So, being center stage in the spotlight during the eleven o’clock number isn’t your thing. Instead, your calling is creating the art the actors onstage can then live in for a few hours. Whether you want to work with costumes, sets, props, sound, lights, makeup, hair or any other technical aspects of theatre, here are some steps to getting those coveted behind-the-scenes jobs and how to climb the ladder to eventually work on Broadway:
Learn Your Trade and Get Work Experience
Perhaps you have just graduated high school and are entering college. Perhaps you are changing your career to pursue your first love of being a backstage technician. Either way, you may be wondering how to build a resume and get experience if no one will hire you without it.
The answer is simple. If you are in school, work in the theatre department. Delve into any and all aspects you can. That work experience counts, since everyone has to start somewhere. Also, take the time to ask your teachers and professors about their lives in the theatre, what they enjoy about it and how they have built up their resumes.
If you aren’t in school or your school doesn’t offer theatre education, seek out local theatres in your area. Many need volunteers or have internships, apprentice/mentorship programs or production assistants. All of these are geared toward those with little to no experience. Show your interest through an application phone call or written inquiry. Then, get in there and start working. Those entry-level positions and internships could lead to a very lucrative career with that theatre if they like you and your work. Who knows, a paid position may open up and you might be able to put yourself in the running for it.
Also, remember many theatres bring in artists and designers from across the country you can work directly with. It’s possible you may start to develop a successful working relationship with one or more of them. In turn, this newfound connection may allow you to be put in the mix for when a job opens up at another theatre company they are affiliated with. You just never know! If nothing else, you build up your resume, network and overall skill set to apply for bigger jobs.
Get Those Resumes Out
Is your skill set up to the professional level? Do you have the hands-on experience and theatre credits to book regular backstage work?
Your next step is to format a clean, concise and clear resume listing all your experience. Get someone to help you if you don’t know how, or find sample resumes online with your similar skill sets and copy their formatting. Once your resume is complete and you have a professional cover letter stating your interests, it’s time to start applying for paid jobs.
Watch notices daily on Backstage and Playbill. These two sites are the go-to spots for backstage theatre job postings throughout the country. Be bold and brave and see which theatres bite once you send out your resume.
Connect With Your Local Unions
Have the skill set and resume and are working in your local performing arts scene? The next step in the career ladder of a backstage artist eventually moving toward Broadway is to consider joining your applicable IATSE union.
Wardrobe, sound, stagehands, hair, makeup, etc., all have union locals in cities nationwide. Joining is a great stepping stone to a lifetime in the theatre as a backstage professional. Not only is being a union member a must for working on Broadway, but it can be your opening to higher-paying work, as well as protection against workplace mistreatment/injury and great long-term benefits such as health insurance and money for retirement.
The Broadway touring shows that travel from city to city all use union stagehands who are based in the local city in which the show is playing. Many professional regional houses also use stagehands. Visit or call your local union for more information about requirements, how to join and how to apply for positions.
The Bright Lights of Broadway
You’ve built up your experience and resume to the level of a solid working paid professional and you’ve perhaps joined your city’s local union. You’ve moved to the Big Apple and are now dying to get to work in one of those beautiful theatres along 42nd Street. What do you do?
First, visit your New York City union office to join or see whether you can transfer your membership from your previous city to the New York one. Once you are a member (and in some cases, registered), you can start to look for work on the Great White Way.
Broadway job openings aren’t really announced, so you have to be smart and have some strategy when getting your resume out there. First, ask the union how to best apply for jobs in your field, since your membership may get you access to contact lists and job openings.
Second, do resume/cover letter drop-offs at the stage door of theatres addressed to the specific supervisor you want to hire you. This information can be found at the union or on the back of the Playbill you get when you see a show.
Third, ask someone in your field on Broadway to refer you. This referral may come from someone you worked with in the past or someone you’ve met while on the job hunt or even in your social life.
Fourth, keep working! The New York market offers plenty of opportunities both Off-Broadway and beyond. Keep working and meeting people. You might be surprised how many of those gigs or connections can help take you to Broadway as well.
No matter what, don’t give up. Your Broadway gig might not happen right away, but if you are professional, proactive, passionate and pervasive, it’s bound to happen one day.