Top musical graduates struggle for West End roles

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.