Eight Theater Jobs You Can Get Right Away
The following was taken from the book Career Opportunities in Theater And the Performing Arts, by Shelly Field. The positions below were chosen for their utility to someone trying to break into the theater business. Some advice for securing these positions is based on the author’s experience.
In a word, a production’s secretary. Take copious notes. Type what needs typing. Run errands. General unglamorous grunt work. Paid production assistants can make between $250 and $550 a week, and can be unionized through the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). This position can be used as a stepping stone to almost any other position in the theater.
The easiest way to get this job is to volunteer. Find a theater company, theater, or production and ask if they need help. Chances are they will say “yes”. This job is valuable for the experience and contacts that it gives you. It is a foundation builder. As such, be concerned less with money (even coveted paid positions aren’t terribly well paying), and more with how this job can make the next job better.
Listing this as an entry level job probably infuriates any stage manager worth their salt. This is because stage managers are the cornerstone of any production. They are record keepers, task masters, and part of a production’s chain of command. During a production, they call all light and sound cues to the respective operators. When the director leaves, they are in charge. Stage managers are unionized through Actors’ Equity and can make between $350 and $1865 a week.
This is listed as an entry level position because unless you are a stage manager (and you know who you are), no one wants to do it. The position is a lot of work with relatively little glory. As such, there are often cases where people are volunteered to stage manage, or a production uses a stage manager with no previous experience. Opportunities to stage manage present themselves in one of two ways. Either someone will advertise directly for the position, or you can ask a stage manager if they need an assistant, or ASM. The work load is large enough so that a stage manager will likely welcome the help. Stage management jobs are often paying even without union representation.
This is a catch all for all the design positions: lighting, sound, costume, set, anything else that requires design. You might gain experience by designing a show yourself, but you will gain experience, contacts, and carry less stress by working with a professional. For lights and sound, you can volunteer to run the board during the show. Costume and set assistants can help with production work. Payment for assistant designers is hard to peg into one figure. Different designers earn different rates.
For light and sound, offering to run the board is guaranteed work, and that work can pay. Once you’ve secured these positions, talk to the head designer and ask how you can help them with their work on the production.
People wishing to assist with costume and set design have one advantage: they can ask if they can help with the building and construction. This gives you the very definition of hands on experience, and unless the set or costumes don’t exist, a designer will probably appreciate help.
Whereas indenturing yourself to an experienced designer has plenty of benefits, there is much to be said for simply diving in. Opportunities to do this exist on shows from small companies and on shows with extremely simple design elements. If a director says something like “I can probably handle that myself”, you can probably get the job just by offering to take it off their hands. Besides, they probably can’t handle it themselves anyway.
You will find that even the most simple of design needs require an unexpected level of planning and detail. The learning curve may be quite steep, and you might not feel prepared until after the show goes up and you’ve already made all your mistakes. But a credit is a credit, and it will only take a few shows to earn a reputation, something assistants don’t earn so easily.
Almost every production needs props. You find the props. You take care of props. You ensure the actors can use the props. You keep props happy. This position reportedly pays between $300 and $1500 a week and is unionized through IATSE.
This position sends you shopping, often for very odd and specific things. Sometimes, you may even have to build a prop. This is a favorite position low budget directors and producers love to do themselves. It is also eye opening when they find a good dedicated professional. As with the other positions, see what is available and if the position is filled, ask if they would like any additional help.
Hair and Make up
Self explanatory. Unionized with IATSE, with reported yearly salaries ranging from $14,000 all the way up to $100,000.
A good make up and hair person can find work for film, theater, and just as a normal stylist. This kind of work can be good to keep the bills paid and keeps your skills up.
Take tickets. Show people to seats. Clean theater when finished. Unionized through IATSE. Paying Usher positions reported at between $250 and $500 a week.
Ushering work almost never pays, is almost always available somewhere, and is useful as a way to see free shows and “get your foot in the door” at a theater or with a theater company. Many actors usher as part of an overall strategy to learn about or contact a playwright. The easiest way to get ushering work is to volunteer. Many productions advertise a need for ushers during a production run, and will let you stay to see the whole show.
Best for those with a lot of experience or official qualification. Full time teaching positions usually include things like a yearly salary with benefits. Private teaching can be lucrative as well.
A bachelors degree qualifies you to teach at the high school level or below. A masters degree lets you teach college. No artsy education double major or minor needed. (Such things were really just invented to shut up scared parents. The fact is, if you want to teach, all you need is the one degree.) For private teachers, all that is needed is experience. Schools and universities, as well as theaters, theater companies, talent agencies, and some corporations all have need for performance arts teachers. For hotshot maverick loners, put up a good web page, have your resume ready, and advertise wherever you can.