Misconception Series: Theatre isn’t a ‘real job’

November marks our ‘Misconception Series’, where we’ll explore the misconceptions of theatre careers and the types of people who do them - written by those working in the industry.

Blog One: Theatre isn’t a ‘real job’

Growing up, I was applauded by my bravery for pursuing a job in theatre. It was as if I was taking a risk that I may regret when ‘adulting’ needs to kick in, or that I needed to be prepared to take a lifetime of questioning and rejection. The perception of theatre careers is mixed and can change depending on who you talk to. Often, opinions can be contradictory. Some take the view that it’s a non-academic lazy option where you spend your time running around a rehearsal room, whilst some see it as a brutal and exhausting endeavour. While the latter can sometimes be true (but is becoming increasingly better) the first is definitely not; with those in the industry being some of the smartest, most intuitive, creatively brilliant and hardest working people I know. 

The need to tell stories and be creative are some of the most real things about human beings. So, why is there this misconception that theatre isn’t a ‘real job’?

Perhaps this comes from people (sometimes with the best intentions) that do not see the value in creative empowerment, non-hierarchical collaboration and creation, versus sales targets, KPIs and clear progression lines. 

It could also be that theatre work is very largely freelance, which can be viewed as financially unstable. However, so is plumbing and I never hear this profession described in the same way! If freelance work does worry you, there are numerous salaried jobs within the industry, my own included. Many of them are part of the production process or are more venue-based (see our full list of job roles in the industry). 

It could also be that people still think you need to work for free for a large portion of your early career. Get Into Theatre proves that this isn’t the case, and often there's funding or apprenticeships to explore your way through finding yourself in the theatre world, before you set a financial value for yourself (either freelance or salaried). I, myself, spent a large portion of my early career working Front of House at my local theatre and assisting youth theatre workshops - meaning I got paid to watch theatre and work with numerous directors and practitioners to develop my own craft. This was something that I found invaluable moving forward.

Whatever your (or someone that cares about you) reasoning for thinking theatre isn’t a ‘real job’, ask them and yourself:

What really makes a job a job? 

A job can often be described as something you just do for money, whereas a career is something you give your time, energy and drive to. There are many jobs within theatre, but many people are talking about a career when they want to break into the industry. A career gives breathing time to find your tribe, explore different disciplines and drive forward with what feels right at that time. What really makes a career and career? The person! If you want to do it, go for it!

What if I want to change careers later down the line? Am I limiting myself? 

The skills learned within the theatre industry are some of the most versatile and transferable. Plus, cross-sector working is becoming increasingly common within the industry, enabling you to gather even more skills. Don’t feel as though you are limiting yourself by choosing this path now, if anything you are expanding your options!

When I look to the future, what’s the most important thing to me? 

This is a very personal question and one I can’t answer for you. But, for me, it’s to be happy, empowered, creatively challenged, part of a like-minded tribe and make a difference to something that is so important to me. 

Whatever your reasoning for wanting a career in theatre, please know that those also in the industry value your contribution and absolutely know that what you’re doing is a ‘real job’, no matter what stage you’re at. 

Written by Alex Duarte-Davies (She/her) Director of Get Into Theatre, former Head of Community and Outreach at Theatre Royal Bath, freelance Producer, Director and Practitioner. Working in theatre and officially ‘adulting’. 

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