PACKING MY SUITCASE for the 2019 International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I was to teach 12 workshop sessions, I remembered a high school junior packing a similar suitcase as he prepared to attend his first ITF. Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I had traveled from New Jersey to Nebraska with my high school theatre director and my three best friends for what would be a life-changing week of theatre. This “full-circle moment” brought a wistful smile to my face. Our director, who taught makeup workshops in 1999, has since passed away, so part of me felt like I was carrying the theatre teacher torch for him. I also thought about the theatre student I was at the time and all the steps of the journey that made me the theatre artist I am today.

In high school, we are led to believe that, if you don’t pursue performing or technical theatre professionally, then there are no other career options in the field. Theatre is just a hobby you’ll likely give up when you find a “real job.” Even festivals like ITF can inadvertently reinforce this belief given the high visibility of college BFA auditions and tech portfolios. High school students and their parents have difficulty imagining a post-collegiate life in theatre that doesn’t involve “pounding the pavement,” waiting tables, attending cattle-call auditions, and facing financial insecurity.

Current high school senior Adrian Gomez acknowledges that he observes a lot of “fear with pursuing theatre and the arts in general” as Thespians in his thriving Troupe 3035 at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey ask themselves, “Will I be good enough to make it and not just scrape by?” The good news, Thespians, is there’s a multitude of stable careers in theatre and the performing arts, all of which are essential to the artistic product. And yes, Mom and Dad, most of these jobs offer healthcare and other benefits.

So, what are these full-time jobs, and where can you find them? I hesitate to use the blanket term “arts administration” because it is just that: a catchall that has become synonymous with the misconception that arts admin is for those who can’t cut it as artists. But according to the Association of Arts Administration Educators, “The arts administration field was established to meet the ever-growing demand for leadership and organizational acumen within arts and cultural organizations. Arts administrators bridge the worlds of performing and visual arts with applied managerial, financial, and programmatic skills.” Arts administrators are not people who didn’t make the cut; they are folks who undertook focused study to master behind-the-scenes forces that make the arts happen. Without them, there would be no concert hall in which to play your violin, no audience to watch your ballet, no website to promote your exhibit.

In my circuitous career path over the last 20 years, I’ve had the good fortune to work in or alongside many of these positions in venues across America and around the world. The following provides a starter map of alternative performing arts careers that you may have never heard of, let alone considered. But read on. You might find a role that fulfills both your artistic and practical needs.

Box Office

The performing arts are expensive, so lots of money goes in and out of theatres, concert halls, and production offices. To handle these transactions, organizations need arts administrators who are comfortable with cash, bills, and budgets, though these may not seem, at first glance, like theatrical or artistic skills. For example, high school students often overlook jobs like ticketing services representative or box office manager, since they seemingly have little to do with the stage. These positions, however, can be very fulfilling, especially if one is looking for part-time employment (during college or while auditioning/pursuing the craft) or a foothold in a theatre’s administrative offices.

These jobs require excellent customer service, friendly attitudes, poise under pressure, and cash-handling ability, all skills transferable and greatly valued in a variety of fields beyond theatre. But unlike waiting tables (which requires the same skills), these jobs are inside a theatre. They involve interaction with other creative personnel and often include benefits such as free tickets, backstage tours, and other chances to gain valuable industry know-how. My current box office manager, Thespian alum Laura Wilson (Troupe 6185, OCVTS Performing Arts Academy, Lakehurst, New Jersey) adds that the most rewarding aspect of her job is “being responsible for such a huge part of the audience experience at our shows,” from distributing accurate information to patrons to allowing them access to the venue to ensuring their comfort during their time with us. A box office manager may even make pricing, discounting, and promotional decisions based on market research and industry standards. In other words, you could be deciding ticket prices and special promotional discounts in order to build audience attendance and help make the production a success.


As important as the box office is, revenue from ticket sales alone doesn’t cover all the operational expenses at many professional theatres. The Theatre Communications Group’s fiscal analysis “Theatre Facts 2017” reports that, among the 173 nonprofit professional U.S. theatres surveyed, ticket revenue (both single ticket purchases and seasonal subscriptions) accounted for just 36.7 percent of total annual costs. Combined with other sales and income, including concessions, advertising, and rentals, earned revenue covered 58.5 percent of total costs.

Where does the rest of the money come from, and whose job is it to find it? The answer is the development or fundraising office, and there are many positions to be found behind these doors. Though terms like individual givingdonor services, and corporate relations sound more like website portals than job titles, in an arts organization these positions fulfill the same role as every treasurer of every Thespian troupe: raising money.

According to “Theatre Facts 2017,” total fundraising, or contributed income, covered 45.7 percent of total expenses for the 173 theatres surveyed. People working in development need to be budget-savvy, well-mannered networkers who are just as comfortable drafting year-end fiscal reports as schmoozing with potential donors at gala benefits. Included in this group are grant writers, who collect pertinent information for foundation or corporate grant opportunities, compile the data and narrative into a compelling application, and submit the proposal in a timely manner for the chance to be awarded thousands if not millions of dollars for their institutions.

Anyone working in these departments has to be involved with the artistic programming at their institutions to do their jobs effectively. For example, a development officer who has been backstage on opening night or sat through several rehearsals for an upcoming ballet will be able to write a more convincing appeal letter to potential donors than someone who sits in an office all day making cold calls and writing mass solicitations. The socializing and networking required of development staff make these jobs exciting, with lots of patron/donor interaction, event planning, fine dining, and more. With their outgoing personalities, innovative imaginations, and great communication skills, effective development staffers know how to put the fun in fundraising.


Just as with arts journalism, publicity and marketing roles offer the chance to apply communications skills to a love of theatre. Sometimes labeled external affairs or communications, these departments handle news releases, poster design, social media and web presence, advertising, promotional events, interviews, and more.

Marketing personnel must be detail oriented and tend to be design savvy, as they are responsible for creating and maintaining the brand of an institution or production. Their responsibilities vary from planning media junkets to proofreading website listings to choosing logos and fonts. Now, with the omnipresence of social media, arts publicists often play the role of photojournalists as well, documenting the artistic process of an organization or production and sharing images and stories through Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, livestreams, and blogs.

According to Jessie Bagley, director of marketing and public relations for the Spoleto Festival USA, this shift to the digital world allows arts publicists to “expand their marketing reach in meaningful ways by providing ‘behind-the-scenes’ images and videos to wider audiences,” delivering compelling content to more people at an affordable cost. This visual documentation supplements the standard fare of writing and editing news releases, assembling brochure content, and scheduling interviews and TV/radio appearances, making these positions dynamic and engaging. Publicists and marketers interface with both internal and external parties on a daily basis to promote an institution’s artistic and philanthropic work.

Former concert tour manager Carolyn Sauer now works as a production coordinator at Rider University. Photo by Alexander N. Kanter.

Tour Management

Speaking of the outside world, there are plenty of performing arts careers that provide amazing opportunities for travel. Many performing artists or groups go on tour, and these tours require organizers, management, and operational support just as their home performances do.

As the director of performance management for Westminster Choir College of Rider University, I am responsible for planning and executing performance tours. Last year, I traveled to Texas; Oklahoma; Washington, D.C.; Kansas City; and Beijing (twice!). Tour managers, company managers, and film location scouts — not to mention cruise ship entertainment staff and road crew for touring productions — all travel extensively.

Yes, there’s the disadvantage of living out of suitcases and creating offices out of bus seats, but there’s also the excitement of new destinations, daily adventures, and worldwide sightseeing. What’s more, your lodging and transportation is paid for by your company, and you often receive a per diem cash allotment to cover daily food costs. The physical demands and nomadic lifestyle of these careers can be challenging, but as my colleague Carolyn Sauer, who used to be a concert tour manager in Chicago, noted, “Your ‘home’ becomes the people you’re surrounded by, and working with them to bring art to so many audiences around the world is incredibly rewarding.”


Educational specialists or teaching artists associated with arts institutions combine performance skills, teaching, and community outreach, and these positions are great ways to get your foot in the door of an arts organization. As with tour management, these jobs frequently involve travel, bringing small, kid-friendly shows on tour to local schools, as well as hosting informative talkback events after main stage productions and concerts. For recent college grads who may be unsure of the next step in their careers or who aren’t ready to settle down with houses and picket fences just yet, these arts jobs are valuable stepping stones to a lasting career in arts management.


Productions and arts institutions require many different elements working together toward a unified artistic whole, and each of the elements requires coordination. Venue managers or facilities coordinators take care of the operations of physical buildings where productions take place, such as theatres or concert halls. These people handle budgeting, staffing, front-of-house operations, scheduling, maintenance, and sometimes even technical direction for their respective spaces. Theme parks offer another great opportunity for this type of management position. Anyone who has attended Walt Disney World or Six Flags can attest to the volume of live entertainment in these parks, and these high-energy shows need their own management teams to keep things running smoothly.

Artistic Planning

All performances begin with artistic planning or producing departments within arts organizations. Most often responsible for selecting the productions that will make up the company’s season, people in these departments spend a large amount of time researching specific works, negotiating and contracting artists, and facilitating rehearsals and performances. Behind-the-scenes, jigsaw puzzle-like strategizing is what excites Stephanie McGurren, artistic planning assistant for the New York Philharmonic, about her job. Even after earning a master’s degree in performing arts administration, she was surprised to learn that there can be entire departments devoted to determining season or concert repertoire, rather than just an artistic director or conductor making those decisions alone.

Getting Started

This brief summary just scratches the surface of alternative arts careers. Do a little digging, and you’ll find entire fields, from dramaturgy to casting to arts archiving, that remain to be explored. With so many exciting jobs in the performing arts, a student can easily become overwhelmed trying to figure out which path to take.

The good news is there’s no wrong way to embark on this artistic journey. Scan arts organizations’ websites for internships, take an arts administration class in college, or look up the email addresses for administrators at your local regional performing arts center and ask to meet them for an informational chat.

I remember sitting for an interview with a producer my senior year of college. He said to me, “Alex, you’re what, 21? I wish I were in your shoes. It is physically impossible for you to screw up. Try everything, quit everything, learn from everything.” That last sound bite, those seven words, became my mantra for the next 15 years. I would never be the artist, educator, or administrator I am today without having followed his sage advice.

We get so caught up in making our five or 10-year plans and trying to stick to some prescribed, linear path that we often forget there is no prescribed, linear path to follow. We are the trailblazers of our own uncharted artistic territories, and as long as we continually challenge ourselves, advocate for ourselves, and push ourselves to make art happen, we will succeed one way or another in creating meaningful and fulfilling careers in the arts.

This story appeared in the December 2019 print version of Dramatics. Learn about the print magazine and other Thespian benefits on the International Thespian Society website.

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