What Can You Do With a Performing Arts Degree?
If you studied performing arts, you might be dreaming of taking to the stage to perform for a living. However, the skills you’ve gained during your degree haven’t just prepared you for roles in theater, film and music. Your skills will also be valuable in a range of other careers, especially if you’re able to effectively combine creative talent with the practical aspects of self-promotion and arts management. Read on to find out where your performing arts degree could take you…
Typical performing arts jobs
Actors communicate characters and situations to an audience through dialogue, body language and actions. They typically interpret the work of a writer under the instruction and support of a director, although some actors might devise a character themselves or improvise the responses of a character to a situation. The type of work and media varies immensely, spanning roles on the stage, in film or television and on the radio.
Acting is unfortunately not the most secure of professions – it is very competitive, and there are likely to be periods where you might struggle to find work. However, if you love acting and have a talent for it, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue this career. To get started, you’ll need to build up a showreel of experience in a good variety of roles, as being versatile will make it easier to find work. You might also consider finding an agent, who may be able to find roles and arrange higher pay for you, but will take a proportion of your earnings as a fee.
Dancers use movement to interpret music, tell stories and express emotion, often under the guidance of a choreographer. You might dance in front of live audiences or in recorded performances for TV, film or music videos. Dancers can work and specialize in a variety of dance forms, and you’ll be more likely to find work if you can perform in an assortment of styles. You’ll need to have good rhythm and timing, be able to stay focused, work hard and stay enthusiastic.
If you have a talent for dancing, and the willpower to succeed, this career could be for you. To increase your chances of finding work, you should build up a network of contacts and promote yourself, again possibly with the help of an agent. You could also supplement your income by working as a dance teacher or choreographer.
Musical theater performer
Musical theater performers are generally ‘triple threats’ – skilled in singing, dancing and acting. This can be a demanding career, with eight shows a week being the norm, and competition for roles is fierce. However, as with acting and dancing, there’s no reason you can’t succeed as a musical theater performer if you’re determined, talented and passionate about what you do. You should try and gain as much experience as you can, make connections in the industry, keep challenging yourself to develop your existing skills, and build your confidence as a strong performer.
Dance-, music- or drama- therapist
These performing arts jobs allow you to use your love of the dance, music or drama to help individuals of all ages overcome personal difficulties. Dramatherapists use activities such as group work or roleplay to encourage people to come to terms with their emotions and express themselves, helping them to overcome or progress on their social or personal difficulties. Similarly, music therapists use music to help people deal with feelings they can’t put into words. You’ll use music creatively to establish a shared musical experience and aim for therapeutic goals. Dance movement therapists use movement and dance within a therapeutic atmosphere to help people who are facing physical, psychological, emotional or mental problems.
To gain entry in one of these performing arts jobs, you’ll need a postgraduate qualification in your sector of choice, as well as paid or unpaid experience in helping people overcome problems or difficulties.
Theater directors bring scripts to life on the stage, working closely with everyone involved to create a show that connects with the audience. They’re in charge of the practical and creative interpretation of a dramatic script or musical score and are involved in the whole process from start to finish. Some theater directors write, design or act in their own work. To become a theater director, you should try and make yourself indispensable at your local theater as an assistant, perhaps starting with an amateur theater group and working your way up, gaining a strong skills and repute as you go.
If you have a passion for creating scripts, and a strong interest in digital media, this career could be for you. You’ll use your imagination to create engaging stories for a range of formats, from films to television and even computer games. You’ll need determination, motivation and the ability to meet strict deadlines. Don’t worry if you’ve never formally studied writing before – skill is what counts, and you could develop your skills by joining a writers' organization.
Other performing arts jobs
Arts administrators organize arts activities and services and ensure they are successful. They work for various organizations such as theaters or museums. If you’re passionate about the arts and like managing and organizing, this career could be for you, enabling you to gain a different perception of art. You will need strong administration, organization and IT skills for this role.
Theater stage manager
Another performing arts career in which you’ll need good organization skills is that of a theater stage manager, in charge of making sure shows run smoothly. You’ll also need great people skills to manage and network with everyone else involved in the show, including front-of-house staff and the director. This role can be demanding, but offers opportunities for both personal and group achievement. To gain entry to this role, you’ll need to have practical experience in theater work.
Broadcasting presenters are the public face or voice of programs presented on television, radio and the internet. They entertain and inform their audiences by presenting information or entertainment in an open and attractive way, generally interacting with the audience and perhaps interviewing guests. This is another competitive area so you’ll need to be driven and enthusiastic, with a strong interest in television/radio. You’ll also need to build up as much relevant paid or voluntary work experience as possible, probably working your way up from an assistant role, and gaining the prerequisite skills as you go.
Teacher/higher education lecturer
If you want to use your love of the performing arts to motivate and inspire young people and encourage budding talents, a career in teaching could be very rewarding. You could specialize in a particular form of performing arts, and perhaps run a drama club to encourage even more interaction with the performing arts outside of teaching hours.
To gain entry, you’ll need a qualification in teaching (and a PhD if you would like to become a higher education lecturer), as an expert understanding of the subject is essential. You should also have lots of self-confidence and presentation skills in order to efficiently communicate with a large group of students (particularly in a lecture hall as a university lecturer).
‘What Can You Do With a Performing Arts Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series.
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This article was originally published in February 2016 . It was last updated in January 2020