Careers in the performing arts

Careers in the performing arts
By Walter Ang
January 4, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

These days, everyone wants to become a famous TV or movie personality. Droves of young men and women audition for every televised singing competition under the stars with hopes of becoming a star themselves.

Of course, not everyone can be so lucky. If you can't act, sing nor dance, the first thing you have to do is accept and admit that you can't. It will make life easier for you. The second thing you nee to do is be happy because you can still be part of the wonderful world of performing arts by working backstage.

Yes, backstage. The TV and movie industries can be very lucrative, but why not consider doing theater work? It is an exciting art form and provides one of the best training grounds for people who wish to break into the above-mentioned worlds.

Backstage bosses
If you like ordering people around loudly, why not consider a career as a director? Of course, screaming and throwing chairs at actors as a method of directing has long since been passé, so you may need to find a different way of doing it. You'll also need to be very creative and insightful. You must bring to life a story that starts out on pages of paper. You need to guide your actors and collaborators in creating a good show for audiences to watch.

If you like ordering people around but are much more quiet about it (and if you aren't imaginative enough to be a director), then you can be a stage manager. This is one of the most important roles in theater that no one ever hears or knows about.

A stage manager has a copy of the script with all the directions, exits and entrances of the actors as well as all the lighting cues, music cues, set change cues and, occasionally, explosion cues (if the show uses pyrotechnics). He or she "calls" the show, cueing everyone and everything. When the director is not around, the stage manager is the boss.

Plays with one or two actors are the easiest to stage manage. But if you're really good, you may be asked to stage manage something like the opening ceremony of the Olympics and you can just imagine how much that will pay. But if you're not super organized and have nerves of steel (to calmly fix the occasional missed cue that may cause the entire show to freeze), good luck!

Artistic collaborators
Now, if you're more of a team player and enjoy collaborating with other like-minded people, you can either be a set designer, a costume designer or a props designer. The one great thing about theater is that your college degree is inconsequential. That being said, of course, those of you who took up (or are taking up) architecture, interior design and fine arts can have a slight edge in the design department.

Engineering (electrical, mechanical and whatever-al) or physics majors may have an easier time with the "design" of technical stuff like lighting design and ensuring that the set designer's multi-level stage design can actually withstand a troop of actors bouncing up and down on it.

If you unfortunately had an umbrella open when God was showering the world with the gift of imagination and creativity, perhaps you are good with your hands? The designers need skilled craftspeople to bring their designs to life. Seamstresses, props makers, carpenters, and the like are very important cogs in the machinery of a show. You can't expect the lead actress of a splashy musical to mend her own gowns now, do you?

The biz in showbiz
Now what about the business, marketing and accountancy majors? If becoming a corporate drone leaves you quivering with fear, then consider running the "business" part of "showbusiness."

Every show needs a good producer or production manager to handle the money, making sure that the director's request for another elephant doesn't eat up the remaining budget to pay for the actors' salaries.

The show will actually need seed money to get things rolling. If you were tasked to look for sponsors for your school org's activities back in school and were pretty good at it, you can still keep on doing that for a living by finding funding for a show. If you're good with English, you can even be a grant-application writer. It'll be your job to look for foundations or companies that give out grants and write a proposal that will hopefully convince them to let your show have a slice of their pies.

And of course, once rehearsals are under way but before the curtains can go up, the show will need sales agents (okay, the nice term is "sales associate" or "associates for audience development"). Who else brings in those troves of buses filled with students to watch the play? What's nice is, if you meet your quota, you can usually get a commission.

Posters, souvenir programs and press releases need to be prepared, so the marketing people get to stretch their muscles in this department. How do you promote Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"? Tell people it's about two sex-crazed teenagers who fall in love and then commit suicide. What about Puccini's "Madam Butterfly"? A Japanese teenager is so ashamed when she gets pregnant by her American lover who dumps her that she commits suicide. Sex and death can sell anything!

So take a chance with the wonderful, crazy world of theater. You have a chance to make art. You have a chance to make people happy. You can make them see something they've never seen before. You have a chance to make a difference, even for just a few hours, in the audiences' lives. And while actors don't always get picked for the next show, every show will always need backstage staff.