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Creative Careers: Industry update and questions students should ask

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

"There's no money in the arts, get a propper job." A £111.7bn industry begs to differ!

This old addage has been spun for years. Don't get me wrong, its a tough business to get into, and tougher still to establish a strong career, but we as the industry and as teachers need to better prepare our students for the future which lies ahead of them.

State of the industry:

2018 statistics show the creative industries is now worth £111.7bn to the UK economy, up from £101bn in 2017 and £98bn in 2016. It is showing above inflation growth and is now worth £35bn more than Aerospace, Automotive, Oil and Gas, and Life Sciences combined!

The film industry alone currently employs over 91,000 people and projects 10,000 new roles in the next five years just to keep up with the pace of growth, let alone new opportunities. Similar statistics are seen across the industry.

So what is going wrong?

Our own research indicates that acting careers have a high mortality rate with as many as 50% of actors quitting within just five years and 75% quitting within 10. However, we believe this is not due to a lack of jobs and more to do with a lack of knowledge, misconceptions about how the industry works, and a failure to create opportunities. As a nation we are world class in the teaching of the arts, but we fail to adequately prepare young people for a career in the arts.

A lack of understanding of the industry by teachers and the opportunities available may also have contributed to the decline in take up of drama, music, media and other subjects at GCSE and A-Level.

University training in the creative arts has also shown that from a financial perspective, the cost of a degree does not improve career earnings, and many arts graduates fail to earn enough in their field to warrent the high cost of training, which may be deterring others from training beyond A-Level, or from entering the industry at all.

Thinking Ahead

Students who are genuinely interested in a career in the creative industries should think carefully about how and where they train. University may or may not be the right path for them. The industry too needs to look closer at appretiships and funding opportunities as alternatives to conventional degrees.

Students should also consider what other roles there are in the industry where they can thrive. Most drama students are focused on performing, but what about directing, producing, designing, stage managing, creating wigs and costumes, etc? Are there other paths they can take and what training options are available in those fields?

In addition, given the high liklihood that a career in the arts will be on a freelance or self-employed basis, studying business should be an essential part of any arts course so students can learn about the business they're entering before they enter it!

Being Freelance

This can be the biggest shock to the system - being responsible for your work, your career, marketing, admin, finances and representation. Students are simply not prepared during training for this, in part because not all teachers have worked professionally in the field and so have no experience to share.

Read our blog post about the four principals of being freelance in the arts here.


Getting an agent helps but itsn't essential, neither does it mean you can relax and wait for the phone to ring. Their role to promote you to employers and secure good deals, opening the door for you to get the work, but you need to work with them to ensure they represent you properly.

NEVER pay to join an agency!

Join Spotlight and other casting services, or similar job services in other fields.

If you don't have an agent you can self-represent, but you will only see minor roles. Most agents see more, but only a select few agents access the top roles. So, build a network of personal contacts of casting directors, theatre companies, producers, directors etc. Use LinkedIn, Twitter if you must, but keep seperate personal and professional profiles seperate.

Alternative Careers

Thinking outside the box, schools need to prepare students for non-performing roles. Consider special effects and media, props and costume, stage management, producing, technical, writing and directing.

As part of staging productions assign roles to students as members of a virtual company, learning about all the different roles. You could go one step further and actually set up a company to run the show, responsible for budgets, selling tickets, marketing, and every role you can think of. Make the students directors of it so they're legally responsible too. It's remarkable easy to do this.

Making work

In the early stage of your career nobody will care what credits you've gained in training. You start at the bottom of the ladder and it's a slog to get to the top. Most don't make it but will hopefully get a very good career on the middle rungs.

However, the best way of developing your career in the industry is to keep working and make your own opportunities. Be prolific, focus on the next project and develop a greater understanding of the industry and how to navigate it.

Painters, photographers, sculptors and other visial artists are used to creating their own work to get exhibitions - its the only way to get commissions by building a portfolio. Performers such as actors, musicians and dancers need to follow suit and create their own work, composing songs, choreographing routines and writing scripst, all of which can be recorded and shared to gain exposure and advance their careers.

You probably have the technology in your pockets to create a film set or recording studio, so utilise it!

Supporting your career

Students should also think about what else they can do with the skills they have to support themselves while they develop their careers so they can avoid working in call centres and other sole-destroying jobs. Consider promotion work, extra agencies, session musician gigs, joining several bands, front of house roles in theatres, on film sets, or teaching classes.

Unpaid or no pay

Unpaid work is rarely a positive experience unless it is for a company, director, or contact you trust and are doing it as a favour. Promises of exposure are often short-lived and not worth the work.

No pay is different. Profit-share productions for example are common with new companies set up by directors and theatre makers who want a platform to stage their own work. In these cases nobody gets paid, but any profits made are shared between all those involved. These can be a positive investment of your time as those directors and producers could go on to bigger and better things and take you with them. You also have a good marketing opportunity to promote your work and invite your network to see you in action.


Consult HMRC or your union about this - it's really important! Keep accurate accounts of all your income and expenses, keep your receipts, and don't spend everything you earn - put some aside for the dreaded tax bill!

Play the long game

Do what makes you happy. If that takes you away from your career that is fine. Life goes on and if you don't or can't live, what's the point? There are always roles to play so you can always return when you're ready.


Discover Theatre Workout's tailored workshops on producing theatre, the business of the arts, creative careers and being freelance in the arts - they'll give your students the best career advice so they hit the ground running!

Theatre Workout is working with the Creative Industries Federation on their Creative Careers programme, is a part of their education steering group, and are a member of the Drama, Theatre & Education Alliance which has a focus on improving theatre education and career support.

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