GETTING INTO THE INDUSTRY
One of the very first problems you might face when you start your backstage journey is: how does one get a job? In Singapore, there is little to no formal notices for backstage jobs. ArtsEquator’s Lobang page is wonderful, but not for the backstage crowd. No matter how many telegram groups you join or job websites you scour, you will most likely not find an opportunity. Very occasionally there will be one or two companies calling for a stage or production manager, but don’t keep your hopes up. So are there really no production jobs out there?
Well the answer is obviously no. Currently, even with the restrictions of Covid-19, ChannelNewsTheatre is still buzzing away with notifications of new shows. This month’s Business Times Lifestyle headline touts “Singapore theatre returns in full force” with a subheading of “At least 10 shows are opening in a packed October.” Where are they getting their crew? Well, here’s a few ways that can help you get a leg into the exclusive world that is the Singapore arts industry.
So what are some of the ways you can get backstage jobs?
(Please note that the opportunities listed below are open seasonally. No harm checking every once in a while!)
The most structured method to start is to enter a formal education institution. Singapore offers a range of technical production and management programmes. If you have two to three years and money to spare, this is a good way to get a decent foundation and a certificate to prove it. It will also provide you with a formal route via compulsory internships and industry collaborations.
Singapore’s national performing arts centre’s Esplanade Academy also offers a wide range of training courses to upskill in technical areas. Most importantly, they have the Technical Theatre Training Programme (TTTP), a 12-month sponsored training programme that provides entry level training in technical theatre. It comes with its own terms and conditions, but is highly recommended as the training is done in the venue itself, with all its equipment and expertise. With the training, positions such as casual tech crew in the different performing arts venues in Singapore will be open to you.
Every once in a while, different performing arts companies will also offer the chance for an apprenticeship with them on their season shows. It is a good idea to constantly keep tabs on them via social media so that you are aware when they do have an open call for candidates.
If you have trouble hitting the requirements for the apprenticeship, attending their workshop is also a good idea, but of course, this means that you have to pay a fee.
Intern with a company
An internship is a commitment to learn. You can apply for an internship at almost any company as they are constantly looking for an extra hand to help in the office. Three to six months is a good duration for you to properly learn and contribute to the company.
If you have a formal education in technical theatre, the likelihood of getting an internship that focuses on the production aspect of the company is higher. Should you not have any experience, you will most likely have to double-up and take on a job scope in the office. Explicitly stating that you are very interested in working actively on the production will help, but as Singapore theatre companies are usually small, they will likely need your help someplace else in the office. Putting in the extra time to sit in for rehearsals would be the best way to learn!
Emailing the companies
Before you ask: “Will work meh?”. Yes, it does. Friends of mine have done it and gotten positive responses!
Sending your CVs directly into the emails of companies is always a good idea. Never be afraid of reaching out! Most companies, especially those in the art scenes, are always looking out for young blood. At best, they open your email and actually engage you in some form or other. At worst, they are aware of you. Either way is better than not doing anything. There are even some companies like SRT who state explicitly on their website for people interested in working with them in a production capacity to email them.
Last but not least, the most accessible way of getting around is volunteering your time. Just Google the company, head to their website and sign-up! Almost all companies are in need of an extra hand in front-of-house. Companies such as Drama Box have an extended list of roles you can choose to volunteer for. Follow the different performing arts company social media as they are most likely to call for volunteers closer to show dates. You will definitely meet like-minded people during your volunteer shift and who knows, someone who you might get to work with in the future!
My own experience
As someone who does not have any formal education in production management, I have done my fair share of volunteering at different arts festivals and shows. I have interned with two arts companies, joined workshops and completed training courses. Doing the above has helped build my CV and meet many, many wonderful individuals who are as passionate about the industry as I am.
Having asked different industry friends on how they got their first job, the majority of them answered with “luck”. And I agree. I was lucky enough to have met someone in class in my second year of university who was working in the industry and willing to take a chance on me. Till this day, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and mentorship she gave me to start my career in the industry. But she would not have given me the opportunities if I were not openly expressive of my love of the art and my commitment to treat it seriously.
After applying for any of the above and actually getting your first green light, your commitment to learning and working in the industry will leave a deep impression on the people who are working with you. In every way one can choose to enter the industry, the nature of our work (as much as we might hate it) requires some networking or open-mindedness to make new friends and gain new work opportunities. Value-adding to the team, working smart, professionally and respectfully will also help you in getting the next job, and the next, and the next, and the next!
By: Gillian Ong
Gillian graduated from Singapore Management University in 2019 with a BA(Hons) in Sociology and Arts Management. She freelances as an arts and stage manager. Her passion is to bring arts to people, to have fun in production, in theatre, on stage, watch artists perform their best on stage and watch as the audience fall in love with them.