A performing arts college curriculum aims to give students the knowledge, tools, and training to be working artists. Performing arts majors get to study all aspects of their craft and gain practical experience. A degree in the performing arts can give grads a leg up on the competition, through more polished skills and valuable connections in the business.
A wide variety of job options are available within the arts sector. Here, we’ll explain the main types of performing arts degrees, and the kind of jobs available to grads as performers and behind-the-scenes pros.
What Are the Performing Arts?
In the performing arts, an artist uses their body, voice, or a musical instrument to express a story or feelings. Art forms include theater, film, vocal and instrumental music, opera, comedy, dance, puppetry, spoken word, and even magic and circus acts.
The performing arts differ from the visual arts, in which artists express themselves through means such as photography, painting, drawing, and sculpting.
What Are the 4 Main Types of Performing Arts?
Performing arts degrees are typically geared toward one or more of these areas.
Drama includes not just acting, but also speech, stage movement, voice work, theater history, and dramatic literature. Other specialties in the drama category include directing, stage management, playwriting, musical theater, and scene design. Students learn all the elements that go into a theatrical production.
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Dance aims to communicate emotion, story, and character through the use of movement. Jazz, ballet, tap, and hip-hop are just a few types of dance included in a performing arts program. Dance performances often have musical accompaniment, and the emotions stirred up by the music frequently come through in a dancers’ body language.
Music majors are exposed to all facets of music, from playing an instrument to composing and musical directing. In some college programs, singing is also included. All types of music are covered, such as classical, jazz, opera, pop, and folk. Music can be vocal or entirely instrumental.
Singing is defined as the activity of making musical sounds with your voice. Singing is a form of creative expression, merging words and music, that requires talent and training. Singers can perform solo or as part of a group, as in a choir, band, or musical theater. As mentioned above, voice can be part of a music specialty in a performing arts degree program, or fall under the drama category, for musical theater majors.
What Is a Performing Arts Degree?
A performing arts degree is a diploma earned through completing classwork in various disciplines like dance, music, and drama. Curriculums typically combine concentrated theoretical and historical study with performance practice.
Along with the designated coursework, most performing arts programs require students to gain real-world experience under the supervision of a trained professional. This might come in the form of a paid or unpaid internship, such as working as an assistant to a director or to a sound engineer in a recording studio.
Earning a degree in the performing arts shows you’re serious about your craft and dedicated to learning it. It means you’ve studied intensively and are prepared to pursue your talent in a professional way.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Performing Arts?
The world of performing arts offers a wide array of career choices, either in front of an audience or backstage. One of the most common choices is teaching or private coaching. You can do this through a professional school, community organization, after-school program for kids, or on your own.
• Actors can find work as voice-over artists, stand-ins for principal actors on a film or television production, understudies, stand-up comedians, podcasters, or hosts of live or recorded programs. Actors can also demo products at corporate conferences, become tour guides, or serve as master of ceremonies for events or comedy shows.
Other possible career paths include becoming a drama therapist, public speaking coach, talent agent, casting director, director, producer, theater or film critic, playwright, screenwriter, dramaturg, stage manager, or arts administrator.
• Singers can work in musical theater, cabaret, or as a professional member of a chorus or choir. They may aspire to become lead singer of a band or a backup performer for other artists, in live performances or in a recording studio. Singers can also find jobs singing on cruise ships, in lounges and nightclubs, teaching voice, or as songwriters.
• Musicians can pursue a number of careers, including musical director or conductor, composer, arranger, sound engineer, or music software programmer. There are even music ministers, who work for a religious organization on musical arrangements used in weekly services, weddings, and funerals.
Jobs for musicians are similar to those open to singers. Options include working as a band or orchestra member, part of a jazz trio, or backup musician during recording sessions. Some musicians find success working behind the scenes, as a talent agent or a tour manager.
• Dancers can find work as an artistic director for a dance company, a choreographer, or a dance teacher. With additional training, dancers can become movement or fitness specialists, such as physical therapists, personal trainers, or Pilates instructors.
With additional training, a performing artist can become a drama, music, or dance therapist. These professionals help people improve their mental health and well-being by incorporating techniques and exercises in their specialty. For example, a drama therapist might use storytelling or role-playing to help work through behavioral problems and emotional challenges. Other options are included in our list of the best jobs for extroverts.
Can I Get a Performing Arts Degree Online?
Yes, you can, though the opportunities aren’t as plentiful. Because you need hands-on experience to train in the performing arts, learning online is not ideal or beneficial to mastering your craft. For instance, if you’re taking an acting class, learning how to move around a stage, project your voice properly in a theater, and connect with a live audience is much more difficult, if not impossible, to do online.
Some effective online courses are designed for virtual students. Introductory classes offering an overview of the theatrical arts, playwriting, costume design, or music theory can easily be taken online. Enrolling in some online courses can help students get prerequisites out of the way. But there will most likely be courses requiring you to appear in person for practical experience.
Typical Performing Arts Degree Courses
The performing arts courses you’ll take will depend on the speciality you’ve chosen: drama, music, dance, or an interdisciplinary degree that combines elements of two or more specialties. Courses will differ depending on the school you attend and your degree level.
Usually, a performing arts degree curriculum will begin with general education classes. Academic lectures will deal with the theory and history of the performing arts. Practice-based classes focus on technique and craft. Finally, field-based, experiential learning is key.
While pursuing your degree in performing arts, you’ll most likely be able to take elective courses that fall outside your department, such as psychology or political science.
Common Performing Arts Degree Requirements
When it comes to academic requirements, some schools or courses will be more specific than others. Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years to complete if you’re a full-time student. An accelerated performing arts program may require less time.
Most schools require students to complete a mix of classes specifically related to their chosen major. Other foundational courses such as theory, stagecraft, performing arts history, and literature are needed to fulfill the degree requirements.
What Is the Highest Degree in Performing Arts?
As with many other college majors, performing arts degrees range from an associate’s degree to a Ph.D. However, the most common performing arts degree earned in the field is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Although less common, some schools award a Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA).
There is a practical distinction between a BA and BFA in performing arts. A BA program requires more liberal arts coursework (such as English, math, and science). A BFA program primarily consists of courses in creative disciplines, with the ratio strongly favoring creative classes.
Performing arts master’s degrees can benefit individuals who want to advance their expertise or teach at the college level. Ph.D. programs in the performing arts are geared to those with plans to become researchers or tenure-track professors.
Performing Arts Degree Jobs
There are countless occupations within the realm of performing arts. Here are some of the more popular and in-demand jobs:
• Producer. A producer acts as a behind-the-scenes executive decision maker. Projects include stage, film, and television productions. Duties of a producer include securing funding for the production, managing the budget, making business decisions, and collaborating with the director on hiring talent and crew.
• Director. These professionals guide a theatrical production from start to finish. Directors are responsible for auditioning and casting actors, instructing the actors during rehearsals, assembling a production team, and supplying a vision for the project and a unique understanding of the text. They may also work with producers to ensure the project proceeds on budget and on schedule.
• Writer. If you have a talent for writing and take writing courses while pursuing your performing arts degree, you can parlay your skills into playwriting, screenwriting, or reviewing for a media outlet. Writers may start out as a writer’s assistant on a television show and work their way up to becoming a showrunner, the person who oversees all aspects of a series and is often the head-writer. Or, if you focus on drama or music in school, a lyricist can be a satisfying career path.
• Teacher. There’s always a need for educators in the performing arts. You can become a drama, dance, or music teacher in a school, conservatory, or community setting. If you achieve an MA or MFA, you can be a professor at the undergraduate or graduate level, create your own class, or work as a private coach. Sometimes, experience honed in the field as a working performing artist is more than enough to teach what you know to others, without requiring anything more than a bachelor’s degree.
• Musician. The world of music offers myriad jobs. As mentioned earlier, if you sing or play an instrument, you can perform in a band, as part of an orchestra, or as a session musician, backing up another artist in a recording studio. Other sought-after jobs in the music industry include making music for video games, guitar technician, piano tuner, or staff musician who performs on cruise ships, at theme parks, and for music production houses that create music for specific clients.
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Ways to Pay for a Performing Arts Degree
Paying for a performing arts degree isn’t any different from paying for other college degrees. You can use both federal and private student loans to finance your performing arts education, along with scholarships and grants.
The first place to start is by applying for federal student aid. With the ever increasing cost of college tuition, even middle class students are encouraged to apply for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA®) will help you line up federal scholarships, grants, federal student loans, and work-study programs.
You can find additional grant and scholarship listings at sites such as collegegrant.net, collegescholarships.com or scholarships.com. SoFi also offers a helpful scholarship search tool.
If your federal student aid offer doesn’t cover your cost of attendance, private student loans are also available. Unlike federal student loans whose terms and interest rates are set by the government, private loan terms and interest rates are set by the lender, based on the borrower’s credit history. Private student loan interest rates are usually higher than the rates on federal student loans.
A degree in the performing arts provides you with the knowledge and skills you need to embark on an artistic career. The four main areas of study are drama, dance, music, and singing, though students may combine courses from different specialties. There is a wide variety of occupations in the artistic arena that can keep you employed while you live a creatively expressive life. Some popular careers include producer, director, screenwriter, teacher, arts administrator, and stage manager. And of course, you may also aspire to become an actor, musician, dancer, or other performer.
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What are the advantages of earning a degree in the performing arts?
A degree in performing arts can help set you apart in experience and skill level from other artists who don’t have a performing arts degree. Immersing yourself in your chosen major gives you the tools and confidence you’ll need later on. You’ll also be studying under faculty members who are not only valuable mentors but professional connections.
What skills do I need to get a job in the performing arts?
Besides having talent and training, certain attributes increase the likelihood you’ll be successful in your career. Employers in the performing arts sector look for people who are flexible, collaborative, cooperative, disciplined, and resilient. Other important skills include the ability to take direction, being a quick learner, and the ability to manage your time efficiently.
Is a degree in performing arts worth it?
It definitely can be. Extensive study helps lay the foundation for your training early on and lets you build on your natural abilities with practical experience. Working toward a performing arts degree allows you the opportunities to flex your muscles by performing in college productions and working internships outside of school.
These are achievements you can put on your resume that show you’ve already gotten hands-on experience. Graduating with a performing arts degree shows you’re serious about your intentions and have done the intense work to perfect your craft.
Photo credit: iStock/blanaru
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