If the drama club is your favorite afterschool activity and a non-traditional work environment appeals to you, you may be thinking of exploring opportunities in theater. To help you out, I’ve listed ten possible careers you can pursue.
An obvious and popular choice is becoming an actor. Theater acting jobs offer the unique challenge of performing live -- no multiple takes. You need excellent memorization skills as well as the ability to fully embrace and embody the character on stage. Performing live also requires physical stamina and voice projection. Competition in the field is fierce, and being resilient and comfortable with uncertainty are key. Depending on the opportunities you find, you may be working seven days a week, live on the road or hold several gigs to support yourself. To become a successful theater performer, you may want to show versatility by creating a showreel of different roles you’ve played. Consider also finding an agent.
Playwrights draft scripts for theatrical productions using a specific format to write dialogue along with scene descriptions and directions for performers. They may polish their writing by creating and publishing other literary works. The stories playwrights create could be original or adapted ones. To enter the world of playwriting, explore options to submit scripts to a community college theater, a local theater or aspiring producers. You may also consider participating in contests to gain exposure or becoming a playwright-in-residence through an established program or a local school/theater. Although college education is not required to have your script accepted, it does give you access to practical experience, relevant knowledge and connections to help you move forward in the career.
If you love theater and see yourself as an advisor, becoming a dramaturg -- also called a literary manager -- may be the right fit. Dramaturgs examine different plays to establish connections between them and offer advice on how a program should be structured. They conduct research, ask questions and serve as liaisons between directors, playwrights, actors and the audience. They may work with new playwrights to edit and polish their scripts and organize workshops as platforms for playwrights to receive constructive feedback on their work.
Additional resource: Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA).
If the challenge of making different worlds come to life on stage energizes you, this is the role for you. Set designers ensure that all furniture, scenery and props contribute to the overall experience of the story. They work with directors and stage managers to understand needs for each scene and determine the most effective way to construct each one. An understanding of stage layout is integral for proper scene setting. Set designers work with carpenters and other professionals to ensure required items are designed and built and that those work properly and in accordance with the design concept. You may consider building a portfolio to show the depth and breadth of your abilities.
Additional resource: Set Design and Tech.
Light and Sound Designers
Light and sound are integral to the flawless experience of a play. Through the mastery of intensity, color, distribution and movement, light designers help set the mood, establish a timeline for events and bring the audience’s attention to what the director wants them to see. Light designers meet with directors as well as set designers early in the production to ensure understanding of how light can enhance different scenes, which in turn helps them determine proper equipment placement. Sound designers manage how the production sounds and their work may include choosing appropriate music, creating sound effects and ensuring a satisfactory auditory experience for the audience.
Additional resource: Professional Lighting & Sound Association (PLASA).
What performers wear is integral to the experience of a play. Costume designers need to understand the historical and cultural context of each play in order to create costumes that enhance the story and fit seamlessly into the rest of the setup. They work closely with set designers and the lighting crew to ensure costumes are integrated into the entire performance. Depending on the production, you may be tasked with sourcing appropriate clothing, revamping existing materials or creating a completely new wardrobe. Along with the outfits, costume designers include accessories to highlight each individual character.
Additional resource: The Secret Life of Costumes.
Stage managers ensure that a theatrical production goes smoothly from beginning to end. Like puppeteers, they control and coordinate every aspect of a performance, including rehearsal schedules, backstage crew organization and actor placement. Because stage managers oversee a production through its entirety, they need knowledge and understanding of all other aspects in a production. The more experienced and knowledgeable a stage manager is, the more successful he or she is at anticipating and addressing issues.
Additional resource: Stage Managers Association (SMA).
Similar to other institutions, theaters need proper management to sustain themselves. While the aforementioned roles relate to the performance itself, this role focuses on the logistics of running a theater’s physical space. House managers oversee the institution’s business functions; they ensure the safety of audience and staff throughout the entire performance and keep up to date on proper evacuation processes. They monitor audience arrivals; hire, train and supervise front-end and back-end employees such as box office cashiers, ticket takers and ushers; and manage the financial aspects of running the box office, dining facilities and merchandise.
Additional resource: International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM).
With all manner of electronic devices arresting our attention, attracting audiences to theater performances is a challenging task. The main role of a theater marketing manager is to promote performances and sell tickets, and she achieves that by overseeing the creation and distribution of advertising materials such as fliers, posters, press releases, brochures, websites and social media. The specific marketing approach depends on the needs of the target audience, so marketing research is a vital aspect of the job. Depending on the institution where you work, the parameters of your role could be focused or broad. For example, in smaller theaters, marketing managers may also be responsible for press and public relations.
Additional resource: Theater Communications Group (TCG).
Drama therapists use theater processes and may work closely with medical professionals to develop rehabilitation plans for individuals with physical or emotional issues. This active and experiential approach requires patience, tact and passion for artistic expression. Under the guidance of experienced drama therapists, patients use drama techniques to articulate their stories and express feelings. A graduate degree, a Master’s or a PhD, is required for this career.
Additional resource: North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA).
If any of the above seem intriguing, why not spend the summer exploring your aspirations? You can put up a performance at a community college, cultural center or youth camp; you can teach drama at an arts center; or you can volunteer backstage. Also, join professional associations like the National Performance Network to gain industry insights, establish meaningful relationships and hear about opportunities. Although theaters are obvious employers, other possibilities include libraries, community organizations, educational and cultural institutions, performing arts organizations, touring companies, restaurants, amusement and theme parks, and cruise lines.