The Reality of Finding Work in the Performing Arts

by Annie Lewandowski

Many have dreams of walking onstage to the tumultuous applause of the audience, roses thrown at their feet, but very few are actually able to achieve a place in the limelight.

Though the stigma that surrounds careers in the arts lessens each year, there is still skepticism of those who wish to pursue work in the performing arts. The kind of prestige that is placed on the very few actors, singers, and other performers who have made it into the public eye is really quite unrealistic for most. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dancers and choreographers make an average of $45,460 a year, and this is including famous professionals at the very epitome of their art. For others in the visual and performing arts, the numbers are more or less the same. Careers like these tend to be short-lived and not very lucrative. Many performers who wish to be considered for major jobs must go right out of high school to try and win a place, not leaving much room for a back-up plan. The average dancer will retire around 35-40 and from there he or she will have to choose an entirely new career path.

The most frustrating aspect of these facts is the amount of money needed to properly train performers and artists. Even after thousands of dollars are put towards shaping a high-class and impressive artist, the chances of them finding a major position in the field is very slim. For some, just being able to do what they love as a career, even if on a very small scale, is enough. For others, pursuing the arts is a high-risk gamble that will either get them all or nothing. It requires complete devotion and a thick skin that can take rejection after rejection. The one thing most can agree on, though, is the incredible passion and love they feel for their art of choice. The figure on a paycheck truly is just a number for someone who feels a real emotional connection with what they do. The purpose of the arts is, in fact, to bring joy and meaning to the lives of those involved, so if a career on stage, or behind a camera, or surrounded by paint and canvas is one’s calling, they should not hesitate to follow it.

As a serious student of ballet myself, the issues surrounding finding work in the arts have become a very real part of my life. Most dancers looking to work in professional companies will join one straight out of high school and may get a college education only after they have finished their careers in dance, if at all. It is a very stressful and uncertain time, trying to figure out what you want to devote your life to at just eighteen years old. I, along with many other high school students will have to make this decision soon. At the end of the day, it all boils down to exactly how much an artist is willing to sacrifice in order to pursue their passion. I am not sure of this myself, but I hope when the time comes I will make the decision which is right for me.