Do I Need A Degree To Get A Job In The Theater Industry?

"I am really passionate about theater. I am just about to graduate from high school, and I know I want to pursue a career in the theater world. Can I just go audition, or apply for a tech job? Do I have to have a degree to work in a play?"

asked by Peter from Newark, NJ

A degree is not required for a job in the theater industry, but some kind of training is necessary. While it may appear effortless when you are enjoying the final show, a considerable amount of time, energy, and skill goes into creating a successful theatrical production. In a professional company, such as the ones on Broadway in New York or in the West End of London, hundreds of highly trained specialists both onstage and backstage work full-time to create the magic we experience on stage. Many of these people do not have a bachelor’s degree from a full university, but they all underwent training or apprenticeship, and most likely have years of experience in the industry. If you are yearning to just go jump in, it is possible to be cast in amateur or community theater productions without training or experience. These are usually volunteer roles, but they will give you invaluable on-the-job training, expand your range, and build your resume.

In professional companies, the actors and actresses performing onstage have studied the craft for years or decades to be able to share the full range and depth of human experience. There are many acting schools that offer classes to all levels of performers. You can start by auditing acting classes at your local community college. Look in your town paper for drop-in acting classes. Some of the larger cities have theater-industry specific publications or websites.

Many working actors and former theater professors offer small group classes, usually in eight-week series. Subjects for these classes include Intro to Acting, Auditioning, Meisner Technique, Finding the Actor’s Voice, and Advanced Scene Study.

If you choose to take classes outside of a school, it is important to find a reputable and skilled teacher. Be sure to do some research and get feedback from previous students before giving a lot of money to someone. Especially be wary if they make promises or claims to make you famous or get you hired by famous agents.

All any teacher can do is hone your skills and help you develop your talent; no one can guarantee you will be cast by someone else. The benefit of these programs is the potential for focused training alongside professional actors, often from a teacher with recent experience in the field. The small class size allows for more intimate scene study and acting technique work, and focusing on one or two subjects at a time may allow you to cultivate your craft more quickly then in a chaotic university setting. On the other hand, the structure of a university program can be helpful for budding actors.

Theatrical expression is a peculiar and demanding art form. Just like any other new language, it can take time and dedication to learn to fluently express it. Having the measured years of a degree program can help you learn acting in a digestible way.

Whatever path you choose, understand that acting is as much a skill as it is a talent, be prepared to work with focus and diligence to develop your craft.

Theater designers and technicians also need training and experience. Sometimes they can apprentice under more experienced artisans, though some initial training in the particular specialty is usually necessary. A great way to gain experience outside of a university is to volunteer with a smaller theater company. Many hands go into making even a simple set, and designers at small companies are usually happy to train people in exchange for the help.

You can also take a short program at a technical college in the area of theatrical construction that interests you. Drafting, carpentry, electrics, fashion design, sewing, makeup design, and sound engineering are all skills that are used in the theater.

A university setting offers a great deal of experience and access to industry contacts, both of which are quite helpful. It is also helpful to have a degree if you plan to teach acting or one of the other theater arts. But earning a degree is not absolutely necessary to enter the world of theater, as long as you have some training and a willingness to work hard.

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