an edge your competitors might not have. For example, students who major in Theater arts are faster likely to master the art after having some experience. They’ll emerge with more knowledge, confidence, more sensitivity, and awareness of key drivers of success in the industry. This is because your degree program in Theater Art should expose you to creative drama expression, especially in front of live audiences. You’ll know a wide range of artistic performances on TV, institutions, theaters, movies, etc., with options to specialize in acting, directing, playwriting, design, and others.

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A General Preparatory Note

Having a degree in Theater Art should have equipped you with great organizational and communication skills you may use in a wide range of professions. To work effectively with fellow artists, you need to develop strong presentation skills, have total control over your voice and body while performing in public, be able to concentrate intensely, be a good listener, observe keenly, be creative with solving problems, and think critically. You should also have a team-work spirit, be able to work alone under pressure, meet deadlines, and maintain composure when faced with an unexpected situation.

A degree in Theater Arts doesn’t mean you must work in the movie industry. You can pick up good jobs in teaching, arts management, public relations and drama therapy, and much more.

Like I mentioned earlier, the key to starting a career with a degree in theater arts depends on your passion for a particular field and level of preparation. I’ll describe eight career options for graduates in Theater Arts and provide tips on how to set yourself up for success in either of them.

1. Performing Arts

Performing Arts degrees is a mix of creative talent and practical aspects of self-promotion, plus arts management. If you want to enter the world of performance, those are the least characteristics to possess: creative talent, practical self-promotion, and arts management.

The first step after your degree is to get some work experience. Engage in volunteer activities and to enhance your creative knowledge. There are plenty of volunteer projects in community centers close to you, and you can find those by asking around or searching the internet.  As a way to gain experience, you can also help professionals in developing their creative process.

It doesn’t mean that you must always expect to find an already established organization to take you. In cases where such volunteer projects are not available or qualified, you may consider organizing some acting or dance workshops and creative groups to help yourself and others. If you become successful in setting up some volunteer programs, you may even get funding from the government, other institutions, or companies. There are always funding options available. You need to apply to as many as you deem necessary to meet your organization’s needs. The rumor goes that many artists have attained fame by starting their own companies around a particular form of art they want to focus on and explore. You could be the next such heroes.

While there might be no monetary rewards for participating in volunteer projects, most of the unpaid projects will help get your feet wet in the theater world by perfecting what you learned, exchanging ideas and learning more from other such organizations, and increase your chances of employability as many industry professionals often visit these forums and performances.

Typical Employers of Performance Artists

Here are the most common employers of performance artists:

  • Voluntary Organizations
  • Arts Organizations
  • Leisure Companies
  • Local Governments
  • Educational Institutions
  • National Health Service organization

You should also seek short or long-term freelance contracts you qualify for even in different fields. Moving between different fields and organizations generates more employment opportunities through networking, attending auctions, collaborating with others, and increasing the chances of being spotted by some industry professionals.

You must try to present yourself in the best way possible when taking part in any show cos you don’t know who might be watching you. And keep your ears to the ground about what’s happening in the industry cos many employment opportunities can occur in the most unusual places.

So in preparing to advance a career in performance arts, you need to develop your CV perfect the following points:

Stamina, Confidence, Receptive of fair criticism, self-presentation, team-work and collaboration, organized and punctual, self-awareness, self-discipline, open-minded about learning, strong communication, analytical, critical, and research skills.

You should also consider hiring an agent, especially when you start to build some momentum. Experienced agents often have a list of network contacts from which you benefit. Qualified agents also help you to avoid rookie mistakes and obtaining auditions that could be out of your reach without such help. Not all actors will have an agent, but if you want to work with the big theater and movie companies, then you need one.

2. Playwright

A playwright also called a dramatist is a person responsible for writing the script for a theatrical production. You’ll be crafting the dialogue actors perform within a theatrical context. The playwright clearly determines the play’s purpose and subject matter. They also develop dramatic structure and create characters of the drama. To be a successful playwright, you must be a prolific writer and a good storyteller.

People often misspell playwright as a playwright. The correct spelling is a playwright. It’s formed from two words: play & wright. The word “wright” means craftsman and often come as a suffix in some compound words to represent the people who create certain things. For example, there was a time when wheel makers were generally referred to as wheelwrights.

What it Takes to be a Playwright

To succeed in this trade, you must be passionate about writing, because you’ll be producing scripts that dictate dialogue and action. You must also have strong writing skills and the ability to craft convincing dialogue.

Playwriting shares a broad characteristic with scripts for movies. But there are important differences. A movie script may contain script can include extravagant special effects, like explosions. But because a playwright always has to produce something to be implemented in a theater, the number of effects they include is limited. For example, you can’t show a bomb scene in a theater. It’ll blow things up and even terrify the audience.

The problem with playwriting is that the art seems out of passion, though still practiced around the world. Usually, an artist will produce a script and send it to different theaters to buy. If the script is good enough, a theater buys and produces it. Sometimes the playwright may be involved in the production and performances.

So if you develop the ability to write good scripts, you can actually make a lot of money selling to theaters and movie companies. Some of these companies will even make you a permanent employee if they really like your talent. Which is why you must do all it takes to master this art before attempting to make a profit out of it. You must be really good to make a decent living writing plays, otherwise, you won’t make much. Another key driver of the success of playwrights is their location. Those in cities with big theaters and movie companies have better opportunities to sell their art. Typically, it’s more difficult to make a living solely writing plays. Most playwrights have other sources of income.

3. Movie Director

With a bachelor’s degree in film or cinema, all you need is experience and a couple of other qualities to be a successful Film Director. As a director, you’ll oversee and manage multiple different artists involved in producing a film, from budget to actors, camera and lighting crew, designers, and editors. Many directors work in movie companies, but that’s not where a majority work. You can find directors managing artists for television or video production companies, the advertising industry, and pretty much anywhere motion pictures are involved.

Responsibilities of a Director

In the motion picture industry, film directors oversee every creative decision that goes into producing a motion art, from conception to the final edits. They are second only to the executive producer, who has the last word on every element of a production.

How to Prepare for Success as a Director

It is a must to have some work experience before embarking on this career – because it’ll factor in heavily with any employer you approach. You may gain experience through writing, acting, or assisting an already established director. You should also work to develop your management and leadership skills, be creative, and communicate effectively. These qualities are essential to succeed not only as a director but in most fields of the movie industry. Because your ability to maintain that job depends on how well you perform. And lacking in personality, qualification, or experience can be a serious hindrance in the long run.

Employment for Film Directors

You can work in a variety of industries, not just the movie industry. In fact, a majority of professional film directors don’t work in the movie industry though that might be the most profitable industry for film directors.

You can direct productions for regional or local TV stations and video production companies, creative advertising, training films, and direct small-scale movie companies. You can also switch from directing to writing, producing, script development, teaching, reviewers, or critics. They are also the option of starting your own small personal business in costume supply, rental or lighting business, acting schools, and many others.

4. Professional Stage Manager

As a professional stage manager, you’ll collaborate with directors before a theatrical production to ensure everything is perfect. Professional managers are critical for any theatrical production due to a number of skills they possess, including organizational, communication, practical, first aid, and others. Stage managers keep an eye on actors during rehearsal, like recording their attendance, write down actor notes, reminds the crews and cast about rehearsals, assists with blocking, and ensures props are available as needed.

A stage manager can also assist the technical manager of a show to outline and coordinate the necessary stage crew work. As soon as a show begins, stage managers take over responsibility for backstage operations of the show for each performance.

If you’re aiming to become a stage manager, it means you’re okay with long hours of work. Your attention is needed whenever there is a rehearsal or performance whether at night, on weekends, or on holidays. You can work based on contract, part-time or full-time employees depending on the size of the theater.

Career Requirements

You need a Bachelor’s degree, preferably in Stage Management. You must also have working experience as an assistant stage manager or something relevant to that. There are a number of key skills you must possess, which include, superb communication skills, a good mastery of theatrical terms and concepts, patience working with directors, actors and other artists.

How to Go About Preparing Yourself

A BSc. Fine Arts program in stage management will equip you with all the skills and experience to work in the field. You can explore different areas of theater, including costume work, scene design, and stage management. The program will typically provide academic work with hands-on experience.

To further increase your chances of success in looking for a job, consider enrolling in a Master of Fine Arts program. This isn’t a requirement with most employees but should advance your knowledge of the craft and give you an edge over competitors. With a master’s, you may also qualify for a number of jobs like teaching, production, and other areas of management.

Also, try to gain as much experience in the field as possible. An internship or assistant stage manager are the most popular ways to gain experience. If there are no schools or theaters willing to give you an internship, consider going for a paid internship instead of waiting for free opportunities. Internships don’t normally take long, although you should expect to work full time. It can take anywhere from several weeks to months.

Boost your career by joining the Stage Manager’s Association. Doing so gives you theatrical experience and the opportunity to build a network of professionals that exposes you to more theatrical experiences and career opportunities.

Also, consider joining a union. Being a member of a Union normally benefits like minimum salaries, health insurance, credit union membership, fair work hours, and members-only job opportunities.

5. Set and Costume Designer

As a costume designer, you’ll be designing costumes for the actors. You’ll make sure what is worn is in fashion during the time of production, and you also work with directors to select or design attire. While doing all this, you must be able to stay within budget and be innovative finding the least expensive option that also does the job well.

Some formal education and design skill is a must for costume designers. You must be able to use computer-aided design technology. You must be creative and have a good technical understanding of the production process for the most commonly used costumes like clothing, accessories, and footwear.

Part of the job also includes Set Design, where you create sets for movies, television, theater, or advertising productions. You’ll analyze scripts and other research documents to determine the number of sets that’ll need to get the story or message across, and how each set works to support the story. Having some experience in relevant fields of the theater will help you master Set Design proper.

6. Dramaturg/Literary Management

Your job is to research, advise, writer, or edit a production. You’ll also analyze the story and text, research earlier productions and historical context, prepare notes for directors, advise the director and cast, and crafting the audience guide to play.

7. Theater Education

This career field sees your teaching and instructing students in techniques of acting, directing, playwriting, script analysis, and history of theater. You’ll assist students to acquire confidence, assurance, speaking skills, and timing. In theater education, you encourage students in their academic work, direct rehearsals, and guide each in their roles. You will also train them in backstage work like set design, production organization, set building, stage lighting, sound, properties, costuming, and makeup.

For this role, you must have all the academic qualifications to teach in public schools. The level of students you can teach depends on your qualification level. Higher education students require you to have at least a master’s degree. But you don’t have to limit yourself to teaching in formal schools. Theater educators also find work in professional theaters and combine experience with research to teach more effectively.

8. Drama Therapy

Drama therapists work with medical professionals to treat and rehabilitate actors with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Dram therapists have a way of determining any underlying problems an actor might have that hinders their performance.

To qualify for this position, you must take the appropriate degree studies, preferably a master’s degree or higher. Graduate programs in Drama Therapy prepare you well to carry on this role. You should have a sound understanding of theater psychology in addition to clinical internship and some artistic ability. You should understand and appreciate theater, have a good sense of humor, patience, tact, stamina, and be able to build rapport with others.

Finally, I’ve said much about exploring the career options in Theater Arts. I want to add that a lot of families are averse to what’s happening in movies today, particularly in Nigeria. The next millionaires in Nollywood will likely come from those who’ll exploit the need for decent films in Nigeria.

Frankly speaking, I object to much of what’s happening in Nigerian movie scenes today. Nigerian movies used to be something we can watch with families and friends of all genders. But the rapid degradation of morality in society over the years has upended the Nigerian movie industry. Hardly would you find a movie today which families can watch together without a massive dose of embarrassment at some point. The movies have become a kind of soft porn industry.

Really, the Nigerian society is hungry for movies that both families and friends can watch comfortably. And you can exploit this desire by writing or directing films with plenty of moral lessons. There seems to prevail a common misconception that movies don’t sell without plenty of sexually provocative acts. This is largely wrong.