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Lifestyle & Wellbeing
Theatre audience applauding at the end of a show

Image credit: Vlah Dumitru / Unsplash

The pros and cons of working in a theatre as your acting side job, including networking opportunities and flexibility for attending auditions

Whatever stage you’re at in your career, there’s no shame in having a side hustle. Taking a job waiting tables, working nine to five in an office, or making coffee is a good way of earning a little extra money as you wait for your big break in Waitress, 9 to 5 or Barista – The Musical! (I might have made one of those up). Plus, the service industry is flexible enough to withstand someone rushing off to auditions at all hours of the day.

However, there is another way. You’re an actor, right? Looking to meet other creatives, make connections, possibly even get spotted by a casting director. Why not just go straight to the source and work in a theatre? There are, perhaps unsurprisingly, many actors who do just that!

I’ve worked in front-of-house and retail roles at a theatre for a couple of years now. During that time, I’ve gotten to know many budding actors who have spent their quieter periods tearing tickets, working the tills, and corralling audiences in everything from pub theatres to West End institutions. These jobs can be not just a vital source of temporary income, but an opportunity to network, meet like-minded people, and get involved in new projects.

Should you work in a theatre? Well, as with all jobs, it has its benefits and drawbacks. Here’s what I’ve learned about working in a theatre as an actor:

Pro: It’s a Networking Opportunity

Going to auditions, being sent on calls by agents and being listed on Spotlight are all certified routes to getting acting work. But even if your self-tapes are on point, having an existing relationship with directors, producers and casting directors can help your chances immeasurably. One of the major bonuses to working in a theatre is that you can network without even really trying!

In front-of-house theatre roles, you’re likely to make contact with those on the creative side of the company simply through doing your job. Knowing the artistic director’s regular coffee order or striking up a conversation with the stage manager could be enough to set you apart from the competition when you go up for jobs. You might also be included in internal casting calls and other job opportunities.

Con: It’s Time Consuming

The work-life balance is a tricky tightrope to walk, especially when you have one job subsidising another. When you’re looking to kickstart your acting career whilst working full time, it can be hard to tell where your work life ends and your actual life begins. Between paying the bills, commissioning new headshots and trying to have a social life on top of pursuing your acting work, it can start to feel like you’re leaving very little time for yourself.

Working in a theatre can sometimes mean long or unsociable hours. The time your friends are out painting the town red tends to align with showtime, and on slow days you might be cursing the staged reading you missed out on whilst sweeping the stalls for the umpteenth time.

Pro: It’s a Flexible Job

Ducking out of your standard nine to five job so you can go to an audition is manageable the first couple of times you do it. Most supervisors aren’t going to bat an eyelid at an upset stomach, dentist’s appointment, or legitimate request to ‘work from home’ every once in a blue moon. Even if you’re well versed in the art of improv, coming up with a decent excuse after a dozen short-notice callbacks becomes an issue.

This isn’t the case when you work in a theatre. With the exception of those pesky matinees, you’ll mostly be working evenings. A lot of theatres offer varying contracts, where you can adjust your availability to work depending on when you’re free. There’s also usually an understanding that you and your colleagues are all treating the job as a side hustle, with many theatre jobs having provisions for extended breaks for tours and last-minute shift-swapping already in place.

Con: It Might Ruin the Magic

You know the saying: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s one of those clichés that’s actually true. Spending all your time devoted to one singular pursuit can lead to disappointment or, at the very least, exhaustion. That’s easier said than done when every day you’re riding the tube to work at a theatre, after a long night reading scripts, attending classes or hanging out with other friends in the industry.

Spending a significant amount of your time in a theatre and, crucially, in a role that doesn’t involve acting has the potential to really take the bloom off the rose. You have to be careful that the occasional drudgery and obligation of going to work doesn’t negatively affect your great passion for the arts.

Pro: You’re Working with Other Creatives

If you’ve just left drama school, the world of work can be a rude awakening. After however many years of training, studying, being completely immersed in your craft and surrounded by like-minded individuals, you’re suddenly cast out into a world where not everyone wants to debate the finer points of the Stanislavski method, or willingly join you in a rough-and-ready production of The Dumb Waiter.

There’s a good chance your working colleagues at the theatre will also be actors. Instead of having to try and explain your long-term goals to people who don’t want to hear it, you’re with people who will listen, support, and celebrate your successes when they come. And until then, they’re probably much more likely to run lines and sing along to show tunes with you in the break room.

Tom Baker is a freelance writer and ex-theatre employee based in East London. His work has appeared everywhere from film magazines to product descriptions of shampoo to the course pages of major universities. He’s heard most of the Doctor Who jokes about his name, but precious little riffing on Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).