April 13, 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.
Kiara Pipino Ph.D.: It is hard to say, as we never had anything like this before. Academically, the experience of the past year and a half has been different from students in the major - and in any major. Classes that were meant to be taught in person had to shift online, with major adjustments in the curriculum. This isn't necessarily making the class less valuable, but different, yes. I am expecting graduates 2020 and 2021 to have more interest in pursuing further education, and graduate school, as a result of the hope of receiving more in person, fate-to-face instruction.
Kiara Pipino Ph.D.: We graduate students with a BS in Theatre. If they pursue further training, the impact of it would be tied to the path they are interested in taking. For example, should they wish to pursue acting, certification is some movement or voice technique might help, as well as the intimacy choreography certification. If they want to teach in the academia, they would need a graduate degree.
Kiara Pipino Ph.D.: Clearly theatres need to re-open and resume normal activity for our graduates in all field to find their main employment environment. Although it must be said that theatre major can lead to many different job opportunities, not necessarily just in the theatre business.
Theatre will re-open, undoubtedly, but the question is on what budget they will be able to operate.
Dr. Harry Parker: The professional theatre is, for the vast majority, a free-lance profession, with theatre artists (actors, directors, designers, technicians) going from job to job. Right now, the industry is still on full hold, as we await the labor unions to come to the place where they are comfortable with the safety of their members, and begin approving union contracts once again. It's unknown when this time will come.
Dr. Harry Parker: When it does, there will be many fewer jobs, as many theatres have had to close because of the economic stress of the pandemic.
Dr. Harry Parker: Salaries vary greatly, but because of the shaky economic standing for so many professional theatres, I expect that union scale will become even more the norm than before the pandemic, at least until audiences begin returning to live theatre.
Ryan Kathman: I think it's safe to say that there will be an enduring impact of this pandemic on all of us, no matter what field someone is in. But, yes, I think Theatre students coming out of undergraduate programs, for one thing, are going to have to get really good at preparing and participating in virtual auditions, whether they are pre-recorded, conducted live over Zoom, or some combination. I think we'll see job opportunities in web-based productions continue to rise, even after things recover a bit, as the industry was slowly headed that direction even before the pandemic. But I do have a healthy degree of hope about the future of live performing arts in that, historically, after major global or national crises like these - even health crises - a "golden age" of flourishing arts tends to follow. So, potentially, now is a great time to be a Theatre major and be graduating because students will hopefully be entering an industry with booming opportunities as the populace gets excited to start attending live performances again.
Ryan Kathman: This depends a lot on which area of Theatre Arts is your emphasis. Obviously if your objective is to be a Theatre educator, then getting the proper state licensing and certification for teaching is vital. There are less of those kinds of standards for performers, but you can become certified as an Actor/Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), and continue to move up to more advanced certifications after that. There are also other safety certifications available for intimacy direction, firearms training and more. Probably the areas with the highest numbers of certifications and licensing are in Technical Theatre, as young professionals can (and should) become certified for theatrical rigging, welding, and for a host of other safety and technical areas. Finally, in regards to most valuable courses, that's a very difficult distinction to make and will vary with most every educator you ask. For me, I believe strongly in Script Analysis as a fundamental course for every Theatre artist, whether you are an aspiring performer, designer, technician, director or playwright. I also think it's a good idea for anyone studying Theatre to try their hand at some Directing, if given the opportunity, to be able to see the "big picture" of a production and better understand how all the roles function together. Beyond that, a good Professional Preparation course is important, as is one on Auditioning and all Dramatic Literature classes, too.
Ryan Kathman: I've never been crazy about the term "soft skills", but I do understand where it comes from. I just can't help but feel like the name somehow diminishes the value of these attributes when study after study has proven that they are precisely the qualities that every major CEO is looking for first and foremost in employees. Luckily, I happen to believe one of the best kept secrets about Theatre training is that it naturally and inherently focuses students to develop exactly these kinds of traits. I suppose the top skills I would highlight are communication (impossible to work on a production team without it and it's literally what every actor is trying to do in performances), critical thinking (again, script analysis and problem-solving while in rehearsal and performance), adaptability (time, budget and resources force all of us to have to be resourceful and innovative, and actors often need this skill in the moment when something goes horribly wrong in a performance), and creativity (kind of built right into the art form). But you can certainly add teamwork, time management, decision-making, organization, conflict management and leadership to the list, and all of those are covered on a daily basis just in the process of putting on a show.
Erin Dougherty: This is a hard question, as I don't think any of us have that crystal ball. Everyone is ready to work and most of us want to get "back to normal" as quick as possible. However, there have been some real calls during this pandemic to change the philosophy of industry, for the good. Places like tcg.org, who run Artsearch are offering free accounts for job seekers, and making it mandatory for employers to state compensation to help people know what they're getting into before expending time and energy in the search process. This can only benefit everyone. There is a call for accountability, for treating artists with value, and no longer standardizing "suffering" for your art or sacrificing personal lives for the golden carrot, in terms of work-life balance. That may sound idealistic, but theatre artists are notorious for not taking care of themselves and almost priding themselves for long work hours with little pay. We will be slow to change, certainly, especially as the industry tries to stand on its feet with uncertain funding. But, I believe you'll see more transparent job ads and I hope we'll still see a lot of the collaborative spirit of artists helping artists that we have seen during the pandemic. On the practical side, for a while yet, we'll see more virtual productions, either zoom or fully mounted without an audience, or actors in mask work. I think the demand for tech who have digital and editing skill has increased and will continue to be there, and actors who have presence for the camera, those who can play to the stage but still read genuine if the camera and editing crew choose to do close ups. We will also see both academic and professional companies looking for jack-of-all-trades, people who can fit into more than one roll in the company. For tech, designers/technicians who can cross disciplines or areas (costume/prop technicians, scenic/lighting designers, etc.), for performers perhaps people who can also play instruments in addition to being the traditional "triple threat" performers. And of course, a demand from companies and artists alike to expand the pool of diversity, open the doors to women and especially minorities, in light of BLM to tell stories with Black voices and black faces in meaningful ways.
Erin Dougherty: Work on your digital presence. Even before the Pandemic, actors were sending in more and more virtual auditions rather than participating in showcases. For performers, having a really solid package of things that showcase your abilities. For design/tech, getting a clean website that clearly showcases your best work, and perhaps some related projects. If you have the luxury of getting someone to help you, that's always nice, but there are inexpensive sites for hosting your materials, and cell phones can achieve surprising results if you invest in a tripod. Network but engaging with other alumni and people you have met along your journey. Ask their advice, if appropriate. Theatre artists also need to think long and hard about how they are willing/able to engage in the collaborative process. How can you make it easy for someone to work with you? If you're designing something, how do you communicate ideas along the whole process? Are you creating vision boards? How are you making your ideas into a reality? It doesn't necessarily have to be down on paper, but know how you work and what is a boon to employers so that you have those answers ready. There are also masterclasses, both free and for smaller amounts of money, that should be taken advantage of. Learn a new skill, or if that is too stressful on top of everything else that is going on, find an outlet to help you rebalance yourself that lends towards your self-care.
Erin Dougherty: Be persistent. As everyone is aware, this is a difficult time to be emerging into the industry. Think outside the box and take opportunities when then come-commercials, advertisements, maybe window displays or things that don't necessarily scream theatre. At the same time, don't be afraid to say no if something isn't right for you, doesn't provide any kind of incentive or value to you, or if you're too overwhelmed and can't give it your best effort. It's great to be employed and great to be busy, but serves no one, least of all you, if the end product is not your best effort. I also like to remind people, as there can be a lot of rejection, that art is a part of you but you are not just your art. Build a support team who will be happy for you and cheer you on.