Known to be extremely competitive, you'll need more than genuine talent to break into a career in the performing arts. Discover the key skills you need to succeed in this popular industry
The performing arts primarily focus on dance, drama, music and theatre. Design and production roles also fall under this umbrella, with many institutions and performing arts schools providing courses in production lighting, stage and prop design, costume construction and stage management. With the right experience and qualifications, moving into teaching and tutoring is an option.
Jobs in the field include:
Talent can only take you so far when making your name in this industry - you'll also need the following attributes.
Acting, dancing, playing or singing in front of other people can be incredibly nerve wracking. As you're displaying your talent and inviting judgement, stepping onto a stage and performing in front of an audience requires a huge amount of confidence and self-esteem. In these situations it's natural to feel a certain degree of nerves, but as a professional performer you need to harness and use these nerves to better your performance.
Those who aspire to work in the wider industry, perhaps in a technical or management role, will face stiff competition. A confident, can-do attitude will help you stand out in job interviews and may help in securing work experience.
If your self-confidence needs a bit of a boost there's plenty you can do. Join university clubs or societies or local groups such as choirs, orchestras, dance or amateur dramatics groups. You could also consider entering local or regional competitions or talent contests to build your confidence. On a smaller scale, part-time work in a customer-facing role can really help your communication skills and self-esteem.
The ability to network and market yourself
Lots of people working in the performing arts are self-employed, and actors, dancers, singers and musicians all need to audition to secure work, so it's vital that you're able to sell and market your abilities to potential employers.
To get your name recognised and to help secure future work, you'll need to employ your networking skills in order to make as many industry connections as possible. Join professional associations and attend industry events, sign up for classes, workshops and short courses to meet likeminded people and follow relevant casting directors, dance companies, choreographers, musical directors and repertory and commercial theatres on social media. Many of the best jobs are attained through connections and knowing the right person at the right time can pay dividends.
Resilience, self-discipline and stamina
Due to the competitive and highly-skilled nature of the industry, it's likely that those working within performing arts - even those in technical or managerial roles - will experience rejection at some point in their career. Similarly, they'll also receive criticism in some form, at some stage. To cope with these challenges, resilience and tenacity are essential. You need to be able to use these experiences to hone and develop your craft and bounce back better than before.
This is where self-discipline and stamina come in useful. Performers are required to work long hours during rehearsals and in the run up to a show and are expected to give 100% to every performance. Much of your time will be spent practising and improving, and the work can take its toll both mentally and physically - especially on performers who work additional jobs to pay the bills.
An analytical mind and the ability to self-reflect
Perhaps not the most obvious skill, but those working in the industry need an analytical mind. If you're involved in drama you'll need to be able to scrutinize and interpret a role and script, while dancers need to be able to break down and analyse choreography, and musicians need to be able to dissect and interpret a piece of music. You also need to be able to apply these skills to your own work when critically analysing your performances.
You can develop this skill by reviewing university or professional productions, concerts and recitals for academic publications, local media or industry magazines.
Performers need to adapt and apply their skills and talent to a variety or roles, genres, techniques and styles. For example, actors may be cast as a hero in one role and a villain in the next, while dancers may be required to perform classical ballet for one job and street dance the week after.
The majority of those working in performing arts also have portfolio careers, often subsidising their salary by taking a second or third job, typically in teaching, arts administration or other technical roles, so adaptability and flexibility come in useful when maintaining multiple jobs and switching between roles.
Flexibility is essentially about being able to multitask, and working part time during your studies will give you lots of practice as you work to juggle university, work and personal commitments.
The performing arts are a collaborative effort between many different people, so the ability to work well with others is vital. There are many different people, in a variety of roles, involved in creating a successful show, play, broadcast, concert or recital, so performers must be able to interact and communicate with a range of people.
Organisation and time management
Successful performers are often required to work on more than one project at once and work schedules can become hectic. Strong organisation and time management skills are therefore a must. Your day-to-day role may involve attending multiple auditions, keeping track of rehearsal timetables, travel arrangements, promotional engagements and performance times. You may also need to juggle a second or third job.
Find out more
- Discover what you can do with a degree in performing arts.
- Search for postgraduate courses in performing arts.
- Gain an insight into the creative arts and design sector.
- Learn more about creative jobs.
- Find out how to get a creative job.