Although theater contributes $1.94 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Theater Communications Group (TCG), it employs a small number of people on a full-time basis. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), theater and performing arts companies employed just more than 117,390 people as of May 2013. Many people are attracted by the glamour and excitement of the industry, so there is fierce competition for most jobs, especially for those with well-known production companies or theaters.
Theater will continue to offer employment opportunities to skilled artists, designers, producers, directors, stage managers, and musical directors. However, it is important to remember that there are very few stars in the theater. There are always three or four failures for every one hit. People who aspire to careers in the performing arts should recognize that although the possibilities of success exist and excite the imagination, the possibilities of disappointment are all too real.
Typically, theater professionals make ends meet by branching out. They find a job here, a job there, in television, film, radio, or the industrial arena. During the summer they may hope to connect with a stock company at a resort or with musical or dramatic road companies. Dinner theaters, outdoor dramas, cruise ship productions, and similar venues are additional alternatives for theater performers seeking to find work in nontraditional ways.
Even those that are able to obtain work with a production often don't earn enough income to support themselves. Acting unions report that about 80 percent of registered actors make an insufficient income from acting, and at least 30 percent of registered actors make no money from acting at all in any given year. According to the Actors' Equity Association, nearly 43 percent (17,446) of its members worked at least 16 weeks during the 2011-2012 theater season. Many people well trained in music, drama, or dance find work as teachers in arts schools or as private instructors in order to make a living. For those who do succeed, a career path often includes a variety of jobs.
Overall, growth for the most common jobs in the industry will be average or slow, according to the DOL. For example, the number of producer and director jobs is expected to increase by only 3 percent through 2022, much slower than the average for all other jobs. The DOL notes that directors and producers will find more opportunities with large production companies or theaters, than with their smaller counterparts. This group of workers may also find opportunities with nonprofit theaters, or by expanding their job search to film and television productions. Online and mobile TV programming is also expected to increase during this time, and create more opportunities for these professionals.
The number of set designer positions is expected to increase by 6 percent through 2022. However, the opportunities will depend on the type of employer. Large theaters and production companies are expected to hire fewer full-time designers, and instead hire them on a project-by-project or contract basis. Freelance set designers may find better opportunities in this environment. Specialized design firms that offer set design services on a contract basis will also be a source of opportunities for set designers in the theater industry.
Unfortunately, the group of professionals that attracts the most potential employees, actors, will experience only 4 percent growth in employment through 2022, according to the DOL. Because small and midsize theaters will continue to have trouble funding productions, they will offer fewer performances and a corresponding reduction in the need for actors. Actors will find more opportunities, but also increased competition, for jobs at larger production companies. They may also find more jobs at other performance venues, or decide to open their own acting studios for children or adults.
The expansion of cable and satellite television, the growth of online and mobile programming, the growth of the market for direct-to-DVD or video movies, and the demand for syndicated television shows, should create employment opportunities outside the theater for actors, directors, producers, costume and set designers, and other support positions. In theater itself, the outlook is mixed, as cultural budgets are slashed and many theaters, particularly in the nonprofit sector, are unable to survive. Theater Communications Group (TCG) reported that there were net losses overall in the theater sector in 2008, for the first time in five years, due to a capital gains shift and a 19 percent growth in expenses. By the 2011 season, income growth for theaters was beginning to turn around, according to TCG. The average theater ended 2011 with 3.4 percent income growth above inflation, and attendance at stage productions is expected to grow. Touring productions of Broadway plays and other large shows are providing new opportunities for actors and directors, and there is a rising foreign demand for American productions, so the outlook is mixed and varied. Small and midsized theaters and production groups may continue to struggle through the remainder of the 2010s.  

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