Art after academics: majors pursue post-grad work
Augustana University helps theatre students pursue careers in the industry through a well-developed curriculum, connections made across the country and by staying involved no matter the cost.
According to a Student Success Center outcome report for the Augustana University graduating class of 2015, 98 percent have a full-time career related to their field. The students who didn’t get full-time employment are pursuing interests such as continuing their education, serving in the U.S. military or working for volunteer services.
“The majority [92 percent] were traditional positions, three percent were post-graduation internships and four percent were freelance independent contractors,” Billie Streufert, director of the Student Success Center, wrote in the report.
While Augustana did not have specific numbers for theatre graduates, the report shows that most theatre alumni searching for a job in the industry are successful.
However, for many graduates, success only arrives after accepting that plans don’t work out immediately.
“I’ve learned in this career not to try to plan the future out too much,” Augustana theatre graduate Sean McCain said. “The theatre industry has a way of surprising you and dropping work into your lap when you least expect it.”
Despite these impressive numbers released by the Success Center, looking for a job while still in college is difficult—particularly for students of the humanities.
“It’s tough, it is very tough,” theatre professor Dan Workman said. But Workman also stresses there are opportunities available in the theater industry, students just have to seek them out.
For McCain, who is now the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) Stage Manager in New York City, he had to do extensive research before deciding to make the move across the country.
“Companies in New York City like to know you’re already living there before they try to offer you a job,”
McCain said. “So many people say they will move to New York City, but only a small fraction of those people actually do.”
To help students succeed despite these challenges, the Augustana theatre program tries to prepare students in two ways: curriculum and connections.
Workman said the curriculum is not only well-rounded but also very complimentary to other majors.
“I think the theatre teaches you a lot of valuable skills—above and beyond what might be used in the theatre,” he said.
The theatre program is set up to educate students in all possible areas of the field, with coursework including areas such as acting, directing, history of theatre, script analysis, dramatic literature and scene design, to name a few.
Senior theatre major Ian Curtis said this year, part of his coursework involves working with faculty to create resume and portfolio.
“They’re helping to make sure that both aspects are strong enough to make an impression in the professional world,” Curtis said of his professors.
Augustana’s connections within the theatre business have helped majors like McCain towards becoming a stage manager in New York City.
While developing a play at Augustana, McCain was introduced to New York-based dramaturg, Anne Hamilton who helps theatre companies research, develop and edit dramatic plays. When McCain moved to New York City, Hamilton introduced him to a producer who helped launch his career.
“Joining a [theatre] union certainly enabled me to quit my day job and concentrate on my chosen career path,” McCain said, “and allowed me to maintain things like insurance and pension.”
But in the middle of trying to figure out future plans, Workman said it’s important to stay involved within the industry.
“It is a tough industry, and the best way to be successful is to continue to be involved in a theatre,” Workman said. “It takes years to gain access into a situation where you are consistently being hired in the theatre industry. But if you feel that this is something that you want to do, then you never stop being part of it.”
For some, like McCain, doing this required working a variety of day jobs ranging from Starbucks to a real estate research company and selling tickets at a comedy club, in addition to working night and weekend jobs as a non-union stage manager.
“Since then, I have quit my non-theatre day jobs and make a living stage managing plays, musicals and the occasional awards ceremony or corporate event,” he said.
Likewise, Curtis plans to find a full-time, well-paying job after college to start paying off his student loans.
He said his dream is to be able to “create such a name for myself that I don’t have trouble finding work, and to be able to successfully act, design, write, direct and build for the rest of my life, hopefully simultaneously,” Curtis said.
Although a career in theatre comes with its challenges, students continue to pursue their love for theatre with Augustana helping them along the way.