All the world’s a stage – if only the job market were, too

A theater degree may not be as risky as once assumed.

When authors Tim Donahue and Jim Patterson looked at theater career books in publication, they quickly noticed that the lion’s share were focused on actors. There’s a simple problem with that: Most jobs in theater are in something other than acting.

With “Theater Careers: A Realistic Guide,” Donahue and Patterson have attempted to create a thorough, data-driven analysis of the various careers in theater — from house manager to technical director, from marketing and beyond.

“I think my MBA background leads to a certain slant: wanting to talk about numbers and dollars, and not so much about feelings and art,” explains Donahue, who was the director of marketing and development at the University of South Carolina’s theater department until his recent retirement.

Donahue certainly delved deep into the numbers — employment statistics, specifically — perhaps more so than any book of this kind to date. But to find reliable data on theater majors, oddly, he had to turn to the National Science Foundation’s 2003 Survey of College Graduates.

“The NSF is only interested in math and science, but they collect information on all majors. …  On average drama majors make about $46,000 — this includes people at all stages of life,” explains Donahue. “Fifteen percent of drama majors are making less than $15,000, and you might expect that. But seven percent of business majors are also making less than $15,000. So while a theater degree does carry risk, there is perhaps more risk in a ‘practical’ major than we once thought.”

While Donahue was crunching the numbers, Patterson interviewed a number of theater professionals. He specifically sought out former actors who found meaningful work after their moment in the spotlight fizzled.

“We know, because of our experience in the theater, that actors are important — but in many ways, they’re a minority of theater workers,” says Patterson. “Just look at the credits on a solo or two-person show on Broadway: There are sometimes over 200 people employed on the production.”

State by state

States with the highest number of professional theater jobs:
   
1. New York
2. California
3. Illinois
4. Florida
5. Texas


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