Get a (XXXXXXX) Job

02.24.11 | 7 Comments

CATEGORIES the process

Wake up. Check my e-mail. Damn. No response yet. They said “hopefully” Wednesday and it’s only Thursday. If I don’t hear from them tomorrow, I’ll contact them and follow up. Delete the spam. Save the job postings. Make a cup of tea. Begin writing cover letters for the new postings.


My last paid gig ended two months ago and in the time since it closed, I’ve applied for 15 specific positions. I’ve heard back from approximately 1/3 of them and had three interviews/meetings. I’ve gotten one of the gigs – a co-op production of The Pillowman which is now in the second week of its run – but there’s no money guaranteed with a co-op and I only have one more months worth of rent left in savings.

In a lot of ways I have been lucky up to this point in my career. I began working as a freelance stage manager in my second year of university and since I graduated four years ago, I have only held a “regular” job for six weeks. I contemplate trying to get a job like that, and a month from now I might be desperate enough to do that, but right now I am focused on finding another stage management job. In fact, you could say that my job hunt is my day job right now. I spend about five hours a day (plus or minus) checking job boards; applying for positions I find; networking; interviewing; reading books on cover letters, resumes & interviews; and/or getting new certifications that will make me more attractive to prospective employers.

There is a point in a theatre career where the job hunting shifts and/or stops all together as individual reputation is enough to get companies calling you and asking you to interview or audition or even flat out offering jobs without an interview or audition. When I asked the #2amt community about their job hunting practices on twitter a couple of days ago, most of the people who responded haven’t sent out a resume in years. @ckaiserca shared that he once sent out 100 resumes and cover letters and only had responses from two of those companies – responses that were both “thanks, but no thanks.” But that was almost 20 years ago and now he has a house gig that he has held for 12 years and that he was invited to interview for because of his reputation. I look forward to the day that my career gets to that point, but in the meantime, I live a day-to-day slog of writing, sending & applying (numbers-wise, I sent out approximately 70 resumes last year).

Job hunting in any industry can be a disheartening, frustrating and all-consuming process. It can make you doubt yourself; wonder whether or not you are actually cut out for the career you are attempting. My experience is, I’m certain, different from that of an actor whose hunt is followed by auditions which is going to be different from that of a playwright whose hunt is primarily about convincing someone to actually read the script they’ve written and find it to be the right fit for their season/mandate which is different than that of a designer.

There is no secret to make job hunting or periods of unemployment easier – and the more I talk to people who make a career out of making theatre, the more I realize that there are simply ways to make the most of the time at your disposal and of your job hunt.


I don’t know about you, but when I am in rehearsals for a show, I have almost no time for anything other than work. Weeks that you are unemployed are the perfect time to take that course you were considering (first aid, marketing, auditioning, tax preparation, etc) or get books from the public library on the subject. I know that here in Vancouver we have ActSafe, an organization dedicated to health & safety in film & theatre that offers low cost certifications. I also know that CAEA offers professional development money every year to offer reduced rates on courses & workshops. In this particular batch of unemployment I have spent time educating myself on cover letters & interviews and am preparing to take my LPEC (Live Performance Electrical Certificate). Not only will educating yourself make you more attractive to potential employers, it also helps fill your time, giving you less opportunities to doubt yourself or worry about your finances.


In a post last week, Marisela encouraged the formation of a deliberate group of supporters who would be there to advise you in good times and bad. I responded on my own blog that I suppose I do have a Personal Advisory Board, but it is something that simply evolved because people were already filling those roles in my life. But if you have those people – people who will share their experience and time with you, who will kick your ass when you are the biggest thing standing in your way – utilize them. Ask them questions. Have them edit your resume. Bounce ideas off them.


Put aside the job hunting for a few hours: Read a play. Tour a venue. See a production. Attend a talkback. If the work you are seeing is any good, it will remind you of things that you love about the theatre and why you wanted to get involved in it in the first place. And I won’t take “I can’t afford it” as an excuse here. Most arts organizations rely on volunteers to help with everything from stuffing envelopes to data entry to ushering and often they will reward this help with complimentary tickets (and by the way, those volunteer hours are a great chance to network!) Other companies host Pay-What-You-Can performances or cheap previews. Others have discount rates for industry people. And if you talk to the people at the companies, you can often find a way to see the performance at a rate you can afford.

What do you do to keep your job hunt on track and make the most of those times you are between gigs?

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Lois Dawson

Lois is a freelance stage manager based in Vancouver, BC, Canada.Her work has taken her across Canada and to Zurich, Switzerland. She works with the Vancouver Fringe Festival, the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Society, and is a youth mentor through the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. She can be found online at www.loisbackstage.com.
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  • Hang in there… I’ll be rooting for you and expecting good things, which certainly MUST come to someone so articulate and inspiring, even when she’s under-employed.

  • Lois – what Gwydion said. I think one of the hardest things is this ‘in-between-jobs time’ when the doubting sets in. You doubt everything about yourself and whether or not you will ever get another job. Red alert! This is when you really do need someone you trust – a confidante. I like your notion of reminding yourself why you are in the business by immersing yourself in it. It’s also a distraction from the nasty little doubting self in your head.

  • Lois

    Thanks Kate & Gwydion for your kind words. I’m getting better at being unemployed, but I think we quickly forget this phase is the development of our theatremakers. I’d be happy to join a support group with others in the same place, if there were one to join – to ask what they’ve done about their situation and to have someone to both celebrate & complain with.

  • I too in about month two of my job search, and it’s rough, I keep reminding myself that it’ll all work out but the doubt like to work itself in. I think there are far too many of us who end up getting off the path that we love just to survive.

    • Lois

      Rachel – I totally understand what you mean. At this point I’ve put off applying for jobs outside the industry – off my path if you will – because I know that if I end up in another job, I will survive financially, but my soul will be caged. Which is not to say that a job outside theatre automatically crushes ones soul – not at all – but I know that for me, in this time and place, that would be true.

      Do you have ways that you push off the doubts? Tricks you use to stay focused and keep moving forward?

  • Being unemployed is a giant world of suck. It sounds like you’ve managed to get some good habits though. I found when I was unemployed that the hardest thing was not having a reason to get up and get out, so I forced myself to do something to get me outside at least once a day. Even just walking to the store for some fruit or milk or what-have-you made a huge difference.

    Keep up your spirits, and I’ll keep working at getting more awesome arts folks like you employed. 😉

    • Lois

      David – if you can find the money, that would be a huge weight off. In the majority of the meetings and interview I have had in the past 6 months, the number 1 reason that projects aren’t going ahead is funding. Companies that normally do one show a year are now doing one co-pro a year (which is one less show available to work). Other companies are cutting back their seasons from 5 or 6 shows to 3 or 4. It is all interconnected.