How do you become a carpenter at a theatre company? What union does a box office staff belong to? When do most dancers get their big breaks? What kind of degree do you need to be a projection designer?
For three years, the Center Theatre Group team has been quietly populating a small corner of the internet with a veritable library of theatre career resources for students that answer these questions—and so much more. The project began as a video series featuring profiles of theatre professionals on the job. Now, students and educators all over the country have access to these videos and a variety of accompanying resources about the many career paths within the theatre arts. Welcome to the Center Theatre Group Working in Theatre portal.
The Working in Theatre portal is designed to help students, primarily high school and college students, start to think about the lifestyle they want to have in the arts. We could not find that information anywhere else, said Next Generation Initiatives Director Camille Schenkkan, who runs the program along with Center Theatre Group’s workforce development initiatives.
In training programs at the high school and college level, there is a strong focus on craft, but studying craft is very different from doing the actual work of it.
The entrance to the portal is a quiz designed to help students answer the question,
What’s your theatre career path? Questions about personality, artistic goals, and lifestyle lead students to three possible outcomes—independent artist, hybrid, or manager. Career examples are then provided for each personality type. A hybrid, for example, is a person who desires creativity as well as stability, and generally has a full- or part-time job with one organization while also taking on contract or independent work. Teaching artists (who often work at schools or theatre companies while also acting, writing, or directing) and design technicians (who often work full-time at one theatre or contract with a number of smaller theatres on a per-show basis) are two examples of hybrid positions.
What sets the portal apart from other theatre career videos or websites is many fold. The emphasis is not on jobs that are overtly visible—actor, playwright, and the like, although these are included—but rather on jobs that students may not realize exist. These include costume technicians, stage managers, and theatrical publicists. Raising awareness of these career paths can help diversify the people in them and ensure that there is a deep pool of talent for theatres to draw from.
For every four to six designers employed at the Mark Taper Forum, there are 30 to 40 technicians needed, but design programs rarely teach the craft of technical theatre, said Schenkkan.
Because of this and because there is so much demand for these types of jobs in the commercial entertainment industry, we’re facing a shortage of many theatre technicians, like costume drapers and technical directors, in Los Angeles. The first step in filling the gap is giving young people information about these jobs and the skills and knowledge they require.
The Working in Theatre portal is also rooted in equity, diversity, and inclusion.
We are trying to serve a city of 4 million people and with that comes great responsibility, said Director of Education Tyrone Davis.
That means making sure that whether a young person wants to be an actor, stage manager, or costume designer, they know that theatre is a place for them, theatre belongs to them, and there are more careers than the obvious ones.
But the portal is not just a service available to Los Angeles—it is free and accessible to all students and teachers with an internet connection. With downloadable lesson plans for educators, guides to internship and job applications, and more, the portal is built to serve anyone, anywhere, who wants to join the theatre family.