The ultimate 2024 drama career guide

The drama and performing arts industry is a creative playground where you can unleash your imagination and express yourself freely. If you're passionate about storytelling, drama provides a platform to bring characters to life through performance, scriptwriting, and directing. It's a place where your uniqueness is celebrated, making it an ideal career choice if you have a flair for creativity and a desire to make an impact. Drama graduates have the opportunity to choose a variety of career paths in the performing arts, from acting to directing, to media and entertainment and so much more. Studying a drama degree will help you to find where you belong, and is an exciting journey with endless possibilities for growth and self-discovery. Drama at Essex is the perfect place to embrace your passion for the arts.

This ultimate career guide is covering what experience you need to get into the theatre industry, whether a degree is worth it, careers you can go into with a drama degree, how your skills can apply to other industries, and the various ways you can earn an income as a drama graduate.

1. Do you need experience for a career in the theatre industry?

Experience is essential when entering the drama and theatre industry. Whilst it's not a strict requirement to have a degree, a drama degree will serve as a stepping stone to entering the theatre industry by providing you with the necessary training, exposure, and connections to kickstart your career. Most roles will require extensive experience, especially for certain roles like acting, directing, or stage management, and a drama degree gives you an excellent foundation to gain the practical experience and skills that are highly sought after in the industry.

2. Is a drama degree worth it?

Choosing to study a degree is an entirely personal decision, but here at Essex we're firm believers in the transformative power of a drama education.

Picture this:

Imagine being mentored by acclaimed playwrights and theatre professionals who've walked the very path you aspire to tread. Imagine being invited to hands-on workshops led by industry experts, watching performances, and getting involved in collaborative projects with theatre companies and local organisations. Imagine watching your very own performance come to life on the stage of the Lakeside Theatre right on campus. Your modules will inspire you to write scripts for stage and screen, to direct actors for film and stage, and to develop your technical skills in design, lighting and stage management. Every moment on an Essex degree is a chance for self discovery, boosting your confidence, and building invaluable connections with experts across the industry.

There's more: you'll get the chance to secure coveted internships, placements, and experience practical modules that will launch you into the heart of the theatre scene. You could work with drama companies, production teams, or community groups, freely explore what part of the industry you're most passionate about, and gain that real-world experience that will prepare you for success in the competitive graduate jobs market.

In case you needed another reason to consider pursuing a drama degree, we're also the proud home of industry recognised East 15 Acting School, where our notable alumni have graced England's leading stages and screens, winning prestigious Olivier, BAFTA, and Effie awards, and featuring on popular Netflix and TV shows such as 'Doctor Who', 'Sex Education', 'Eastenders', 'Coronation Street', 'Ted Lasso', 'The Inbetweeners', and 'It's a Sin' (to name a few..).

So, if you're still wondering whether a drama degree is worth it, we recommend taking a look at our notable alumni, exploring all of our courses, and know that whether you hope to have a career that's under the spotlight, behind the scenes, or on the silver screen, Essex is your launching pad into the exciting world of theatre and the arts.


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3. What jobs can you get with a drama degree?

A drama degree equips you with a diverse set of skills that can be applied to various careers within and beyond the performing arts industry.

Here are 17 careers you can pursue with a drama degree:

  1. Actor/Actress: Perform on the worlds best stages and screens across theatre, film, and television.
  2. Dramaturg: Provide literary and historical context for theatrical productions and support playwrights.
  3. Playwright: Write scripts for theatrical productions, film, television, or digital media platforms.
  4. Drama Therapist: Use drama techniques to facilitate therapeutic interventions and improve mental health.
  5. Producer: Oversee the creative and financial aspects of theatrical, film, or television productions.
  6. Stage Manager: Coordinate rehearsals and oversee backstage operations during performances.
  7. Lighting Designer: Create and implement the lighting design for stage productions. 
  8. Set Designer: Design and create sets.
  9. Costume Designer: Design and create costumes for actors and performers.
  10. Sound Designer: Design and manage sound effects.
  11. Casting Director: Select actors for roles.
  12. Director: Lead artistic vision and direction.
  13. Voice Actor: Provide voices for characters in animation, video games, audiobooks, or adverts.
  14. Dialect Coach: Assist actors with accents and dialects for performances in various productions.
  15. Theatre Educator: Teach drama and theatre arts in schools, colleges, or community organisations.
  16. Agent/Manager: Represent actors, directors, or other performers and negotiate contracts and opportunities.
  17. Theatre Critic: Write reviews and analyse theatrical productions for newspapers, magazines, or websites.

4. Alternative roles and industries where you can apply your skills

If your interests are within the theatre, film, and television industry but the stage and film sets aren't quite your calling, your degree will provide you with a strong set of skills that you can apply to other roles and industries.

Here are 10 alternative sectors you can consider a career in:

  1. Arts Administration: Work in arts organisations, theatres, or cultural institutions to manage operations, programming, fundraising, and outreach efforts.
  2. Event Management: Plan and organise events such as theatrical productions, festivals, conferences, or corporate gatherings.
  3. Education and Training: Teach drama, acting, or performing arts in schools, drama academies, community centers, or as private tutors.
  4. Media and Entertainment: Write for film, television, radio, or digital media platforms, as well as working in production, casting, or talent management.
  5. Marketing and Public Relations: Promote theatrical productions, arts events, or cultural organisations through marketing campaigns, public relations strategies, and audience engagement initiatives.
  6. Tourism and Hospitality: Develop entertainment programmes, immersive experiences, or live performances for hotels, resorts, theme parks, cruise ships, and tourist attractions.
  7. Community Engagement: Collaborate with local communities to develop and deliver arts-based projects, outreach programmes, or cultural initiatives.
  8. Digital Content Creation: Produce digital content such as podcasts, web series, online tutorials, or interactive storytelling experiences.
  9. Creative Writing: Build on your experience with scriptwriting and storytelling, you can pursue careers as content writers, copywriters, or freelance writers, creating engaging content for various media platforms.
  10. Arts Journalism and Criticism: Write reviews, features, or commentary on theatrical performances, arts events, or cultural trends for newspapers, magazines, websites, or blogs.

5. How you can you earn money within the drama and theatre industry?

There are many ways you can earn money as a drama graduate. How you earn money will depend on the avenue you pursue. Some roles will provide a stable and steady income through employment, whereas others may require you to secure funding, or manage your own finances. Whilst employment can be preferable to some, others may choose a freelance route that provides a higher earning potential.

Here are 10 ways you can earn money within the drama and theatre industry:

1. Employed Positions:

  • Acting in theatre productions, film, television, or adverts on a contractual basis
  • Teaching drama, acting, or related subjects in schools, universities, or community centers on a full-time or part-time basis.
  • Working as a director, producer, stage manager, technician, or administrator in theatres, production companies, or arts organisations.
  • Working in talent and casting agencies to connect performers with job opportunities in the entertainment industry.

2. Self-Employed/Freelance

  • Freelance acting in various productions, including theatre, film, television, voiceovers, and corporate videos.
  • Directing independent theatre productions or short films on a project basis.
  • Offering private coaching or workshops in acting, audition preparation, or public speaking.
  • Providing services as a scriptwriter, playwright, or dramaturg on a freelance basis.
  • Working as a freelance designer, technician, or consultant in areas such as set design, lighting design, sound engineering, or costume design.
  • Writing books, articles, or blogs about theatre, acting techniques, or the performing arts industry.
  • Providing consulting services to theatre companies, arts organisations, or educational institutions on matters such as programming, marketing, or audience development.
  • Developing and licensing theatrical works, scripts, or musical compositions for productions, adaptations, or performances.

3. Entrepreneurship

  • Starting a theatre company or production company to produce original works, classic plays, or experimental performances.
  • Creating and monetizing online courses, tutorials, or webinars related to acting techniques, theatre history, or performance skills.
  • Establishing a drama school, acting studio, or performing arts academy to offer training programs and workshops.

4. Non-Governmental Organisaitons (NGOs) and Charities

  • Grants and Funding: NGOs and charities often secure grants and funding from governmental bodies, private foundations, or philanthropic organisations to support their activities. Employees may be paid through these funds.
  • Government Contracts: NGOs can enter into contracts with government agencies to deliver specific services or programmes. A budget is usually provided as part of the contract to pay for employees working on the project.
  • Fundraising Events: Events such as charity auctions or fundraising campaigns generate revenue for NGOs. Employees involved in organising and managing these events may receive compensation for their work.

5. Playwright in Residence:

  • Residency Stipend: Playwrights in residence may receive a stipend or salary from the hosting institution or organisation. This could be a theatre company, a university, a cultural center, or a government agency dedicated to the arts.
  • Commission Fees: Playwrights may earn money through commissions to write new plays or adapt existing works for specific productions. These commissions can come from theatres, festivals, or arts organisations.
  • Royalties: If a playwright's work is performed publicly, they may receive royalties based on ticket sales or licensing agreements. These royalties provide ongoing income whenever the play is produced.
  • Teaching or Workshops: Playwrights may add to their income by teaching playwriting workshops, seminars, or courses at educational institutions, community centers, or arts organisations.

6. Education and research

  • Contractual Teaching Salary: Professors, lecturers, and instructors in drama and performing arts departments at universities and colleges receive salaries for their teaching duties.
  • Contractual Departmental Administration: You might choose to work in an administrative position within a drama department or performing arts institutions, such as programme coordinators, or student advisors.
  • Grant Administration: Education institutions and funding bodies have contracted roles which involve managing and overseeing grant funds and compliance.
  • Research Grants: Some academic staff may secure research grants from funding bodies to conduct scholarly research in areas related to drama and performing arts. These grants can provide additional income and support for research activities. (Many of your lecturers here at Essex regularly apply to funding bodies such as The British Academy and the Arts And Humanities Research Council to fund their own research, so you're in the best place to learn from experts).
  • Research Fellowships: Universities and research institutions may offer fellowships or postdoctoral positions in drama and performing arts research. Fellows typically receive stipends or salaries for their research contributions.
  • Research assistants: Graduate students or early-career researchers may work as research assistants on projects led by senior academics. They may receive wages or stipends for their research support.
  • Book Royalties: Academics who publish books, monographs, or edited volumes related to drama and performing arts may earn royalties from book sales.
  • Journal Articles: Authors of scholarly articles in academic journals may receive a fees for their work particularly in cases where the journal is open-access or offers author compensation.

To get an idea of what roles in education and research look like, you can always browse our very own vacancies here at Essex. As a proud research-led institution, we've got skilled teams across professional services and academia who support our research development.

The takeaway

Whether you're drawn to the spotlight or prefer to work behind the scenes, from acting and directing to playwriting and production, the possibilities are endless for drama graduates. You'll have the opportunity to explore a myriad of career paths within the performing arts industry, each offering its own unique rewards and challenges. So if you're ready to dive in and join us, know that at Essex, we pride ourselves on nurturing the next generation of theatrical trailblazers, providing a platform where passion meets purpose, and your dreams become reality.

Hear from our Essex drama lead

Proffessor Liz Kuti is our Essex drama lead, and professional playwright for theatre and radio who teaches on our flagship BA Drama. Here's what she has to say about what it's like to study a drama degree at the University of Essex.

“Our Drama degree opens the door to a wide range of graduate careers. The skills you’ll gain in teamwork, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, communication and literacy, meeting deadlines and performing confidently under pressure, are all highly sought after by employers. Drama graduates from Essex have followed careers not just in directing, acting, stage management, technical theatre, wardrobe and theatre administration, but in journalism, education, medicine, broadcasting, media, business, and across many professions.”

Professor Liz Kuti, Senior Lecturer, Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, University of Essex.


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