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Behind the Scenes: Backstage Majors and Careers in Theater

From directing to costume design, there are tons of career options off stage (and beyond).

Theater: where people from all over the world come together to bring writing to life. Of course, being center stage isn’t for everyone. Luckily for those who would rather be behind the curtain, there is a wide range of majors and jobs essential to the art and craft of theater. Without these behind-the-scenes jobs, the show would most certainly not go on!


Directing is one of the most important jobs in theater. The director is the one with the vision of how the show should look, steering everyone involved toward making the show the best it can be—not to mention a financial success. The director also helps run the show and coordinates with all other departments, from the costumers to the playwright to the actors to the producers. Directors might come to the job with a background in acting or theater studies, and they often work under other directors (as assistants or other roles), gaining lots of experience in the field until they strike out on their own. Careers in this field can go far beyond the theater to Hollywood movies and many other areas of work.

Related careers include:

  • Actor
  • Producer
  • Assistant director
  • Drama teacher
  • Music teacher

Costume design

Costume design isn’t just about fashion (though that’s obviously important!). Costumes help transport the audience into the place and time the actors are creating. A major part of making costumes is learning what’s accurate and appropriate for the show and working with the director to make their vision come to life. Majoring in costume design will teach you how to select, design, and create costumes for characters in plays and various other performances. Not only will you learn to design and create costumes but you will also study the history of costume design, different periods of clothing, and costume theory.

Related careers include:

  • Commercial costumer
  • Fashion designer
  • Film or television costumer
  • Magazine costumer
  • Retail display design

Set/scene design

Whether they’re depicting a grassy field or a bleak city street, set designers dig deep into their imaginations to create the unique worlds in which the characters live. A show’s backdrop not only sets the time and place of the story but also the tone. Set designers work with the director and crew to create their visions. When majoring in this field, you will learn how to translate a script into the perfect place setting, research the given time period to ensure accuracy, use a computer to create models and plan, estimate the exact cost of your design, and more. Truly, a set designer can find work wherever there is something that needs designing, from the background to a Broadway show to the display cases for a department store.

Related careers include:

  • Architect
  • Retail display designer
  • Interior design


Without choreography the musical scenes we all know and love would be bland and boring, without the beautiful waltzes or crazy jazz squares. Choreographers help build the show up from just acting to performing. They go through an intense dance and musical program, learning all different types of dance styles as well as the history of the art. This profession includes late nights, long rehearsals, traveling, and a lot of dedication, but it pays off in the end.

Related careers include:

  • Dancer
  • Dance teacher
  • Music video choreographer
  • Television and movie choreographer

Lighting design

Anyone who has ever worked in theater can tell you that lighting is crucial. Lights can completely change the mood, and they also help direct the audience’s focus. (The same can be said for other events, which is what makes this major so versatile!) While studying lighting you will learn lighting techniques, script analysis, business skills, and special effects. All of these areas are important to making the best lighting choices and working with the rest of the cast and crew to pull off an amazing show.

Related careers include:

  • Architectural lighting designer
  • Event designer
  • Lighting systems design and installation
  • Museum and exhibit designer
  • Opera lighting designer
  • Master electrician

No matter what you decide in the world of theater, with imagination and hard work, there will always be options open to you. And if you're looking for a college with a great theater program, start here!

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