Plot a New Course
Unconventional Careers for
Exceptional entertainment Designers
After countless lectures, tech weeks, and late hours scrambling to put together the perfect design, it's time to put your skills to the test and make your first foray into the professional world. While we assure you that there is no need to panic, you may need to think outside-the-box when it comes to your first job after school. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of jobs you might not have even considered yet.
Take your design skills out to sea! Most cruise lines have some sort of live entertainment onboard, and with Tony-award winning shows happening nightly on the open seas, there is a definite need for designers and technicians to make sure the shows stay afloat.
Most cruise lines contract directly with designers, so you can apply to individual lines. This is where your contacts can help; talk to professors and technical directors as you search for jobs as they might be able to get you in touch with someone who works with one of the cruise lines.
You can also obtain a technical position in a theatre on board a ship working a variety of positions, such as lighting, sound, and A/V support. You can look for openings with Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Celebrity Cruises, to name a few of the major lines. These positions grant you some perks of cruise line life, such as the ability to travel the world, and positions vary in length, so you might find yourself working at sea for a few months or even a year.
Corporate events are becoming bigger, more theatrical affairs, creating the need for event designers whose goal is to emphasize the aesthetic features and amp up the “wow” factor of company promotional events, including galas, product launches, or more intimate company celebrations.
These types of events challenge you to use your lighting and set design skills in new ways. For example, you can design a beautiful, grand fête in Vectorworks Spotlight software using the same tools and principles you learned in school. In the same way you would use elements of design to emphasize characters on a stage, you can use your aesthetic wisdom to create a breathtaking event that makes the CEO and event speakers look like rock stars.
To see how an established designer works both big stage events and smaller corporate events, peruse the work of Tyler E. Littman of the Philadelphia-based lighting design firm Sholight, LLC.
Museum exhibit design is another field where lighting and scenic designers can use the fundamentals they’ve learned in the theatre to create fascinating and functional displays.
It’s not a stretch to apply design principles you learned in theatre within a museum context. You don’t have to collect the artifacts or be an expert on them; you just need to figure out how to display them in their best light. You can use a variety of light sources to avoid fading, like LED or timed lighting for walk-through exhibits. You can also create dramatic set pieces to display artifacts and build the atmosphere for an exhibit. You want to provide a theatrical experience to museum goers just as you would for an audience walking into a theater — only on a more personal, sometimes even immersive, level.
Ben Barraud designed the sets for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before designing an Aztec exhibit for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa using Vectorworks software.
“I always loved museums and would seek them out, and it seemed like the required skillset would be complementary to what I had been doing because they are both quite theatrical in nature and rely on similar software,” Barraud says.
Even though many consumers have switched to online shopping, stores in big cities are still pulling out all the stops when it comes to creating impressive window displays to get the attention of passersby, especially around the holiday shopping season. However, you don’t have to go to 5th Avenue in New York City or London’s West End to see amazing window designs; cities like Minneapolis and Chicago also feature lively window displays that drive foot traffic into shops.
Major retailers are turning to theatre designers to create their stunning displays, and with good reason; these window displays are basically dioramas that are trying to make customers covet certain products. It’s not a stretch to translate your visions for a stage into a smaller space. You might be doing a simple display to show off some of this season’s most stunning new merchandise or a more complicated design for the holiday season complete with moving parts and a narrative. You never know, maybe you’ll be the one designing the next Macy’s holiday window display.
Trade Show Booths
Think of a trade show booth as small, interactive, themed set with boundless potential for showcasing a product or brand to thousands of people. Whether it’s just for one, weekend-long show or for a summer of touring different industry events, companies often compete to attract attendees and to make them stop and pay attention to their company and what they’re selling. Like a window display, the goal is to show off your assets in a compelling, inventive manner. Simple signs, some flyers, and a table aren’t cutting it for major companies anymore.
Booths today at large shows come complete with large graphics, product displays, lighting, furniture, and interactive technology, including televisions, touch-screen computers, and even video game consoles. Enter into this business, and you’ll combine your design skills to create a little space with a big impact.
Think You’re Up to the Challenge?
Though this list is by no means complete, it should help to jump-start a comprehensive job search. There are countless opportunities for creative, driven designers to find jobs, even if it means trying your hand in a position you hadn’t considered originally. From theme parks to tent shows, your skills are in demand in a variety of venues and fields, and there are plenty of places that are looking for creative designers with enthusiasm and technical know-how.
Before you put on that cap and gown and stroll across the stage to accept your diploma (whether it’s happening now or in a few years), don’t forget to make the most of the resources still available to students. Talk with professors in your school’s theatre department or any technical directors you have worked with to see if they have any recommendations or can serve as references. Also, make sure your resume is professional and up-to-date. Ask a professor or two, or even someone in your university’s career advising department, to read over your resume to make sure it’s error-free and capable of wowing any company you come across.
You can use theatre-centric career sites like StageJobsPro, OffStageJobs, Broadwayworld, and Playbill, or even traditional job search sites like Indeed to land short-term work or even longer-term internships and full-time jobs.
Finally, if you want to ask questions of those who have been in the business a while, try posting your queries to r/TechTheatre; you’re bound to get some helpful answers there!