If you've got a passion for the theatre and have excellent leadership and organisational skills, the role of theatre manager could be for you
As a theatre manager, you'll have responsibility for the smooth operational running of the theatre, ensuring it functions effectively and within budget. You'll typically manage staff, resources and systems and may also be responsible for leading on marketing and publicity activities.
You'll recruit and manage staff from the box office to back stage and will be responsible for HR processes such as training. Customer care is also a crucial part of the role to ensure the public get the most out of their experience when visiting the theatre.
Your role will vary depending on the size of the venue. In smaller theatres, you may be responsible for all of the areas mentioned above. However, in larger venues you may just be involved in one aspect, while other managers take responsibility for specific sections such as finance or HR.
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 applying your knowledge of audiences, ensuring a balance between different types of productions, being aware of which productions have been well received elsewhere and accepting new work offered by reputable production companies
- liaise and negotiate with production companies to plan the programme of work
- get involved 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 for front of house and stage door 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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 £40,000, 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.
Due to theatre opening times, working hours are generally varied and unsocial. You'll be expected to carry out weekend and evening work.
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.
- Jobs are generally available in all parts of the UK, although most opportunities to work in the larger organisations are based in cities, especially London. There are, however, some opportunities in smaller community theatre companies around the UK. 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.
You can become a theatre manager with a degree in any subject, but the following may be particularly helpful:
- 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 as practical theatre experience, 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.
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication skills for dealing with the public, staff and other related companies
- strong organisational abilities
- business acumen for making sure the theatre is profitable
- leadership abilities to manage and motivate staff
- team work skills and 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.
It's important that you have previous work experience, 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.
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.
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.
Seminars and training courses are run by UK Theatre, 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 and host networking events where you can meet other arts professionals.
Reading the specialist press, for example The Stage and UK Theatre Magazine, helps keep you 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.
You won't normally go straight into a theatre manager post. You're more likely to work your way up through a range of work 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 enhance and develop the skills and expertise you need to progress in your career.
Progress 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.