Working Backstage Can Pay the Bills

It’s important that folks coming into the arts know that there IS money to be made here.

While we get a bad rap about not being able to make ends meet, in fact, I’ve personally been making money in this industry for over 20 years and many of my friends and associates have been making money here for even longer.

Here’s the small print:

Be teachable, motivated, likeable, and ON TIME!

On time means you’re 15 minutes early for a call, btw.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, here’s a short list that you can share with anyone you know who is having a hard time deciding whether a career backstage is worthwhile.

IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, etc, etc) – As a card holder since 2001, I would be remiss not to mention this organization.  We embrace new technicians, provide learning opportunities, and even help establish benefits like annuities and health coverage. You definitely need to talk to someone in your network who is part of IATSE and see how you can get involved.

Touring – You want to see the country or see the world?  There are plenty of organizations who are looking for folks to take onnational and international tours in all areas of backstage and production expertise.

A good resource to start the search is

Local Theatre – There are plenty of local, community, and regional theatres out there and they’re all looking for help.  Volunteer if that’s what it takes to get your foot in the door. My first gig was as a stage manager for a community theater organization for $100 for 6 weeks.  That led me to be stage manager/TD for another production, which led me to getting regular higher paying work. Look around your area for those theatres and say “hi”.

Corporate/Event Services – I’ve gone back and forth between for profit and non-profit.  The fact is, there is a ton of work in for profit work with event companies like wedding planners, design/build firms, and even government entities.  The key to getting in with these organizations is networking and awareness. Don’t be shy but don’t be too pushy. If you’re good on your gig (likeable, teachable, motivated, and on time), you’ll shine and people will take notice.  Ask folks around you what gigs they have coming up next. 

Admin – An aspect of the arts that is often overlooked but represents quite an open area for employment, is the administrative side.  Admin can mean marketing, human resources, development, and other leadership positions that keep the production moving. DO NOT UNDERVALUE THE ROLE OF MANAGEMENT WHEN IT COMES TO THE ARTS!!

This may be your biggest “in” within the industry simply because you understand the big picture.

A mentor of mine put it quite simply; “Board ops are a dime a dozen, but the the people who can understand the full picture from a 20,000 foot perspective are treasures.”

I hope this helps and I welcome any positive feedback or comments.

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