Careers in theatre
If you love drama there are lots of careers to consider that connect to the theatre. Creative types might enjoy roles such as directing, playwriting or theatre design, while practical people are needed for jobs such as lighting technician or stage crew member. Good people skills are needed in most roles, but particularly if you’re helping audience members day in, day out as part of the front-of-house team. And showbusiness is just that – a business, which requires producers and marketing staff to make sure that tickets sell.
Just a word of warning – theatre careers are extremely popular, so they’re very competitive to get into and not particularly well paid. Once you’re in, quite a lot of the jobs involve working freelance – that is, working for different employers on different shows, rather than having a permanent job. So you’ll need to carry on competing for work even once you’ve established a career. Make sure it’s definitely what you want to do before you commit by finding work experience placements and getting involved in as many shows as possible at school or in your local community.
Careers as an actor
Want to be the one on stage? Read up on how to become an actor and whether the lifestyle would suit you.
Careers as a director
Directors head up the creative side of a production, working closely with designers as well as actors to bring their vision to life. Read about how to become a theatre director.
Careers as a producer
Producers take charge behind the scenes to make sure that a show is a commercial success, delivering a quality performance on time, to budget and with lots of seats sold. Some producers also have the initial idea for a show and set all the wheels in motion. Find out more in our article on careers as a theatre producer.
Careers as a playwright
Could you write an original script for a play or musical? If you see yourself as a future writer, take a look at our advice on careers as a playwright.
Careers as a stage manager
Stage managers oversee the practicalities that are needed to make a play happen. They ensure the rehearsal process is well ordered, communicate between teams to make sure everyone is up to date and take charge backstage during shows. Sounds like you? Find out how to get a career in stage management.
Careers as a set designer
Set designers work closely with directors to design a set that has visual impact and ties in with the director’s vision for the production. Set designers often set the overall tone for costume and lighting design too, so all these elements work together. Discover more about set design and how to get into it.
Careers as a theatre lighting designer, sound designer, lighting technician or sound technician
Theatre lighting designers and sound designers help create the world of the play to draw audience members in – their work is both artistic and technical. Lighting and sound technicians support this, doing much of the practical work needed to set up for a show. Read more about careers as a theatre lighting designer, sound designer or technician and how to get into them.
Careers as a stage crew member
Stage crew are responsible for preparing the stage for actors to perform on, making any necessary adjustments such as set changes during performances and clearing everything away once the show is over. On touring productions, this includes loading the set and any other equipment into and out of vans.
Sometimes stage crew are involved in actually constructing the set, for example using carpentry or metalwork skills; other times they just need to get it safely and securely in place on the stage. In some instances the stage crew will help set up sound and lighting equipment, under instruction from the sound and lighting teams.
Duties during the performance vary depending on the show. On a very traditional production the stage crew might fly in backcloths from above, open and close stage curtains between acts and perform set changes. More modern productions may use minimal set and have any set changes made by the cast in full view of the audience, but could have automated elements of the set or stage (such as a revolve, which turns part of the stage floor round in circles), which need operating. You’re unlikely to be let loose on complicated machinery as a junior stage crew member, but could be trained up over time.
You don’t tend to need any specific qualifications to get into a career as a stage crew member. However, a qualification such as a BTEC in carpentry could be useful. You can also take short courses with the Association of British Theatre Technicians to learn the basic skills and safety knowledge you need to work backstage. The Bronze Award takes five days to complete and covers topics such as manual handling, health and safety, basic knowledge for working with electrical systems, handling counterweights, handling ropes and working at height. And experience working on school, youth theatre or amateur shows will help.
Look out for entry-level opportunities with local theatres or with agencies that supply stage crew members for live events – to start with you may need to work on a casual basis as and when there is work. There’s also a creative venue technician apprenticeship available, which covers a range of roles connected to stage crew and sound and lighting duties.
Careers as a fight director, aka fight choreographer
Fight directors, also known as fight choreographers, work with actors and directors to create and teach the stage combat sequences you see on stage. This can involve unarmed combat (eg kicks and punches) or armed combat (eg sword fighting). The aim is to create dramatic, realistic-looking violence while making sure the cast stay safe. Fight directors often work freelance (that is, they are employed by different theatre companies on different plays) and often teach stage combat too – for example to acting students or on courses for amateur or professional actors.
The first step towards becoming a fight director is to train and take qualifications to an advanced level with an organisation such as the British Association of Dramatic Combat, the British Association of Stage and Screen Combat or the Academy of Performance Combat. Alternatively, you could take East 15 drama school’s degree in acting and stage combat. There’s then a couple of further stages of training and assessment to go through to get onto the register of fight directors approved by Equity (the theatre union).
Fight directors need a good understanding of theatre and storytelling so that their fights work in context and don’t just look like people randomly attacking each other. You’ll probably find that studying drama or acting at school, college or university will help you. Acting degrees will typically include some stage combat, and might lead to qualifications with the above organisations, though check the details and the level of qualification carefully. Some drama degrees also include an element of stage combat, though it’s less common.
Front-of-house theatre careers
Front-of-house staff look after audience members when they visit the theatre or get in touch by phone. Front of house covers box office staff (who sell tickets), ushers (who check tickets, direct people to their seats and sell programmes and ice creams), bar staff, cloakroom attendants and anyone else who interacts with the audience – for example, customer-facing staff in a shop or café if the theatre is big enough to have these. Often front-of-house jobs are part time rather than full time.
To get a front-of-house job in a theatre, it helps to have had a similar job elsewhere, for example serving customers in a pub, restaurant, shop, hotel or visitor attraction. It’s also good to have had some involvement in theatre or drama to show you are interested. Some theatres now fill quite a few of their front-of-house roles with volunteers – at these organisations, you may find it easier to get paid work if you volunteer first.
Working front of house can be a useful first job in theatre if you want a career in an off-stage, business-focused role.
Careers as a theatre marketing assistant, marketing officer or marketing manager
Theatres need to attract audiences and it’s the marketing department’s job to do so. They need to decide who to target (which might differ from one show to another), decide how best to get their attention, put plans in action and then assess their success. Activities can include:
- communicating with the creative team to decide what to say about a show
- liaising with the media and organising press nights (some of this activity may be carried out by a colleague in PR or a PR agency)
- writing content for publicity materials and programmes
- updating the theatre’s website
- promoting shows and the theatre itself via social media
- writing and sending emails, such as weekly newsletters, to potential audience members on the theatre’s database
- liaising with graphic designers and printers about printed materials (eg posters, brochures, flyers and programmes)
- organising promotions such as discounts and making sure the box office staff are aware of these.
Your first marketing job in a theatre is likely to be as a marketing assistant. You’ll need some relevant experience to get this job, so you could:
- get a marketing job outside the theatre world before applying (beware – you’re likely to earn less in a theatre)
- get an office admin job that will help you develop useful skills such as using databases
- find a marketing internship in a theatre
- participate in extracurricular activities that will help you develop relevant skills, such as writing and proofreading (for example working on a student newspaper or community magazine), and your knowledge of theatre (for example getting involved with a student or amateur theatre group).
Sometimes theatres like their marketing assistants to have a degree, but not always. If you want to study a relevant subject you could consider English, business studies, marketing or anything related to theatre, though it’s not essential to do so.
Careers as a dramatherapist
Dramatherapists don’t tend to work in theatres, but their work is closely connected. They use drama as a way to help people explore and understand their feelings and behaviours, and find ways to bring about improvements in their lives. For example, they can work with people who are facing mental or physical health problems or behavioural issues, or who have autism, dementia or a learning difficulty. Dramatherapists can work in settings such as the NHS, schools, prisons, young offenders’ institutions and charities.
- To become a dramatherapist, you could take a degree in a subject related to theatre or psychology, or train and work as a teacher, nurse or social worker.
- You’ll need to work for at least a year (either paid or voluntary) in a job that involves helping people who have the types of needs you might encounter as a dramatherapist – for example you could work in a mental health role. It’s also important to get involved in drama.
- You’ll then need to take a masters degree (a higher level degree) in dramatherapy.