Performing Arts

A career as a performer is not for everyone.  It takes hard work, well-crafted talent, and – perhaps most importantly – the knowledge that you can’t imagine doing anything else.  Making a living primarily as a performer takes perseverance, the ability to take rejection, and patience.  Often it means a day job to pay the bills, while performing as much as possible in your free time.

Explore Performing Arts Careers in O*Net (Including Adjacent Roles)

Entrepreneurial Mindset:

If you are going to work as a practicing arts performing, you have to approach your career with a freelancing, entrepreneurial mindset.  Performers need to find new gigs, market themselves, look for work, have the needed skills and background to audition, manage finances, and more.  Mastering your creative talents is just the first step to success in as a performer, building those entrepreneurial skills is critical.  After all, working as a practicing performer can be similar to  running your own personal business with you – and your talents – as the service.

Consider engaging with the college’s entrepreneurial program to build the needed business skills to make it as a freelancing creative.

Specialized Websites to Search for Opportunities

In addition to Handshake and other general career sites listed on the main page, here are specific resources to help you identify opportunities in the performing arts.

Resumes and Cover Letters - Performing Arts

Resumes: A performance resume is often very unique to each person.  These resume samples are intended to provide a general idea of what a performance resume can like.  Your resume may – and typically will – look different.  Further, other roles within or adjacent to the performing arts may have unique modifications as well.  One of the best ways to figure out how your performance resume should look is to explore the resumes of other professionals who are working in similar ways to what you intend to do.   Many performing artists have webpages with their resumes included.  An internet search is an excellent tool to discover resume version in the professional world.

Basic Resume Samples:

Headshots: Resumes are typically accompanied by a professional headshot – often with your resume printed on the back of the headshot.  While you will certainly need digital copies of your headshots, it’s still common to have a physical resume and headshot available for auditions.  Below are top tips articulated in Backstage:

  1. It is worth the financial investment to have high quality headshots taken to showcase you as a performer.  Most performers will agree it’s worth pay for a qualified professional who is trained to take headshots.  Good headshots can range from $500 to $1,200 – with some additional costs to have them duplicated.
  2. Ensure the headshot really looks like you and has some personality.  Minimize after shot modification.  Headshots will need to be taken every few years to ensure that you look like your photo.
  3. In general, a good headshot is chest up with good lighting on your face, and no strong dramatic shadows.
  4. Lighting matters!  Consider natural light vs. studio light.  A good photographer will be able to help you ensure lighting works.
  5. Make sure your headshot is focused on you.  Limit props, extraneous clothing, and excessive make-up.

Cover Letters: Cover letters are rarely – if ever – needed when submitting for auditions or applying for roles.  Cover letters may be needed when applying for artists fellowship, apprenticeships, or other performance-based programs.  In this case, the term cover letter may not even be used and instead you might be asked for an artist statement, personal statement, or other prompted response.

Developing your Artistic and Creative Skills

While the Piper Center is many things, we are not experts in creative talents!  Pursuing a career as a performer means developing your artistic talents.  For students exploring careers as a performer it is critical that you talk with arts faculty – your teachers – about your career goals and discuss how your artistic talents are evolving towards those goals.  Faculty are critical to teaching, strengthening, and evaluating the artistic and creative skills needed to succeed as a practicing performer.

Together, faculty and the Piper Center work together to support your career journey.

Faculty can help you answer the questions:

  • What is it like – and what does it take – to be a professional performer?
  • How do my talents and strengths connect to the world of the performing arts?
  • What type of performance career is the best fit for me?
  • How will a career in performance fit into my broader vocation and career goals?
  • Is performance something I want to pursue as a primary career goal or is it something that will augment another area of interest?


Auditioning is part of the life of a performer and it is likely that you will do many, many auditions over your career.  Be sure to read audition notices carefully, do plenty of research, and prepare as much as possible.  Understand what will be expected at the audition so you feel prepared and ready.  (i.e. What is the structure of the audition?  What type of material should you perform?)

Engage Off-Campus

Success as a performer requires you to engage with your broader artistic and professional community.  Performers need to network and build relationships just as much as other career areas!  It’s important to get off campus to connect with that broader artistic community, ideally in the geographic area in which you hope to live following graduation.  Attend a performance, visit a gallery, or network with Ole alumni – these are ways to help you understand and  find success in the creative community in which you hope to join.

Engaging with professionals, alumni, and other contacts will also help you understand the nuances of each ensemble, geography and community.   While there are standards and norms, there is a great deal of nuance that is helpful to understand as you navigate a career as a performer.  While it is important that you spend time honing your creative talents, networking from time-to-time is an important part of making it as a performing artist.

Summers are also a key time to explore and challenge your creativity and your artistic skills.  Summer Stock and  Summer Music Festivals are examples of opportunities to build experience, improve your craft, connect with other performers, and network.

Professional and Industry Associations - Performing Arts

Professional organizations are a fantastic way to explore careers, gain insight into specific industries, and keep up-to-date on relevant news.  Engaging with professional associations and participating in events can help you connect with relevant creative professionals and build your credibility in your area of interest.  Consider using professional associations to develop and enhance your career journey:

  • Search for information related to entering the specific career field.
  • Many associations have job and internship databases.
  • Access current information and news related to your industry
  • Follow the association on LinkedIn to receive relevant content in your feed and demonstrate your credibility in the professional community.
  • Join as a student member – often for free or at a greatly reduced rate – and indicate your membership on your resume to demonstrate credibility with potential employers.
  • Learn about and participate in networking or industry events to meet and engage with arts professionals.

Select the arts area for a full list of relevant professional associations in the arts.  Looking for a specific association that isn’t listed?  The Professional Association Finder is a great resource for national and international organization related to career industries.

Fellowships, Residencies, and Apprencticeships

CTC Theatre Fellowship Program at The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN

EMC Theaters with Apprenticeships/Internships List

McKnight Foundation Theater Artist Fellowships

McKnight Fellowships for Choreographers and the McKnight Fellowships for Dancers

CommonWeal Theatre Company Apprenticeship Program, Lanesboro, MN

Seattle Rep Professional Arts Training Program, Seattle, WA

Know of a fellowship, residency, or apprenticeship and wish to suggest it for this page?  Please email Bryan Shealer (shealer) in the Piper Center for Vocation and Career.