Before the pandemic, artists already face a great deal of apprehension or fear when pursuing their passions. Now, in a pandemic, the viability of the arts as a stable and fulfilling career is being called into further question. So, to all the young artists who are unsure of their place in this vast world of creation, we wanted to say a few things to encourage you.
My parents want to know how I can make a living in theatre. What are my career choices in theatre? Do I have to teach to make a living?
Rod Bagheri: There are many career choices in theatre- the trick is being open to the idea that your idealized vision of what you'll be doing is likely to be different than the reality of what a career looks like. Teaching is a fine choice, but it seems more prevalent than it actually is to us when we are students because we mainly interact with teachers and professors as we learn our crafts. Among the many options you have as a professional artist, you can be a part time artist and work a side career for financial security, you can be an artist who finds corporate opportunities for your skillset in addition to the private projects you want to work on, and you can be a full time freelancer. All three are viable options with different pros and cons.
Rachael Lorenzetti: Theater careers are possible for both on stage (performance) and backstage (technical/design). Technical/design careers in theater are more reliable than performance careers because there is less competition. Teaching serves as a great avenue for all types of theater artists to have consistent pay/stability while building their professional career--it is very likely that teaching will have to be a part of your journey as a theater artist.
Sarah Ripper: You do not have to teach in order to make a living in Theatre, although it is an option. There are so many career paths that can be pursued in the theatre world. Depending on training and specialty will help determine which jobs are best suited for you. You can make a living as a technician, designer, performer, wardrobe dresser, child wrangler, box office manager, technical director, stage management etc. The list goes on and on. I have many friends that make their living only doing theatre related jobs. It is possible!
What skills do I need to have to be successful in the theatre industry?
RB: In terms of the industry aspect specifically, you need to become comfortable with the idea that you'll be job hunting/auditioning fairly often, and that job security can be a bit difficult to come by. You need to learn how to balance a checkbook, craft a professional résumé, and be a genuinely good person to work with. Obviously, in addition to this you need to be continuously working on your craft, learning new skills and pursuing your passions.
RL: The ability to be a good collaborator; in theater you work as a team on every production. Good communication and presentation skills, in order to present yourself in a mature and professional manor.
SR: Depending on which area of theatre will determine what specific skills are needed. Overall however, I would say that communication skills go a long way. This is a collaborative art form, and therefore you need to be able to communicate and work well with people.
What do I do if my parents or guardians don’t support me? Are there financial aid opportunities at your college/university?
RB: As someone who doesn't currently work at a university, I can't answer that question concretely, but I can say that there are many financial opportunities and scholarships that go unnoticed, so find as much as you can and apply for everything. In terms of a support system, it can be really tough to venture into a field without the support of those closest to you, but know that you wouldn't be the first to do it, and that you wouldn't be alone- you can always find wonderful supportive people in the community.
RL: There are tons of scholarships and grants out there ready for the taking, it is a lot of work too apply but take all the advantage that you can! An Associates or BA degree is sufficient to get you out working in the world of theater, whether that be in performance or design--getting yourself out there auditioning or designing is important. Higher degrees such as MFAs would be required if you want to teach at the collegiate level, while working professionally in theater.
SR: Every university or college will have scholarship opportunities…you just need to search for them. In order to get free money, you will have to do some research. There may even be grants available if you qualify and apply. I’ve known several students who take care of their general studies at a community college and then transfer to a university. This helps keep costs lower.
How do I know theatre is the right place for me?
RB: You may hear some people say that you can only pursue theatre if you know 100% that it's the right place fo you and that you never have any doubts, but I disagree strongly with that notion. You may never fully know that theatre is the right place for you, just as you may never know that any career is the right path. Instead you need to ask yourself the big questions; what do you want out of life, what are you passionate about, and what would your ideal job be? If theatre is something you're passionate about and you want to make it a full time career, go for it. If theatre is something you're passionate about and you find out that you don't want to make a full time career out of it, that's great too; it's just as rewarding to keep it as a side gig- you can always find another job with skills you pick up from the theatre.
RL: I believe you know it is right for you based on the feelings you have when watching theater. Also it is okay not to know if it is right for you yet--college is a time to try it, to participate in every aspect of it both on and back stage, and to go watch a lot of theater at different levels, to see if you feel drawn to it.
SR: If you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, then theatre is right for you. Paths change, and you may find something else within theatre that you might want to pursue. My advice is to explore the possibilities. If your heart sings to do theatre, then do it!
What impact will studying theatre have on my life over time?
RB: This is a very personal question, so the specifics of the answers will vary greatly for different people in different focuses of theatre. I believe that art is both both what makes us human and an expression of our humanity. I think everyone should pursue art in some form, even as a side hobby. But ultimately studying theatre, music, or art of any kind will improve your creativity, your problem solving, your critical thinking, and your higher brain function as well as help you become more in tune with yourself and the world around you.
RL: Whether you choose to make a career in theater or not, studying theater can have life long positive affects. On a performance side you get to step into another's shoes, experience different life stories, it can open your mind, and on the technical side you get to create which is an amazing outlet for expression and ideas. Anyone can participate in theater, it can be something you can always return to in your life over time. I believe studying any art form helps a person be more expressive, confident, and form a sense of community.
SR: I am a big believer that theatre’s biggest impact on the lives of people is EMPATHY. As storytellers we explore what it might be like walking in the shoes of another person. Theatre teaches empathy, which is one of the most powerful lessons a human can learn, especially today.