Jobs with a Theatre Degree: Career Options and Requirements

Sep 28, 2019

Degrees in theater typically cover core elements like acting, directing and production design. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for theater graduates.

A theatre degree can be ideal preparation for a career as an actor, director or set designer. While a degree isn't required to become an actor or director, it may help individuals interested in these careers develop skills and increase their job prospects. Set designers, on the other hand, typically need a degree, and may find programs that offer a set design specialization.

Essential Information

Theater graduates have many opportunities available within the performing arts field, including acting, directing, and set design. Theater degree programs are available at the associate, bachelor's and master's degree level. While few positions require formal education, theater programs can hone essential skills and open up more job opportunities.

Career Actor Director Set Design
Required Education None None Degree in design
Other Requirements None On-set experience Portfolio
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $17.54 (hourly) $71,680 $54,270
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 1% 5% 10-14%**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics', **O*Net OnLine


Actors are performing artists who portray characters in film, television and theatrical productions. They audition for roles in order to obtain work. Once cast in a production, an actor transforms into a character. To prepare for a role, actors study the script and may do outside research to learn all they can about their characters.

Actors use their voices, body language and expressions to make their characters real. Working in this field requires actors to express a wide range of feelings, emotions, expressions and dialects. They may wear costumes and use props to bring characters to life. Some actors sing and dance during their performances as well.


Actors are self-employed, and earning a degree is not necessary to acquire roles. Some actors become successful without ever receiving formal training; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that many actors acquire essential acting skills through a bachelor's degree program.

A degree in theater is beneficial for actors because it teaches acting techniques and nonverbal communication through movement, as well as providing voice training. Some theater degree programs may offer an acting or performance concentration that allows students to take advanced classes in acting techniques. Many colleges and universities give students a chance to perform in school productions.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) states that other factors such as natural ability, location, physical appearance, personality and luck also play a part in how successful an actor becomes.

Career and Salary Information

The BLS reports that acting jobs are predicted to grow 1% from 2018-2028. The BLS does not report an annual salary for actors because so many of the jobs aren't full-time, year-round employment; however, the median hourly wage was $17.54 in 2018.


Directors bring a production to life by coordinating all its aspects such as cast, design, script and crew. During rehearsals, directors provide insight for cast members and help with their movement and blocking. They also approve set designs, lighting, props, locations, music and wardrobe.

Directors usually answer to executive producers, who handle the financing. The executive producer typically approves all of the director's decisions. In some cases, the director also acts as the executive producer and is in charge of securing funding and setting budgets.


The BLS states that many directors start out as actors, writers or director assistants. Formal training also provides aspiring directors with fundamental skills. Students take classes in set design, theater history, stage management and directing.

Classes teach students to analyze scripts and direct artists to bring the script to life. Directors advance in their careers as their experience and reputation grows. Shows that attract large audiences help to build the director's reputation and move on to bigger budget productions.

Career and Salary Information

Jobs for directors and producers, counted together by the BLS, are expected to grow only 5% from 2018-2028. The agency reported that the median annual salary for producers and directors was $71,680 in 2018.

Set Designer

Set designers create and design a production's scenery, backdrops, furniture and props. These theater professionals consult with directors and writers to discuss the script, budget and design ideas. Set designers may also perform research to create life-like settings that illustrate the time period and place.

After making any revisions and receiving approval, set designers draw the set model to scale for the construction crew. During the building phase, set designers supervise all construction workers. Once everything is built, the set designer ensures the set is laid out accurately and meets the director's approval. Set designers also visit various prop suppliers in search of the best props. After the production is over, the set designer is in charge of the set's breakdown and ensures all parts are stored properly and prop rentals are returned.


Set designers are competent in design techniques that produce precise technical layouts. They also understand the tasks associated with putting on a production. Degrees in theater teach students core theater classes such as acting, history and script analysis, as well as set design skills. Some programs have set design tracks that allow students to take classes focusing on lighting, costume design, stagecraft, scenic painting, drafting, set design and computer technology.

Set designers can gain experience through school and community productions. Employers evaluate set designers' work by their portfolios, which can also include sketch designs to exhibit set designers' drawing skills.

Career and Salary Information

Set designer jobs are predicted to grow roughly 10-14% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS, and set designers earned a median salary of $54,270 in 2018.

Actors, directors and set designers may be able to increase their job prospects with a degree in theatre. Some theatre degrees have a set design track for those interested in becoming set designers. The growth rate for all these careers is expected to be as fast as or faster than average during the next decade.

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