Student to graduate to Arts professional – Valuable tips on starting a career in theatre

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Article by Caitlin Clark

Caitlin Clark is a professional Arts Marketer currently working at Cambridge Arts Theatre. As well as marketing and press, Caitlin is an avid arts journalist and photographer. 

I had little experience and a lot of enthusiasm, but I truly believe the latter is most important when you’re starting out.

Five years ago, I wasn’t sure where my life or career would lead… I was a second-year student studying Drama at the Lincoln School of Performing Arts, and was too busy enjoying university and typical student life to consider the future! I studied Drama purely because I enjoyed it, but hadn’t given much thought as to what I would do after I graduated.

I’ve always loved theatre and immersed myself in drama clubs growing up (so much so, that aged 5 I threw myself around the school hall with a nasty ankle injury so I didn’t miss out on playing a cat in the school nativity!). Although this passion continued, I didn’t possess the desire to pursue a professional acting career.

Instead, I wanted to work in theatre. Old, traditional playhouses with big red curtains and a proscenium arch stage… Beginning a career in that environment seemed impossibly exciting. What role I wasn’t sure of, but a third-year Arts Management module had opened my eyes to the numerous career possibilities within the arts sector that I wasn’t aware of before.

So, graduation loomed nearer and I aimed for a career in the world of theatre. I had little experience and a lot of enthusiasm, but I truly believe the latter is most important when you’re starting out.

Five years on I am working in the Marketing and Press department in a gorgeous theatre in Cambridge. I market incredible touring shows and in-house productions, I work with interesting people with various theatrical skill-sets, and I see a lot of great theatre – my 2011 self would be over the moon!

So this blog post is not only reassurance that it is ok to be unsure of what path to take but advice on how to find out! It’s taken hard work, long hours and determination to get from a fresh-faced graduate to this early stage of my career, but I have enjoyed it every single day.

So here they are, my top tips for getting your foot in the door and starting your journey in the wonderful world of professional theatre…

1. Apply for a casual Box Office role for university holidays – Box Office is the perfect position to begin your journey. My first Box Office position helped me gain practical experience and transferable theatre skills, it also gave my CV an edge when applying for post-grad theatre jobs.

2. Intern Intern Intern – Research local theatres to see if they offer internships or work experience. I interned for over two years. I had so much fun, met numerous arts professionals who taught me invaluable lessons and I gained a wealth of experience in a short time from three extremely different organisations.

3. Don’t be averse to working for no money – My first post-graduate theatre role was a part-time voluntary marketing internship. I had no previous marketing experience, so volunteering enabled me to gain practical knowledge and make up for my lack of relevant qualifications. Working for free was hard but it shows commitment and dedication, just make sure it’s on a part-time basis so you have time for a second paid job.

4. Be a sponge – I continue to learn so much from my colleagues who have an abundance of experience in this craft, so I always try to soak up as much knowledge as possible!

5. Go the extra mile – Since graduating I have always worked in marketing and press, but I’ve offered to help other theatre departments and organisations on the way and have ended up trying my hand at arts journalism, theatre photography, ushering outdoor productions, and helping to run events.

6. Don’t wait for your dream job vacancy to be advertised – Send speculative e-mails to theatres and let them know what you can offer them. Suggest coming in to support various departments during busy periods or volunteering in your spare time, anything to get your foot in the door! The job I am in now came to fruition after I sent such an e-mail.

7. Keep in touch – Over the years I have realised that the world of theatre is small, and you never know when past colleagues will pop up again. The reason I am writing this blog post is because of a previous work colleague!

8. Enjoy it – Working in the theatre industry is never dull. It is sometimes tough but remember how fun, bizarre and rewarding it is to see audiences enjoying a production you have worked so hard on.

Having this advice to hand on the morning of my first theatre interview would have helped me greatly, so I hope this post can offer guidance and support for people on the brink of their exciting arts career.

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Other great graduate posts:

17 Powerful tips for a better job interview

8 Things to Consider Before Forming a Theatre Company

Dear Third Year Students


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