Top musical graduates struggle for West End roles

ArtsEd students graduating in 2014 perform The Music Man.  Photo: Robert Workman
ArtsEd students graduating in 2014 perform The Music Man. Photo: Robert Workman
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Just 2.6% of jobs taken by musical theatre graduates in their first year of work are for shows in the West End, a survey has revealed.

Of the near-500 performing arts jobs accepted by three-year musical theatre graduates in 2013 (who left five top drama schools in 2012), only 13 were in West End plays or musicals.

Larger companies – such as the National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre of Scotland – also provided 13 jobs to the graduates.

Meanwhile, regional theatres offered 17 jobs (3.4%) and commercial tours provided 23 (4.6%) engagements for the graduates, who were from Arts Educational Schools, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Guildford School of Acting.

The research, commissioned by Drama UK and conducted by casting director Jane Deitch, found that the greatest number of job opportunities (26%) for the graduates was in pantomime, cabaret, concerts, events and cruises – a sector the report termed as ‘entertainment’. This was closely followed by fringe and Off-West End work, which accounted for 20% of jobs offered to the graduates.

Overall, more than 80% of work for the musical theatre performers was in the live sector, and about 20% was in recorded media, with TV and commercials accounting for 32 jobs between them.

Similar research released last year – which looked at the career paths of students from three-year acting courses across 19 schools – found that 42% of jobs were in recorded media, with 58% of jobs in the live sector, including 0.3% in the West End.

Deitch said: “The heartening thing about these latest figures is that the courses seem to be massively fit for purpose. The students are going into the roles you would expect – albeit not a huge amount in the West End – but a considerable amount in commercial touring, regional theatre, pantomimes, entertainment and concerts.”

She said it was “significant” that the larger companies provided 2.6% of the jobs taken by musical theatre alumni, especially when the same companies offered 3.8% of work taken by acting graduates.

“That’s something you may not have expected with musical theatre graduates – so it’s proving that they are triple threats and not just singers and dancers,” Deitch added.

She said that it was encouraging to see that 95% of musical theatre graduates were represented by an agent within a year of leaving their course, which was higher than the 77% of actor graduates who found an agent within a year.

However, she said there was some “snobbery” among musical theatre graduates, when it came to taking jobs on cruises – a sector accounting for just five jobs (1%).

Deitch said: “There is a feeling that there are better jobs out there than a cruise. Maybe there are other jobs that these particular students would aspire to.

“There is also a feeling that if a graduate leaves the arena for a whole year – which is what a tour is – you miss out on the shoots of your career because you can’t audition while you’re on a cruise.”

She also said that although there remained a great number of opportunities in the fringe and entertainment sectors, this could be seen as preferable to leaving the country for a year.

The most recent research looked at 97% of the 159 students that graduated from the five schools in 2012. It was carried out by analysing career profile sites – such as Spotlight and Casting Call Pro - and speaking with agents. Further analysis looking at the career paths of graduates from acting and musical theatre courses at Drama UK schools completed in 2013 is expected to be released later this year.


  1. The west end should be the top of britsh theatre. When I left drama school I was ready and hungry and eager and had no experience! I was green. Although my first job was in the westend I did not start to learn my craft until I ventured into the regions! Worked with people far misread experienced than myself. I find this article at war with what I see when I go to the theatre in the west end particularly Musical theatre – when I did the worlds longest musical I was one of the older members of the female ensemble at the grand age of 24! I want to see the full gamit of age ranges when I go to the theatre I want to see older people in the cast they bring gravitas and weight to a production and they have paid their dues! So the percentage you give – I’m sorry – to me seems fair!

  2. No student leaving university, theatre school, college etc is guaranteed to get a job on graduating and they can not just expect to walk into a west end role. Talent obviously comes into it but its not enough to expect desire and ability to get them a dream job. Being more than a triple threat is required. Look at producing, composing, directing and utilise all of the skills required to gain employment because without it, they may not be able to compete.

  3. Why SHOULD new graduates be expected to just walk into a West End job when they are fresh out of drama school? Get out there and gain some experience. Accept that that you will have to wait tables or take on other part-time jobs before getting what you want. Keen as they are (and why not?) fresh graduates will often take on jobs for lower pay. This gives a green light for low pay to become more acceptable and experienced artists get overlooked.

  4. So What? – welcome to the REAL World Kids – in my experience the graduate students struggle to get through a 4 show week – how they gonna manage 8 …lol It’s like watching obnoxious lambs to slaughter…lol

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