April 27, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Mississippi University for Women
Department of TheatreWebsite
Elizabeth Hawkins: Because of the pandemic, the theatre industry has had to pivot in terms of continuing to create productions safely and how to effectively reach audiences. Theatre companies and university programs, like ours here at the Mississippi University for Women, have moved a lot of their content online through Zoom, Broadway OnDemand, and other streaming platforms. It's changed how we engage with scripts, what technical elements we can use to tell a story on a screen, and how actors function. It's become a hybrid space between theatre and film.
As this year moves ahead and we see more people being vaccinated and COVID-19 cases hopefully lessening, theatres will start to move back into physical spaces where the audience can join them in person. I think that online content will continue, however, because companies are finding that they can reach a larger, more diverse audience base through streaming a show. The reach of a production is no longer limited to the physical region in which the theatre resides, making it possible to expose new audience members to a theatre's season.
Elizabeth Hawkins: Technical skills that stand out to employers in theatre vary depending on a person's focus. Actors need to be skilled not only in performance technique, but also in technology. Auditions have been moving more and more online in the past five years, but with the pandemic, they are almost exclusively online. Productions may be online or in-person, but regardless actors need to have a working knowledge of current video and editing technology so that they are able to craft auditions that showcase their professionalism, creativity, and understanding industry standards. Understanding the ins and outs of services like Zoom and OBS will turn a savvy actor into a collaborator in the creation process, which most directors and producers appreciate.
Directors and designers also need to brush up on current online streaming services, useful film techniques, and innovation ways stories are being told in online and hybrid formats. While we may not be fully online after this summer, being able to speak to how production elements can be adapted from stage to screen will help designers and directors stand out as the industry continues to find its way forward in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Elizabeth Hawkins: The pandemic hurt a lot of artists last year because of the way in which they are paid. Salaries for actors, designers, and directors are hard to pin down because it is a gig-economy for the most part, meaning that artists work with different companies over the course of a fiscal year. Companies that house an ensemble of Resident Artists are becoming rarer and rarer and more theatre artists are combining work from different venues and companies to gather income. Because the pandemic shut down most theatres last year, people in the entertainment industry, not just theatre, lost jobs and really struggled to make ends meet.
Arts administrators and educators also suffered last year and had to make significant changes to the structure of their offices to keep the lights on. Overall, however, salaries in arts administration and theatre education are more consistent and follow the traditional salary structure, but there hasn't been a noticeable increase in those areas, pandemic notwithstanding.
A few nice shifts in the past couple of years has been the call for more transparency in wages and accountability in terms of equal pay for underrepresented groups. There is still a long way to go before pay structures for arts workers reaches a place of true equity, but the steps being taken are heading in the right direction.
Theatre and School of Performing ArtsWebsite
Brian Osborne: Actors emerging into the job market are needing to find a true sense of confidence these days, especially in a career-field that was already very competitive. The fact that theatres are slowly opening back up is encouraging, but it will be a while before cruise ships, theme parks and tours are back up and running at full capacity.
Brian Osborne: I think a good job for graduates with theatre degrees is an internship with a professional company. Many of our graduates stay in Atlanta because the area is filled with theatres and the film industry continues to grow here. Internships are good for young performers for various reasons. Structure, exposure, experience, flexible hours, stage time and getting to know the people who are hiring.
Brian Osborne: Being a versatile actor, being a triple threat (singing, acting, dancing), auditioning frequently and auditioning well, developing other skills other than acting.
Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary DanceWebsite
Linda Pisano: Yes, for a while at least. The industry has to recover financially. There are a lot of very seasoned professionals who are eager to get back to work (indeed, their livelihood depends on it). In addition, theatres will be producing much more scaled back while they and their donors become more financially solvent. Furthermore, we may see reduced audiences of older generations that are generally the higher income bracket and bigger donors. There is also the non-negotiable work in creating a more racially and gender equitable industry. All this to say that graduates are going into a highly competitive field that will not be able to pay well, and working under strict union and CDC protocols for a while.
The upside? There definitely is. I see a real renaissance in how we create live performance and many new writers and makers that are innovative. Necessity is the mother of invention and the need to create is too great to be stifled. The more innovative, open to change, and entrepreneurial a graduate is, the more likely they are to find a happy and rewarding early career experience.
Linda Pisano: Staying attentive, on time, focused, and engaged. These are learned skills and don't always come naturally. These are skills that allow artists, makers, and scholars to stand out from others. Most artists understand the rigor required to master a skill, an art, an instrument, and prioritizing this type of artistic discipline in the job market can make someone invaluable.
Linda Pisano: Whatever makes you happy. Seriously. Despite how flowery it may sound, nothing is worse than seeing dedicated and highly expert makers, artists, and scholars stuck in a toxic work environment. We are in a world that is changing rapidly, and with employment uncertainty. Clearly, if a graduate wants a family, a house, a car, and disposable income than they need to pursue a route that can give them that sort of financial security. But if one has the freedom to make some choices for a while, perhaps getting a small trusted group of like-minded artists and professionals together and venture into something that is collaborative, rewarding, and allows you to wake up each day knowing you are happy and contributing to your community.
Department of TheatreWebsite
Jeanne Willcoxon: It all depends on what area of theatre a person decides to pursue. For those in design and performance, an MFA is helpful; however, many actors pursue very successful acting careers with a B.A. or BFA. For those who wish to pursue an academic career in theatre or performance studies, a Phd is necessary.
Jeanne Willcoxon: The ability to work with others, to collaborate, is necessary for everyone, in theatre or in any field. To collaborate means that you know how to listen to others and to clearly communicate your ideas to others verbally or through writing. Collaboration usually involves creative problem solving (theatre is a wonderful way to develop creative problem solving), critical thinking (the ability to analyze at both a micro and macro level), and the willingness to try...and fail...multiple times.
Jeanne Willcoxon: I have no idea. Here is a place where an economics professor will be more helpful. I like to think that people are now craving an opportunity to get together and theatre might actually grow because of this.