Performing Arts

Performing arts careers stand out as some of the most pinnacles careers dedicated to artistic expression, where the most illustrious and accomplished individuals can attain unprecedented fame and financial prosperity. However, it's essential to recognize that the competitive nature of the industry and that the allure of this profession extends far beyond the glitz and glamour of celebrity status. Whilst most will not achieve such household recognition, they can still forge a fulfilling and successful career by collaborating across various captivating visual and audio mediums.

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Performance Roles

Acting:  If you possess a flair for drama, a keen sense of storytelling, and a desire to captivate audiences, a career as a professional actor might be your calling. As a professional actor, you become a vessel of imagination, breathing life into diverse characters and narratives on stage, screen, or even voice-over work. The world of acting offers a thrilling and transformative journey, where you can explore emotions, perspectives, and experiences beyond your own. Professional actors can find themselves performing in theatre productions, TV shows, movies, commercials, and other exciting mediums.

Actor job profile |

Dancer: If you have a passion for movement, expression, and creativity, a career as a professional dancer might be the perfect fit for you. As a professional dancer, you will embark on a thrilling journey of artistic exploration and physical mastery. Whether you're drawn to ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, or any other dance form, this career path demands dedication, discipline, and a strong work ethic. Professional dancers showcase their talents on various platforms, including stages, television, film, and music videos. Beyond performing, dancers may also pursue opportunities in choreography, teaching, or arts administration.

Dancer job profile |

Musician: If you have a deep love for music and a burning desire to share your talent with the world, a career as a professional musician awaits you. As a professional musician, you have the unique opportunity to connect with audiences, evoke emotions, and inspire change through the power of your art. Whether you're a virtuoso instrumentalist, a captivating vocalist, or a skilled composer, the world of music offers diverse avenues for creative expression. Professional musicians can find themselves performing on grand stages, recording in studios, collaborating with renowned artists, and contributing to film scores or television soundtracks. Beyond performance, opportunities in music education, music production, and music therapy also exist. Pursuing a career in music requires unwavering dedication, practice, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Musician job profile |

The bottom line: The above are pathways that demand dedication, resilience, and continuous honing of your craft. Embracing rejection and critique are integral parts of your journey, as is an unwavering passion for the art form. Most performers work on a freelance basis and even those who are employed by an organisation, are often employed under fixed term contracts.

Non-Performance Roles

Agent: As a talent agent, your role is to act as the bridge between your client and the entertainment industry, helping them navigate their careers and achieve their dreams. Whether it's actors, musicians, writers, or other artists, you will be responsible for discovering potential clients, negotiating contracts, and securing opportunities that align with their unique skills and aspirations. With a keen eye for talent, exceptional communication skills, and a deep understanding of the industry landscape, you'll guide your clients through the complexities of show business, providing invaluable guidance and support as they strive for success on the grand stage.

Talent agent job profile |

Choreographer: As a choreographer, your artistic vision will be the driving force behind mesmerizing performances and awe-inspiring movements. Your role is to craft and design original dance sequences, blending rhythm, technique, and emotion into a seamless artistic expression. Working with dancers, actors, or musicians, you will meticulously instruct and guide them to bring your choreography to life, ensuring that every step and gesture harmonizes with the music and narrative. Your boundless imagination and keen understanding of various dance styles will enable you to create captivating performances that leave lasting impressions on audiences.

Choreographer job profile |

Director: As a director, you will be the visionary orchestrating the entire theatrical experience, be it on stage, screen, or in other performance settings. Your role is to bring together the talents of actors, dancers, musicians, and other performers, weaving their skills into a cohesive and compelling narrative. You will breathe life into productions by shaping character portrayals, blocking scenes, and refining emotional nuances. With an acute eye for detail and a deep understanding of storytelling, you will work closely with production teams to ensure seamless coordination of all elements, from lighting and sound to costume design and set construction. Your ability to inspire and lead a team, coupled with your passion for creating transformative experiences, will elevate performances to new heights.

Director job profile |

Stage Manager: As a stage manager, you will be the maestro behind the scenes, ensuring flawless execution of productions and the seamless coordination of all theatrical elements. From rehearsals to curtain calls, your unwavering organizational prowess will shine as you schedule, coordinate, and manage the entire production process. Liaising between directors, designers, technicians, and performers, you will be the central communication hub, fostering a cohesive and collaborative atmosphere. Your adept problem-solving skills and quick thinking will prove indispensable in handling unforeseen challenges, guaranteeing that every show runs like clockwork.

Theatre stage manager job profile |

Sound Designer and Engineer: As a sound engineer, your role is to master the art of sound manipulation, ensuring exceptional audio quality in various settings, including music production, film, television, live events, and more. You will employ cutting-edge equipment and software to record, mix, and edit sound, harmonizing different elements to achieve seamless harmony and clarity. From setting up microphones and speakers to fine-tuning audio levels, your meticulous attention to detail and technical expertise will shape the way audiences perceive and engage with the sonic landscape.

Sound engineer job profile |

For more on other careers that fall within the Creative Industries (including TV & Film and other roles within Audio & Music), please check out our Creative Industries briefing.

It’s important to gain as much experience as you can, and it doesn't matter whether it’s amateur or professional. Not only does the experience help you to develop your technical skills, but it also demonstrates true passion and commitment to future employers and/or training providers and will provide you with an insight into whether this is the career you really want.

Oxford is a great place to gain experience as there is a thriving performing arts community, both within the university and outside. Whilst not an exhaustive list, below are a handful of societies which would allow you to gain experience whilst at Oxford.

Acting, Directing, Stage and Sound Design  – Oxford Imps, Oxford Theatre Guild, Oxford Operatic Society, Oxford University Dramatic Society, Oxford University Technical Theatre Society, 00Productions

Dance and Choreography Oxford Bhangra, Oxford University Contemporary Dance, Oxford University Dance Society, Oxford University Salsa Society

Musician and sound engineering - The Arcadian Singers of Oxford, Oxford Belles, the Oxford Singers, Oxford University Music Society; Oxford Recording Society

Participating in local societies and reaching out to theatres and agencies for work experience presents an excellent opportunity to enhance your skills and gain industry experience during your vacation period. Registering with an agency and securing small roles or working as an extra can also serve as a valuable means to accumulate practical experience.

It is important to know that there is no one set career path when it comes to performance and performance art and that it important to remain flexible as in a highly competitive market, roles are few and far between, so being open-minded will improve your chances of getting work and could help you to expand your experience and skills.

Some people graduate and dive right in, whilst others chose to undertake professional training eg: Foundation Diplomas, Undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications in performance; sound engineering or stage management.

Training and gaining experience (whether at a drama school or not) is essential to learn the necessary skills to stand out in a very competitive market. Most courses cover subjects such as acting, voice, movement, singing, stage combat, audition techniques etc. – carefully check each course to see what they cover and if they offer training in the techniques, you're interested in. Another added benefit of training is that institutions often offer exposure to and networking opportunities with professionals in the business, such as successful actors, producers, directors, casting agents and practical career guidance on how to best navigate the industry once you’ve completed your course.

How to choose your course

When choosing a course (regardless of length) detailed research is very important. You need to be sure about what the course does (and does not) offer AND that the training will assist you in gaining the right skills needed for the sector. Also check what their alumni have done since graduation – are they working and/or doing the type of work that you are interested in?

The drama school and further study  application process is rigorous and highly competitive, requiring a lot of work and detailed preparation. Many people are accepted into a drama school on their second or third attempt – so keep persevering if you’re not successful first time around. If your application isn’t successful, try to get detailed feedback on what you need to improve and focus on that before you apply again – there are several short courses which could help you develop specific skills (see list in 'External resources' section below).

There are many drama schools in the UK, offering a range of course options, including new schools offering part time courses such as Identity School of Acting and longer established schools such as RADA  and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School 

There will be several considerations you need to take into account when deciding on a course, such as location, price, type of course and course content. The Federation of Drama Schools  has a list of courses accredited by them and career advice and tips for working in the performance industry.

An additional benefit of attending drama school is that most offer careers guidance on how to navigate the job market and skills around key techniques within the industry.


Most people fund their own studies, either with savings or personal/bank loans, as government Student Loans are not available for all courses (however check with each institution). Most schools also have scholarship programmes, so it’s worth checking if you are eligible.

Getting a job in the performing arts sector is extremely competitive, with several factors contributing to this (including limited job openings, the availability of global talent and at times a volatile Industry). Therefore, before deciding on this career path, it’s important to think about whether you’re suited to the freelance working lifestyle and if you are prepared for the lack of job security. For example, you may need a second job/alternative employment when you’re waiting for your next role within performing arts, especially early in your career.

You will need to be pro-active and resourceful when looking for work. Although there are advertised roles, many aren’t, so you will need to build your own network of contacts. Websites like the Stage and Mandy are a good source for current events and roles in theatre, TV, and film.  Keep up to date about upcoming film and TV productions on or IMDB Pro (there is a subscription fee) to contact production teams and casting directors.

Wherever possible attend industry events, workshops, webinars etc. This is an opportunity to hear from various industry professionals, attend workshops and network with people at varying stages of their career.

Although salaries can be very high for the most high-profile individuals working in the industry, they are the exception, not the rule. You can find more information on minimum wages on the Equity website, which is the trade union for creative practitioners. Securing an agent can help with getting work as they will actively work on your behalf to find suitable roles. Depending on the contract/agreement they have with an agent, some performers still pro-actively look for their own work.


Securing an agent is also a competitive process and will often require you to contact them directly yourself or apply and often inviting them to see you perform. When looking for an agent, choose one that reflects your skills and interests and works with (and finds work for actors) in the type of roles and productions you are interested in.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the UK Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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