You’re passionate about productions and you need to plan a theatre career. There are people in your life who worry that making a living isn’t feasible (you know who they are!). And yet, the industry offers several opportunities to pursue your passion. So whether your dream role is on the stage, behind the scenes, or writing stories, you can earn a living by doing what you love. A solid plan helps you navigate forward!

But how do you get started? And how do you forge that path forward? Let’s take a look at how to plan a theatre career that lets you love what you do and pay the bills. (Maybe this story’s photo makes you chuckle, but remember that this is your business plan. It’s important! Input from trusted, knowledgeable people is a huge help. You can connect with so many theatre pros and peers at the International Thespian Festival.)

Plan a Theatre Career by Learning

Apply to internships, fellowships, or apprenticeships in any part of the theatre business wherever you can find them. Learning up close in a professional environment is not only an ideal way to polish your craft, but it’s a great way to get in front of theatre artists who can help launch your career.

When you work on contract with a theatre company or organization, you’ll interact with the many visiting artists who bring productions to their feet. Remember that this industry is fueled by personal recommendations and exposure. Having direct contact with the people who may one day hire you is a massive opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to diversify your skill sets, too, by applying to different theatrical disciplines. If you’re an actor, you can still benefit from working with a nonprofit theatre’s marketing department. If you’re a director, you can find your way to opportunities through internships at casting agencies. This is a creative field so go beyond the usual boundary lines you’ve drawn.

Network to Get Work

The theatre industry exists in a sort of bubble. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand how it all works, and it can be even harder to break into if you’re unfamiliar. That’s why it’s so important to strengthen your networking skills and keep yourself open to making new connections and creating lasting impressions. There are lots of ways you can do it, too:

Professional Networking: Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to folks who are associated with theatre companies, or to casting directors, agents and theatre instructors. You can also reach out to professionals whose work you admire and ask questions. How did they get started? What resources do they use for their skills? What are the most important lessons they’ve learned? Most people are happy to share their stories and insights about their careers when given the chance.

Find interest-based networking groups that allow you to connect with others through commonalities and shared experiences. Some of these include Black Theatre Network, La Gente: The Latinx Theatre Design Network and The Magdalena Project.

Peer Networking: Make friends with your peers rather than treat them as competition. Whether you’re at an audition, attending a conference, or sitting (or performing) in class, view the artists around you as acquaintances and stay connected with them. You may find out about job opportunities before they’re published, giving you a leg-up on making a good impression. Think of your fellow emerging artists as part of a community — you’re all supporting one another.

Digital Networking: It’s so important to make yourself visible in your chosen profession through social media these days. A clear and solid social presence impresses employers in this industry and can make or break casting decisions. Show your skills and your personality at the same time by engaging in viral trends. Keep the “social” in social networking by following, commenting and messaging industry peers. Stay consistent with your content to maximize visibility.

Go Pro — With or Without a Union

You should consider yourself a theatre professional whenever you receive financial compensation for your work. That being said, not all theatre professionals have the same structure with their careers. Some professional artists pursue union memberships and enjoy benefits like workplace protection regulations, health insurance, access to legal help, pension contributions and others. Membership often requires that you meet eligibility requirements — that generally means proof that you’ve performed professionally and qualify as a working artist.

Some artists prefer to work without union association. Without it, they have the flexibility to work more fluidly between projects and employers, and they don’t owe any membership fees or dues. It can be less expensive for a theatre to hire a non-union professional actor, which can influence casting choices in a non-union actor’s favor. Memberships with certain unions can also prohibit its members from working for employers who aren’t affiliated with the union itself.

Live in an Industry Town

Emerging actors may set their sights squarely on New York City, but ever since the 1960s, theatre industry towns have flourished in cities all over the U.S. Many of them boast reputable theatres that form a pipeline directly to Broadway or film and television, too. Cities where you can make a full-time career in film and theatre outside of New York include Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky — just to name a few! 

Never Stop Learning While You Plan a Theatre Career

Theatrical and performing arts are never set in stone. They change and adapt with the times, ushering in new approaches, styles, and technology. Keep your skills fresh and embrace every opportunity to constantly hone your craft! 

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer who composes original content for brands, organizations, and publications. As a storyteller, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at

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