Careers In Culture

Live Performing Arts - What You Need to Do

Career Routes

On this page:

Get a head start on your live performing arts career

You may have a passion for plays. Maybe you love opera, circus or dance. Whatever area of the live performing arts you want to pursue, you have the choice of a wide range of occupations and career paths. Depending on your talents, interests and skills, you could be a creator, an interpretive artist, a technical worker or an administrator. The choice is up to you.

Whatever you career goal in the live performing arts, you'll find yourself in a very competitive job market. What is the best strategy to break in? How can you get started? Read on to find out how you can stand out from the crowd.

Network Your Way to Work

Most people get their first live performing arts job through a contact – an acquaintance who knows about an unadvertised job or where work can be found. How can you make these very important contacts? It's easier than you think. The answer is – make yourself visible. The only way people will know about you is because you're already working, either through your school projects or your volunteer work. Here are some tips to building a network:

  • Be an enthusiastic worker. If you're willing to try anything and enjoy what you're doing, people will remember you.
  • Be curious about others. Your network is not just about you. Have a genuine interest in what others do and enjoy learning fromthem.
  • Stay in touch. Relationships need constant work. Give your contacts a call now and then, and ask them how they're doing. Tell them what you're up to.

If you want to work in this field, learn as much as you can. For example:

Build Your Knowledge

Want to be a Performer?
Read about other performers, watch as many performances as you can, listen to singers and actors on tape, analyze what you've seen and heard.

Want to Work Behind the Scenes?
Be a live performance "junkie." Read plays and operas, see performances, notice sets and costumes, analyze the lighting and sound effects and study the promotional materials.

Want to develop professionally?
Seek out training and workshop opportunities. Consider a special program of study offered to workers in the field. Take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by unions and professional associations.

Looking to transition from on stage to a different career in the live performing arts?
Talk to other performers who have made the switch. Explore what special interests and talents you could apply to another area — you may have a flair for teaching, directing or administration. And get in touch with organizations that help performers make the transition, such as the Dancer Transition Resource Centre.

Get hands on experience

Everyone who hires in the live performing arts wants applicants who already have experience, whether volunteer or professional. Remember to ensure that any volunteer work you do fits under the guidelines of the unions or professional associations involved in the productions. Use the following checklist to consider other ways to get hands-on experience.

Get hands on experience

I could...

Join a drama, singing or dance club in my high school, college or university.
Work as a DJ or behind the scenes at a local radio station.
Sing with local choirs and music groups.
Perform in or help produce a school theatre production.
Take the opportunity to do public speaking.
Write plays, compose music or choreograph for school or community productions.
Help out with the administration of a local arts organization.
Volunteer on stage or off stage at a community theatre.


Want to form your own company?

Want To Form Your Own Company - Get Informed!

If your heart is set on forming a performing company of your own, then you will have considerable researching and careful planning to do. Learn about the different types of company structures – be it collective, non-profit or for-profit – and then choose the one that feels best for your endeavour. You will need to register the company in your province or territory (or federally, if you will have members and activities in more than one part of Canada), and decide the roles, responsibilities and election processes for your Board of Directors. Inform yourself about the laws and regulations you must follow, including considering tax issues, workers compensation, and other required remittances. You’ll need to know about your responsibilities as an employer. If you are located in Québec, remember that such rules can be quite different in the rest of Canada. Only when you have done your homework, satisfied all legal and governmental requirements, created a business plan, and found your financial backing can you start to live your artistic dream!

Your education can take you places

There are many ways to enter a career in the live performing arts. The key to today’s job market is to be as multi-skilled as you can. Many performers, particularly dancers and circus performers, begin training when they are very young. However, if you're just starting to think about your live performing arts career, then you're probably wondering where to get the education and training you'll need. There are generally four different educational routes to careers in the live performing arts. No one route is better than another and you'll find successful professionals who have come from each educational area.

  • Universities offer three-to four-year programs that provide a broad education in an area of interest.
  • Colleges / Cégeps provide two to three-year programs that focus on practical skills needed in an area of interest.
  • National professional training institutions offer intense programs of varying lengths, usually for performers.
  • Studios allow performers to create their own training “programs” by mixing and matching courses from different instructors.

Search the lists that follow for examples of the combinations of education and experience that can lead to a fascinating career in the live performing arts.

Learning Paths


Your creative talent + your education and training + experience
  • Artistic director
  • Choreographer
  • Composer
  • Costume designer
  • Librettist
  • Playwright
  • Set designer
Your performance talent + your education and training + experience
  • Actor
  • Circus performer
  • Dancer
  • Magician
  • Opera singer
  • Puppeteer
Your ability to bring a script / musical score to life + your education and training + experience
  • Art director
  • Casting director
  • Conductor
  • Dramaturg
Your college / CÉGEP diploma or university degree in arts administration, theater arts or business
  • Arts administrator
  • Marketing and communications director
  • Fund-raiser / development officer
  • Performing arts company membership subscriptions manager
  • Presenter
  • Theatre manager
Your take-charge skills + your education and training + experience
  • Artistic director
  • Props / property master
  • Stage manager
  • Production manager
  • Touring manager
  • Wardrobe supervisor
Your business skills + your education and training + experience
  • Artist manager
  • Entertainment lawyer
  • Front of house manager
  • Producer
  • Talent agent
  • Theatre publicist
Your university degree in English, theater, dance, music, or voice
  • Arts association director
  • Arts educator
  • Dance journalist
  • Dramaturg
  • Play publisher
  • Voice coach
Your college / CÉGEP diploma or university degree in business, social science or computer engineering
  • Audience database developer
  • Audience interviewer / surveyor
  • Audience market researcher
  • Computer programmer
  • Information technology systems analyst
  • Senior research methodologist
Your design talent + your education and training + experience
  • Costume designer
  • Hair stylist
  • Lighting designer
  • Make-up artist
  • Props designer
  • Set designer
  • Special effects supervisor
Your college/ CÉGEP diploma in theatre + an interest in lighting
  • Apprentice lighting technician
  • Automated lighting programmer / operator
  • Computer Assisted Design (CAD) specialist
  • Lighting assistant
  • Lighting technician
  • Spotlight operator
Your high school diploma + experience + on-the-job training
  • Circus rigger
  • Dresser
  • Prompter
  • Set builder / carpenter / painter
  • Special effects assistant
  • Stagehand
  • Ticket seller
  • Usher
  • Wardrobe assistant

Want to learn more about educational programs and schools? Talk to:

  • People working in professional dance and theatre groups.
  • Local performing arts schools.
  • A teacher or career/guidance counsellor.
  • The listed on this website.