If you’re planning to pursue a career in theatre, you’ll want to know all about theatre fellowships. These professional opportunities can provide a gateway to where you want to be and are most often awarded to theatre artists who have obtained a degree or have some professional experience. Aspiring playwrights, directors, choreographers, actors, and designers alike will want to keep fellowships on their radar.

What is a Theatre Fellowship?

Generally speaking, a fellowship is a structured professional opportunity to deepen your training in a specific skill set, craft, or area of study. They’re held within a professional environment so recipients (fellows) gain in-depth, hands-on training. Fellows typically receive funding to support themselves and/or their work fully for a certain period of time.

It’s important to note: the competition for securing a fellowship is tough! ProFellow, a resource for students and professionals seeking fellowships, writes, “We define a fellowship as a short-term, funded, merit-based opportunity to do something exceptional. … Fellowships are competitive and provide an opportunity to do or create something with the financial support, resources and freedom that a typical job cannot offer. Fellowships enhance your resume and provide networking opportunities with leaders in your career field.”

In the performing arts, theatre fellowships offer the opportunity to train more intently on your artistic expertise. You may seek one out to help you develop a script, train as a director, learn from artistic leaders, or continue your training in a specialty.

Some theatre fellowships are designed for specific groups—including, but not limited to, women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community—to increase diversity and equity within the theatre industry. The Miranda Family Fellowship, for example, aims to “support emerging artists and arts administrators from underrepresented communities” through education, long-term support, and partnerships with industry institutions.

How Are They Different from Internships?

To the layperson, fellowship and internship may seem like interchangeable terms—but there are unique differences that set them apart.

If you’re a student or a recent graduate, you’ll want to look at an internship as a way to break into the industry. You’ll gain firsthand experience with and perspective of day-to-day life in a certain role or with a certain company. These programs or roles sometimes lead to permanent positions, but not necessarily always. An internship will give you general exposure to professional culture that you can apply to several different opportunities. Many internships in the theatre profession offer some form of compensation, but it likely won’t be enough to sustain a living. As such, many internships are structured for a finite number of hours per week (say, 20) and for a finite amount of time (a semester or 3-6 months, for instance).

If you’ve already been working in the industry and you want to go further, you may look for a fellowship so that you can focus more deeply on a subject or skill set. Let’s say you’re an emerging director and you’ve gained a few years of professional experience. A directing fellowship with a theatre company whose work you admire would accelerate your career goals. You’d widen your network, deepen your knowledge, and keep your directing chops sharp.

Thespian Playworks participants workshop one of this year's student-written scripts.

How Can a Theatre Fellowship Influence Your Career?

Many artists would agree in the theatre industry, training never stops. There are always more skills you can obtain, perspectives you can develop, and techniques you can master. A theatre fellowship supports these goals by immersing artists in professional spaces where “real-world” work is being created.

Similarly, in the entertainment industry at large, it’s “all about who you know.” Fellowships offer invaluable access to networking. By working directly with theatrical peers and leaders, you have the opportunity to meet many different people regularly during rehearsals, workshops, performances, and relevant events. This exposure can connect you to potential collaborators, producers, artists, leaders, and other folks in the industry who can make a big difference in your career decisions.

Having a fellowship to list on your resume really boosts your credentials, too. The application process is rigorous and competitive, and being selected as a fellow is a huge achievement. When an institution hires you as a fellow, it’s a strong vote of confidence that they believe in your work and want to support your goals.

Theatre Fellowship Examples

As you consider the many directions your theatre path may take, keep fellowships top-of-mind as an important step. You can obtain more than one fellowship, too, so don’t limit your choices! Here’s a look at some of the industry’s top programs to give you an idea what’s in store:

When looking to apply for a program, be sure to research the fellowships that pique your interest or speak to you as an artist. Even if you’re not ready to apply, it’s ideal to keep your eyes on your future and to keep yourself motivated in your goals. Finally, be sure to follow the careers of artists who have completed theatre fellowships. Many fellowship programs will list past recipients on their websites. And the next time you’re at a performance, scan the artist bios in the program or online and see if any of them have fellowship accolades. You’ll be surprised how many working professionals got their start with a well-timed fellowship!

Natalie Clare is a freelance writer and content marketer. She works with brands of all kinds to amplify their messaging and digital presence, and she writes articles about the arts and culture scene in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can view her work at nataliecwrites.com.

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