Working in performing arts with a degree (or similar)

A degree (or similar) on its own will not lead to a career in performing arts. You cannot expect to walk out of college or university and move straight into your dream job.

Getting involved in university theatre and music events should help. The example jobs listed here all require plenty of industry experience too. There is no room for diva behaviour when you are getting established. You will need to work hard and be nice to the people you work with. A bad reputation can be hard to shake off.

Example jobs

Stage manager
Manages the practical and technical parts of rehearsals and live performances.

Choreographer
Creates dance routines for performers.

Theatre director
Manages all aspects of the production, from script to performance.

Costume designer
Designs and creates costumes and accessories for performers.

Actor, dancer or musician
Entertains an audience through character, dance or music.

Case study

My role is to devise, plan, initiate and deliver creative opportunities for schools, communities, young people and adults.

Cara Pritchard, creative projects manager for a regional theatre

Approximate pay levels

Figures supplied as a guide only

Jobs at this level might attract a fixed fee per production, rather than a weekly rate.

There are many jobs taken by graduates in performing arts which will attract lower salaries.

Lots of people in performing arts have additional jobs to help them afford to pay their bills.

Pay levels graph

Typical working conditions

  • The hours can be long.
  • If you work on theatre productions, you are likely to be busiest in the afternoons and evenings.
  • You will probably be working when others are relaxing.
  • Seasonal work is common, with most opportunities around Christmas and the summer.
  • You could be based in one setting or you might travel around. You might find more opportunities in the bigger cities. 
  • When a performance is on, you will need to focus and be quiet if you are backstage.
  • There may be lots of pressure during performances or as you prepare for a new production but this can be exciting.
  • Theatres can be gloomy and hot to work in.

Qualifications needed

  • Although a degree is not essential, it can help you build up your experience while learning more about the industry. Look out for Pick the Tick: Degree courses.

Career path

  • The performing arts do not have a structured career path except for specialist areas such as wardrobe and lighting.
  • At this level, you could progress by taking on more responsibility. You could consider moving to higher profile and larger productions.
  • Behind the scenes, you might choose productions that require more specialist skills, like historical wardrobes or special effects.
  • As a performer, you could strive to move onto bigger and better opportunities.

Useful links

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Creative Skillset

Find out about Pick the Tick: Degree courses

Equity

Information from the union for professional performers and creative practitioners

Creative Choices

Find out about careers in the creative industries