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Performing Arts Professions: Education & Career Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work in the performing arts professions. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and prospects to find out if this is the career for you.

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All the world's a stage, or so Shakespeare said. Actors, dancers, directors and producers all fall into this category, and each requires its own specific education to develop the skills and connections needed for success. That might include a college degree or conservatory training.

Essential Information

There is no one road to becoming a performing artist. Education requirements vary for the different types of performing artists and the people who work alongside them. Some attain higher education, while others learn by doing. A combination of talent, practice and formal training is generally the recipe for becoming a performing artist; how one goes about it is up to the individual and the industry in which one wishes to become involved.

Career Actor Dancer Producer/Director
Required Education Formal dramatic training Formal dance training Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% 5% 9%
Median Hourly Wage (2015)* $18.80 $14.44 $32.91

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Individuals interested in making a career out of performing in front of a live audience may consider becoming an actor or a dancer. Opportunities for actors range from small, local theater or television productions and independent, low-budget films to larger films and shows in places like New York and Hollywood. Dancers are needed for musical theater productions, operas, movies, music videos and commercials. Those with a creative vision who prefer a more behind-the-scenes role may become a director or producer, guiding a show or work from an idea phase to a live production.

Actor

Actors work in stage, film and television productions. They may also work in radio and at cabarets, theme parks and nightclubs. While between acting jobs or to supplement income, many actors work at a variety of jobs, from waiting tables to teaching at community colleges and universities. Others find work in related fields, such as voiceover and narration. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that actors are expected to experience faster-than-average job growth from 2014-2024, at a rate of 10% (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, actors' median hourly wage was $18.80.

Education Requirements

Some actors start out by taking courses or majoring in theater arts at a college or university. Theater majors working towards a bachelor's degree learn how to perform before an audience; they may also acquire skills in dancing, directing, costuming, script writing and other aspects of performing.

In addition to or in place of a university degree program, some aspiring actors enroll in a conservatory. These are performing arts schools offering comprehensive and focused training in a specific area, such as dance, music or acting. In addition to being highly selective, many conservatories focus on giving students ample opportunities to gain industry exposure.

Degrees offered for actors may include a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting. Some conservatories offer specialized and career-focused training which does not culminate in a degree; however, their credits may be transferable to a college or university program.

Dancer

Some dancers specialize in a certain kind of dance, such as ballet, while others cultivate skills in jazz, modern and other types of dance. Some dancers audition for and travel with touring dance companies. Dancing is hard on the body; many transition to becoming choreographers when they get older. BLS data shows projected job growth of 5% from 2014-2024. The median hourly wage for these professionals was $14.44, as of May 2015.

Education Requirements

According to the BLS, the majority of dancers begin their formal training during childhood. During this time, some who are serious about the profession join dance school companies and train full-time. Later, individuals may go on to a university that offers a dance major; others may opt for conservatory training. Conservatories may offer a BFA or an MFA in dance.

Director/producer

Directors work in stage, film, television, radio and other types of performing arts media. In film and theater, directors are responsible for the overall design and feeling of a production. They often hire actors, interpret the script and work with lighting and set designers, makeup artists, cinematographers and others to help create the production. Producers and directors are expected to experience a 9% rate of job growth from 2014-2024--faster than the national average, per the BLS. These workers' median hourly wage was $32.91, which translated to roughly $68,440 annually.

Education Requirements

Some aspiring directors apply to university programs that offer theater programs, and some further their education by obtaining an MFA in directing. This degree allows for students to take courses as well as work on productions. Directing students may direct productions both in school and at nearby theaters.

A college or university program in your chosen profession is a good starting point no matter which performing art you want to pursue. Conservatories of drama or dance offer more specialized training and are also good places to build connections and a portfolio of work.

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