How to get a job in the theatre industry
There’s probably no better place for working in theatre than the UK. London has been recently identified as the biggest theatre audience in the world, ahead of New York City.
The London Theatre Report, commissioned by the Society of London Theatre and the National Theatre, found that the capital hosts 241 theatres, with capacity to seat more than 110,000 and box office takings of £618.5m in 2012/13 – more than London’s cinemas.
Despite the high competition, it’s definitely possible to get a foot in the door of the theatre industry, at any level: Creative & Cultural Skills has estimated that by 2017 the live events industry will need 30,000 skilled backstage and technical theatre workers.
Jobs in the theatre
With such a wide range of venues and shows in the UK and Ireland, comes an almost infinite variety of roles in the sector. The most popular ones include:
Your job will be to who oversee all aspects of mounting a theatre production. The producer manages the overall financial and managerial functions of a production or venue, raises or provides financial backing, and hires personnel for creative positions (writer, director, designers, composer, choreographer—and in some cases, performers).
You will be involved in the whole process, from the design and pre-production stages, right through to the final performance.
Directors work closely with their creative and production teams, the performers and the producer to create a performance which connects with the audience. They therefore need to be able to coordinate effectively across a range of disciplines and with artistic vision.
As an actor you would use speech, movement and expression to bring characters to life.
You will need to have a good memory so you can learn lines quickly. You will also need to be versatile, adaptable and be willing to accept and learn from direction and feedback.
Your job will be to tell stories through the words and actions of characters. While the work of the playwright can stand on its own as literature, its potential is fully realized only when the skills of all the other theatre artists combine to transform the script into a production of a play.
You will be in charge of designing and creating the sets. The role involves working and communicating with directors, producers, costume designers and other members of staff.
You would apply make-up and style hair for anyone appearing in front of a live audience. This could include anything from a natural look to using wigs and hairpieces for period dramas. You may also be required to apply special effects or prosthetics such as false noses or bald caps.
Your main responsibility would be to get positive press coverage for your client. To do this, you would need to create and maintain good relationships with journalists by sending them original, insightful, timely story ideas that involve the client in some way.
Managing director or General manager
You’ll be responsible for the performance of the company, which is generally dictated by the board’s overall strategy. You’ll report to the chairman or board of directors.
Your job will be to manage and deliver the organisation’s strategies to expand and develop participation, audiences and income.
Your duties will include checking tickets, directing people to their assigned seats, distributing programmes, answering questions and assisting people in finding restrooms and refreshments.
Staying up to date with theatre news
In order to land your dream job, it’s important to find out as much as possible about the industry and to stay up to date about the latest news. Some useful websites to keep an eye on are:
Support for your career in the theatre
An important role is also played by unions, supporting professionals in the industry, such as Equity, the Writers Union, the Musicians Union, and Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU).
About the background expected for working in theatre, most roles don’t actually require a specific experience or degree: theatre is a practical, active craft.
It’s very important to have the right approach and to get involved as much as possible, but you don’t necessarily need a degree in drama or theatre studies. Although that would probably help getting the knowledge and skills, many people who work in this industry have studied English, History, Engineering, etc.
For most technical jobs there are basic skills and working practices you need to acquire to be eligible to apply for a job. For example, an electrician or sound designer will need to have gained very specific knowledge and understanding.
Whatever area you want to work in, it’s essential to get as much experience as possible, for example by joining a drama club at school, going to see lots of plays, joining a local theatre group, and generally throwing yourself into it.