Let’s zoom in on New York for a moment. There are currently 41 theatres on Broadway. If each theatre employs an average of 30 performers per show, there will be approximately 1,230 actors working at one time on the Great White Way. However, there are over 10,000 hopefuls auditioning every day.
There just isn’t enough room for everybody.
That is why so many performers end up leaving the big city hubs to work, be it New York, London, or Toronto to name a few. In this blog post, we are going to dissect what that means, how to best handle it and why it truly is a blessing in disguise!
I am a Canadian musical theatre performer with a Canadian musical theatre degree, and yet I have not done a show at home since the day I graduated in 2016. I knew in my bones that I wanted to work and travel at the same time, so I actively sought out jobs of the sort.
Let’s first dissect the different opportunities that may cross your radar. Cruise ships, theme parks, national tours, regional theatres; all amazing performing jobs that aren’t in those big stagey cities.
So, let’s dive in.
Cruise ships are a fantastic way to make money while performing. An ever-growing industry, there are now so many companies hiring singers and dancers for contracts typically spanning 6 months to a year. Food and accommodation will be provided, and you will likely get to see some amazing places. In fact, one of my favourite things about working on a ship is the ability to see a new port every day without sacrificing home comforts. You can unpack, decorate your room, and find routine in your everyday life. The pay is also often very good. If this is of interest to you, consider companies such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian etc.
Theme parks are a great way to make a bigger move for a longer chunk of time, as was my experience when I relocated to Japan to work for Tokyo Disney. Once again, my accommodation was paid for, and I received a per diem for food and everyday spending. These kinds of contracts are ideal if you are wanting to see a different part of the world, while still having enough freedom to do so on your own schedule. During my 9 months in Tokyo, I used my weekends and time off to travel all over Asia; Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam to name a few, but I still had a home base to experience what living in Tokyo was all about! Although there are a plethora of theme parks around the world, Disney and Universal are great options with parks in Asia, Europe and North America.
Regional theatre is probably the least life disrupting option so far. These contracts tend to be shorter and closer to home compared to the cruise ship/theme park jobs. If your end game is to be on Broadway or the West End, these shows will keep you near the hub without taking you out of the game. You will often have to find your own accommodation which might mean paying double rent (who wants to get rid of their lovely NY apartment for a three-month contract in the suburbs?!), but it is an amazing way to meet more performers who are hustling. Another bonus? Most big shows start at the regional level.
National tours are perfect if you prioritize performing in full book musicals closer to home. More often than not, these tours will travel North America (for you Americans and Canadians) or the United Kingdom/Europe (for the Brits), so the culture shock won’t be as strong. However, tour life is tough. Every few weeks, the show moves to a new theatre in a new city, so you really do feel like you are living out of a suitcase. I was part of a US national tour in 2017 and we played 88 cities in 100 days! You will also be responsible for finding your own accommodation in every town (though a per diem is given to help reduce the cost) so you might end up jumping from hotel to hotel, without kitchen access. However, because national tours are often carbon copies of their Broadway or West End equivalents (give or take a few changes for touring purposes), this is probably your best bet if you want to perform shows in their original state.
Regardless of the distance you’re traveling, there will always be practicalities that need to be thought through. Is your accommodation provided? How are you getting there? Make sure your cell phone plan works. In Japan, our apartments didn’t have internet, so I rented a pocket WIFI for the year and used that as my main data source on my phone and at home. Will you be able to use the same bank while you’re away? Do you need a visa and will it be provided by the company?
These little details might feel very overwhelming at first but thinking ahead will be invaluable during the transition into your new job. Many companies will often provide resources to help you: suggestions on how to proceed, dig lists for the best housing, plane tickets, Facebook groups where you can ask current cast members questions etc. No matter how far you go, you will never be alone.
Leaving the City Behind
It’s a tale as old as time. If I leave to work, will I lose all the momentum I’ve been building by auditioning here?
And the honest answer? It’s different for everyone. I KNOW, how frustrating. My first cruise ship contract started right out of college, and I kept that momentum going up until the pandemic. My personal experience is that through my travels, I have ventured an immeasurable amount of growth as a performer and as a person. Worth it!
Yes, being away will take you off the radar for a moment, but if you hit the ground running on your return, there is no looking back.
And I will shout it again and again from the rooftops: WORK IS WORK.
Performance jobs come in all shapes and sizes so please, do not limit yourself to what you already know. Do the research, read those audition notices, and find the jobs that breach your comfort zone. It might be one of the best things you ever do.