Build Your Own Stage: How to Put Your Theatre Degree to Work for You

That theatre degree bearing your name represents years of hard work, dedication and sweat (quite literally for most of us). But, at the risk of sounding like your mother, how will that degree help you pay your rent?  When I graduated with my BA in drama, I couldn’t answer that question. Here’s how some fellow theatre majors and I have learned to answer that pesky question – and pay rent.

Educate your audience

Don’t be shy about telling people you majored in theatre. By sharing your background with your peers, managers and department heads, you may be surprised at the opportunities offered to you. Colleen M. is an actress who was “discovered” as a corporate trainer while making ends meet in a call center. A company manager approached Colleen with this new career opportunity.

“You’re an actress – you have a theatre degree,” the trainer said to Colleen. “You’d be perfect in front of people, being our corporate trainer. And my response was ‘what’s a corporate trainer?’”

Now, more than12 years later, Colleen is a training manager for a global retail company located in Seattle. She credits her theatre degree with opening a new career door. She’s even done work with a vendor to link components of the theatre to new training programs she’s developed.

“Being clear about my background has helped in strange ways,” said Erin M., a program manager. She has transformed her theatre skills into a job producing videos in an employee communications department.

Several years ago, when she began a new job as a communications coordinator, Erin’s team was planning the company’s annual shareholder meeting. During a planning meeting, her boss turned to her. “Oh, you’re a theatre person. We need someone to be on headset backstage. Can you do that?”

And once they found out that Erin could act, she found herself onstage in a skit as well.

Volunteer for a project

Theatre majors can usually see the big picture and understand the pieces necessary to build a complete production, from start to finish. Volunteer to lead a project and you’ll quickly discover project management feels oddly familiar.

“Producing a show is exactly the same as going through the steps of a project,” Mike L., explained. “You’re trying to make someone fall from a ceiling on stage. Or you’re trying to figure out how to get 10,000 people to a conference. It’s the same. You’re working magic either way.”

Mike still runs his own active non-profit theatre in Seattle; EXITheatre just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. About three years ago, he made the decision to “pursue more than a job” and discovered his drama experience translated into project management almost seamlessly.  

Take a poll of your Human Resources (HR) team

You may be surprised at the number of people in HR who got their start in theatre. “HR is a great field,” Mike said. “There are lots of theatre people in HR.” Many trainers (like Colleen), recruiters and employee relations specialists and managers credit their drama degrees with success in their new field.

After graduating from college, Sara A. spent several years working multiple theatre jobs, including education outreach and teaching for a children’s theatre. But, she said, “I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted to do.”

Sara landed a receptionist role to get her foot in the door at a growing company. She’s since found that a role as a human resources (HR) generalist is a good fit for a theatre major. Sara credits her theatre background for her ability to help bridge the gap between employees’ needs and business demands.

The truth is, many non-theatre people realize the value of your acting skills. Sara shared the words of her professor from the University of Puget Sound:  

“I would be so happy if my daughter ended up majoring in theatre and she didn’t do anything with it. It’s such a great degree to have. It gives you exposure to working with people and completing a project from beginning to end. It makes you a better member of society.”

Whether you combine a job with acting or leave the theatre for an entirely different career, there are always opportunities to apply your thespian passions. Erin, for one, is planning ahead. “My career goal is to be able to retire and act again. I really want to be in Depend’s commercials,” she said with a grin. 

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