Being a theatre manager carries a lot of responsibility and you'll need to have previous work experience and a passion for the arts to succeed

As a theatre manager, you'll have a diverse role that oversees the smooth operational running of the theatre. Tasks can range from coordinating the programme calendar and attracting donations to increasing the theatre's visibility in the community and managing its budget.

The exact responsibility you have will typically depend on the size of the venue. In some smaller theatres you may need to manage all aspects of the operation whereas in larger venues, you may be in charge of one area such as finance or marketing.

You'll typically manage staff from the box office to back stage and will be involved in their recruitment and training. Customer care is also a crucial part of the role and you'll need to make sure the public get the most out of their experience when visiting the theatre. Office administration, financial management and advertising are also all important functions of the job.

Responsibilities

As a theatre manager, you'll need to:

  • develop, implement and review the theatre's overall business plan
  • plan and book a theatre programme by considering audience appeal, balance of different production types, success of productions and new work by reputable companies
  • have involvement in the commissioning of new pieces of work
  • monitor and evaluate the delivery of the theatre programme to ensure it meets the needs of the overall business plan
  • manage the budget and ensure you meet the financial and operational targets of the theatre
  • lead a team of theatre staff, who may be involved in areas such as marketing, finance and administration
  • oversee training and development needs of staff
  • liaise closely with the theatre's board of directors
  • ensure that the theatre meets the requirements of legislation such as health and safety and licensing laws (theatre managers may act as licensees) and safeguarding children arrangements
  • attend marketing meetings and undertake marketing activities for upcoming productions and to enhance the theatre's visibility and image
  • plan resources effectively and provide strong leadership to develop the theatre's role in providing a cultural hub
  • negotiate with any charities and funding bodies providing financial backing and look to secure future donations as well as corporate and individual sponsorships or funding
  • develop partnership working and links with local industry and communities, educational organisations, relevant bodies and the public and encourage engagement in artistic activities
  • keep in touch with other theatre managers and producers in order to stay up to date with developments and new productions.

Salary

  • Salaries vary depending on the size and location of the theatre, but you can expect something in the region of £18,000 to £23,000 as a starting point.
  • With experience, it's possible to progress to salaries of £23,000 to £30,000.
  • Salaries for senior managers are typically around £45,000, rising in some circumstances to £50,000 plus. Salaries at the top end of the scale tend to be for managers in the larger theatres, where you'll have responsibility for many functions.

There are no set pay scales for this role. You may start by working in the front of house at a small theatre and then progress to larger venues and usually better pay. A good reputation in the theatre world may mean that you can negotiate your own salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Due to theatre opening times, working hours are generally varied and unsocial. You'll be expected to carry out weekend and evening work as part of your usual schedule.

Many jobs are full time and you'll be employed by the theatre company, sometimes on a fixed-term contract. There are also opportunities for freelance consultancy work.

What to expect

  • The work is office based, but often involves a number of off-site meetings.
  • Most opportunities to work in the larger theatres are based in cities, especially London. There are, however, smaller community theatre companies around the UK which also offer management positions. Being able to work in different areas or move around the country is usually essential for developing your career, especially in the early stages.
  • The job involves a large amount of responsibility and is often dependent on an uncertain theatre income. Growth in legislation, particularly concerned with health and safety and employment, has added to the pressure.
  • Those who work in theatre are often passionate about their role and are prepared to give much of their own time.
  • There is some travel involved both locally and nationally, which may include some overnight stays.

Qualifications

It’s often possible to become a theatre manager with a degree in any subject, but some employers may look for one in a related area such as:

  • arts administration
  • arts management
  • business studies/management
  • drama/theatre studies.

It's also possible to enter the profession with an HND or foundation degree. Relevant subjects include:

  • arts in the community
  • creative/performing arts
  • drama/theatre studies.

Entry without a degree/HND/foundation degree may be possible if you have substantial practical theatre experience, as this along with dedication and enthusiasm are rated highly by employers.

Postgraduate study is not essential, although if you have an unrelated degree you may consider taking a postgraduate course in arts administration to build on your knowledge. However, it's worth checking employers' requirements beforehand.

Search for postgraduate courses in arts management.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication skills for dealing with the public, staff and related companies
  • strong organisational abilities
  • business acumen for making sure the theatre is profitable
  • leadership abilities to manage and motivate staff
  • marketing skills for productions and the theatre in general
  • team work skills as well as the ability to work alone
  • attention to detail to make sure all aspects of the theatre run smoothly
  • flexibility and the ability to juggle competing priorities
  • creative problem-solving skills to deal with issues that may relate to HR, finance or something to do with the production
  • the ability to work well under pressure in a fast-paced environment.

To progress into theatre management, you also need to demonstrate that you're dedicated, determined and resilient.

Work experience

It's important that you have previous work experience in an arts setting, as most theatre companies expect to see evidence of at least some of the following:

  • voluntary or paid work at a theatre, for example in an administration role - even work in the theatre bar or box office may be useful
  • work shadowing in a theatre or arts setting
  • membership of a theatre group
  • experience of performing in or managing stage productions, either on the artistic or technical side
  • experience in an arts management role
  • involvement in theatre work through your university or college.

To help break into this career, get involved in the theatre as much as possible. Go and see as many productions as you can and talk to the people who have developed them.

Gain experience in working with performing artists and keep up to date with what's going on in the theatre industry, on a national and local level. Reading industry press, such as The Stage, can help with this.

Employers

There are two main types of theatre in the UK. These are repertory theatres, which have a resident company producing its own work and presenting plays from a repertoire, and non-repertory or receiving theatres that buy in plays and other productions.

Typical employers include:

  • arts centres
  • dance companies
  • London's West End theatres
  • national theatres
  • opera companies
  • regional theatres.

Look for job vacancies at:

Individual theatres may put job adverts on their own websites so check those that you're interested in.

Some jobs are filled by word of mouth (reputations become known in theatre circles) or by advertisements appearing in in-house publications. Look out for alternative job titles or jobs which include the management of specific areas within a theatre, for example:

  • administration/programme manager
  • box office manager
  • general manager
  • house/front of house manager.

Professional development

Training is generally on the job and there's no specific method or structured course of training that is followed in every theatre. Most training is informal, although occasional in-house courses may be provided.

You may be given the chance to complete external training such as the seminars and courses that are run by UK Theatre. These are available in areas such as:

  • business and finance
  • customer service
  • deaf and disability access
  • health and safety
  • negotiating skills
  • management and leadership
  • press, PR and marketing.

UK Theatre also runs a mentoring programme that can help with your professional development and enhance your skills and hosts networking events where you can meet other arts professionals.

Reading the specialist press, for example The Stage and UK Theatre Magazine, helps you to keep up to date with the latest news and opinion affecting the profession and can be useful for anticipating future career opportunities.

Some higher education institutions offer postgraduate courses in arts management or arts administration on a part-time or distance learning basis, allowing you to take the qualification while working. This can give you extra knowledge for the job or help with career progression.

Career prospects

You won't normally go straight into a theatre manager post. Instead it's more likely that you'll work your way up through a range of roles in theatres, including managing specific functions, such as front of house. There are many different routes in, for example through marketing, administration or technical experience.

You may gain an assistant management post before working your way up to general manager.

You can expect to spend between two and five years in your first management job to gain experience. It's then likely that you'll move on to a larger theatre or different type of organisation in order to develop the skills and expertise you need to progress in your career.

Career development usually depends on having experience, skills and an established reputation. This reputation can be enhanced by:

  • the artistic and financial success of productions
  • reviews in the media
  • a network of industry contacts
  • awards received from within the theatre industry.

You may also gain experience by accepting fixed-term contracts or project work opportunities, perhaps related to developing a new venue or organising a particular event or festival.

With experience, opportunities to move into freelance consultancy work may open up possibly within arts administration or cultural development.

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