Making the Jump from Amateur to Professional Theatre

  • Jennifer Butler

So, you want to work in professional theatre? That’s a question that I have been asked many times but didn’t always know how to answer. And up until recently, was also something that I didn’t realize that I really wanted. Mostly because for me, doing theatre at any level besides community was just a pipe dream. I used to say that someday when I am working on Broadway but didn’t believe it.

I never went to school for theatre. I just enjoyed seeing shows and wanted to get involved. So, I found my local community theatre, and that is when my life changed for the better. I said after my first production that I did not know how it was going to happen, but I was determined to find someone or somewhere who would pay me to do what I loved. Because I finally had found where I belonged.

Fast forward four years where I had been doing show after show with a few different theaters. I was ready to see what the next level might be like, but I was not sure how to do so. On a whim, I saw and applied for a props supervisor freelance position at a professional theatre company in Boston. Time goes by, and I hear nothing, so I figured it wasn’t meant to be.

So, I get on a plane to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and to do some traveling (where among other places) I went to the Fairy Myth Bridge. Later that day I receive an email asking if I was still interested in the props supervisor position as they were looking for someone for the first two shows of the season. When I returned from my trip, I interviewed for the position and was offered the job.

Here was my chance, I thought. I don’t know if this is what I wanted but here was my chance to find out. I took a risk and quit my day job because I needed to know if this was what I wanted and to be able to give the play my full attention. I knew if this went well, it could lead to more opportunities. Either way, whether I decided to continue in professional theatre or do the play and be done, I would have done an excellent job. But I thought here is my chance to give it a go.

Doing the show was a lot harder than I expected but was so rewarding and to boot, I was getting paid to do theatre! That’s a sentence that I never thought that I would utter. As this show was opening, I get offered another production which was a lot harder than the first but I still was enjoying what I was doing, the people that I was meeting, and the place that I was working.

Next thing that I know, the second show leads me to a third show with a different theater company and I couldn’t believe that my pipe dream was happening. So, maybe it was Scotland and the Fairies? Or perhaps it was my design work? Or my recommendations? But, whatever the reason, and however it happened, a professional theater hired me, and I don’t plan on looking back. After testing the waters a bit, I now know that yes, this is something that I want to do for as long as possible.