Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's creative sector is full of rich history and culture where the Cornish and Scillonians are fiercely proud of their heritage. But, what does it look like to work in this sector?
According to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership , the creative sector is growing at twice the rate of the UK economy.
However, when it comes to finding a job in the sector, it isn't as simple as just looking on the traditional websites. In 2021, Labour Insight reported 296 postings on 'performing arts, design, media and writing' for CIoS. That is less than 1% of the total job postings for CIoS in 2021. Only 9 came under performing arts.
Why is this?
Where to find jobs in theatre
A lot of people who work in theatre are freelance i.e. self-employed. This means new jobs/ contracts can be sourced through contacts and networking. Because production companies and theatres are using freelancers, they don't necessarily have to advertise the jobs publicly. This means the data can be hard to find.
Cornwall and IoS
CIoS LEP wants to raise our region's profile in the global creative economy. Our theatre and creative sectors are full of innovation, history and exceptional locations. We also have one of the top creative universities in the country: Falmouth University.
City of Culture
Excitingly, Cornwall made the shortlist for 2025 City of Culture. "Cornwall has world-class cultural institutions, from the Tate St Ives to the Eden Project, more than 70 museums, and a range of spectacular venues from the rugged clifftop Minack Theatre to plain-an-gwary (translated ‘playing-place’) medieval amphitheatres. It is also a place with a thriving community culture fuelled by the participation of the wider community in Cornwall’s many choirs, dances, bands, festivals and sporting events." - LEP
Meet Millie, a freelancer who works in theatre.
Millie has a degree in Writing, Directing and Performing from the University of York and undertook an apprenticeship in Arts Management via the Cornwall Apprenticeship Agency hosted by Hall for Cornwall. Millie has worked professionally in theatre for over 5 years, but has been involved in amateur and voluntary roles for over 15 years.
Hi Millie, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what your career has looked like so far in the creative sector?
Hello, yes of course. Moving to Cornwall when I was 15, one of the first plays I saw after we had moved was Cymbeline by Kneehigh Theatre. I had never seen anything like it and was immediately inspired by this mad group of people who looked like they were having the time of their lives on stage. Similarly, I saw a number of performances at village halls around my town over the next few years, from dance groups to one-man-shows, and this has formed the back-drop of my career: knowing that something that is performed in a non-traditional venue can have just as much (if not more) impact as something on a bigger stage with a bigger budget.
I went to university to study 'Writing, Directing and Performing' which was a mixed degree of film, tv, and predominantly theatre. I left without really much practical experience and without a direction for my career. A couple of years after graduating, I was unemployed and claiming jobseeker’s allowance, and the opportunity came up to apply for an apprenticeship hosted by the Hall for Cornwall. This was in 'Arts Management' and involved working with three of HFC's resident companies, learning about their day-to-day operations, as well as helping out on various projects, including a tour of a dance show, a tour of a play and shooting a feature film set on Bodmin Moor. The six months with these three companies and HFC have defined the rest of my career to date; I am still working with almost everyone that I met over that time, and through them have made connections and work opportunities around Cornwall and further afield.
"The six months with these three companies and HFC have defined the rest of my career to date"
There have been times where I've had to move away from the creative sector into salaried 'normal' jobs before I felt confident and financially stable enough to go freelance in theatre. This isn't to say that those roles in different sectors weren't valuable - I have learnt a lot and met many great people through all the jobs I have had, and there is a lot more of a cross-over between sectors than I thought there would be.
Even in freelance life, I take on a number of different roles to make a living: stage manager, tour booker, production assistant, project manager, administrator, producer, assistant director. I would say this has been one of the biggest things I have learnt about the creative sector; only those with money behind them can afford to call themselves just one job title - the rest of us have to hustle!
Day in the life: what’s a normal day for you?
I don't ever have a 'normal' day really - each day is different. For example, this week I have driven a van to collect and return an item of set that was used in Cinderella, I have sat at my laptop writing a funding application, I have caught up on emails about a tour, I have had a meeting about potential work in the next few months, and I have read and made notes on two plays that I am interested in producing in the future. However, two weeks ago my working week included 12 shows, fixing props and sorting out my receipts for petty cash. And I'm sure in the next two weeks it will be entirely different again!
When I think back to what I thought my career might look like when I was a teenager, it is very different to what I imagined. I didn't know about things like taxes and funding applications back then. There is a lot more 'admin' than expected, but all of it is for a purpose, and makes being in a rehearsal room or onstage even more special.
What are you currently working on?
I recently finished a role at Hall for Cornwall, working as Assistant Stage Manager on their Christmas show, Cinderella. My role involved sourcing or making all props, and I also decorated parts of the set. When the shows were running, I managed a wing of the stage, helping actors with props or costume, and doing set changes. Since that finished, I am working on a few different things; I am tour booking for a one-man show that will take place this year, I am helping to write a funding application for a project that will go into a research and development period over the summer; I am working on my own projects with some Arts Council funding to develop myself as a creative director/producer; and finally, I have two further projects working around Cornwall for the Spring.
What’s been your favourite project?
It's hard to pick one - they're all my favourite in different ways. Anytime I have worked at the Minack theatre, it has been really special. Similarly, with Kneehigh's Asylum (a big top tent) which has been housed at Heligan Gardens and Carlyon Bay. I also worked on a show at the Eden Project with WildWorks, which was about people from the future coming back to learn about Christmas from audiences as they walked around the jungle biome. It was completely mad, but absolutely brilliant.
What do you love about the theatre scene in Cornwall?
The creativity and passion of the people who make work here. It’s a big mix of different things, from inputs to inspirations, but all connected by a sense of pride in the place we live and work. I also admire the acceptance here that you can be more than one thing - many people wear many different hats depending on the project. The hustle is respected and understood, and everyone is given the chance to define themselves and their career.
What was/is the biggest challenge for you and your work during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Everything was cancelled! It was terrifying. And still it continues to be precarious with shows being cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. We were relatively lucky in Cornwall in some respects, with our lower case numbers in 2020 compared to the rest of the country, and with an already strong tradition of outside performances, so that once the first lockdown was over, shows and tours resumed to some extent. It is still to be seen how well the sector can recover without much government support for the arts in general, but for freelancers too who make up the majority of the workforce.
More widely, I think a huge challenge for the industry is that a lot of people, whether working class, from underrepresented backgrounds, or even people who are parents, have left the sector to find more stable employment. Similarly, those who were just about to join (or were 'emerging') have not been able to do so due to lack of opportunities. In a sector which is already defined by the predominantly white, predominantly privately-educated, this will only lead to further dilution of any sort of diversity in people and in thought. Another challenge is financial; lots of companies made their money from international touring pre-pandemic and this is now almost impossible, not just because of Covid, but also Brexit.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in breaking into the theatre sector but has no prior experience?
Get in contact with organisations or people you admire, particularly in your local area. For example, Hall for Cornwall has an extensive programme of networking, outreach, and connection for people at any stage of their creative career. There might be a theatre company based in your town who would be happy to chat or help you with some work experience.
Take a look at industry specific job sites, such as Mandy, for an insight into the range of roles that are available on productions - not all of them are advertised, but it will give you an understanding and hopefully some inspiration into what role you can see yourself in.
Take every opportunity to network.
Get hands-on, practical training, and experience. As well as apprenticeships or the Kickstart scheme, there are many incredible amateur theatre groups in Cornwall who work to a professional standard - gaining experience through taking part is valuable too.
And see as much theatre as you possibly can! A mix of venues, genres, themes - see as much as you can to work out what it is you would like to make.
What can People Hub do?
Millie’s experience is vast and her advice is invaluable. So, what can People Hub do?
We’re here to help you.
If theatre is an area you would like to explore, then we can help you with that. Or, if you’re already in the industry, we can help you ‘level up’. Our expert connectors will work with you to find out what it is you really want to do or try. We can help fund a training course to support your career, whether that be Theatre Production, Costume Design or Sound and Lighting!
Thank you for your support and encouragement during this time. I found your words very helpful during some dark times.
At the end of last year I was made redundant and was at a real loss. I was referred to the People Hub ...and I ended up here - a newly recruited Work Coach for the DWP. A BIG thank you to Kim for that initial advice.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all your help in my quest to find work. I have found it very informative and I am very impressed with all the quick responses I have received from your referrals. You are all doing an amazing job, thank you!