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Salary of a Professional Theater Performer

by Rick Suttle, studioD

Performing arts companies depend on professional theater performers to regularly fill theater auditoriums with riveting performances. Some act and sing while others dance and provide the background music for the plays. When these theatrical performers aren't on stage, they rehearse their lines or songs to perfection. To become a professional theater performer, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree along with lots of training. Professional theater performers' salaries vary depending on their roles, but you can expect to earn over $20 per hour.


Theater actors audition for specific roles in plays, and then rehearse their scenes with other actors and actresses. Many research their characters' backgrounds to add authenticity to their performances. While you may be able to land theatrical roles as an actor without a degree, many theater producers and directors prefer hiring actors with bachelor's of art degrees in theater. Those without formal training have usually spent years honing their craft, performing in high school plays and taking drama and acting lessons. As a theater actor, you need reading, speaking and memorization skills. Actors in performing arts companies earned $22.78 per hour as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) -- or $47,382 per year, based on 40-hour workweeks.


Dancers who are employed in theater perform in musicals and operas. They collaborate with choreographers to synchronize their steps with the music. Many of the routines are highly complex, so dancers spend hours practicing their roles -- both at rehearsals and on their own. If you want to be a theater dancer, your best recourse is earning a bachelor's degree in dance. Most dance professionals institute numerous dance styles into their routines. And since dance careers are relatively short, many eventually become choreographers. Key qualifications for a dancers are persistence, physical stamina and teamwork. If you succeed, you can expect to earn $22.78 per hour as of 2012, based on BLS data, or $42,598 full time.

Musicians and Singers

Musicians and singers, as dancers, also perform in musicals or operas. Some sing or play in choruses or bands, respectively, while others perform solos in plays or musicals. You'll need a bachelor's degree in music theory, or music performance, to be a theatrical singer or musician. Training for singers and musicians is extensive. You'll also need musical talent, perseverance and discipline. If you make it as a theater singer or musician, expect to earn $35.14 per hour as of 2012, according to the BLS, or $73,094 per year.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects a 11 percent increase in jobs for dancers in the next decade, and a 10 percent increase for musicians and singers. While these growth rates are statistically average compared to the 14 percent growth rate for all occupations, actors' jobs will only increase 4 percent. Many professional theater professionals stay in their respective careers for years, leaving fewer opportunities for newer performers. Small theater companies also have difficulty finding funding for their productions. If you want to work as a professional theater performer, you may have more success finding work with a larger theater or performing arts company.

About the Author

Rick Suttle has been writing professionally since 2009, covering health and business for various online and print publications. He has worked in corporate marketing research and as a copywriter. Suttle holds a Bachelor of Science in marketing from Miami University and a Master of Business Administration from California Coast University. He is author of the novels "Hell Year" and "Suicide Peak."

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