4 Ways to Break Into New York Theater

By TAC Guest Expert Bret Shuford

Every year, hundreds of eager actors come to New York City hoping to have a successful career in theater, but very few know what skills it really takes to break into the business.

So, they head out to the usual EPAs and chorus calls. Maybe they even enroll in classes at the Atlantic Theater Company. Whatever they have heard that might give them the edge. It’s a lot of time and money spent on more training, waiting and worrying. And the actors wonder why their big break hasn’t happened yet.

That’s because the real key is being a part of the community.

Not just in class or at auditions. Theater is a live, in-person experience. And what makes New York stand apart from Los Angeles and other markets is that there is always something happening in the theater world and you can be an active participant in it.

So if you want to join this community, naturally you will need to start showing up and investing time in the kinds of theater companies you want to hire you. Here are four steps to get the process started.

1) Bust Out The Pen & Paper.

You’ve already learned from Dallas that creating a Target List is an important tool to laser focus how you want to reach out to a group of people, so your first step is to make a list of all the NYC theater companies that are doing the kind of work you want to do.

Then comes the fun part – research.

That normally sounds so boring, but in this case, it means attending lots of shows. Experience the energy of different theater companies. Find out which playwrights are repeatedly getting their work produced and check out a few of their productions.

If you’re on a tight budget, a lot of theaters have great rates on tickets for anyone under 30; just go to their websites for more information. You can also often volunteer to be an usher, so kiss that excuse goodbye.

After you’ve taken a good survey of your list, narrow it down to no more than five theater companies that you would love to be a part of and want to get to know better.

2) Channel Norm Peterson.

Just like Norm was a regular at the Cheers bar, you are going to become a regular at these theater companies. Head on over to their websites and check out any free readings that are open to the public or upcoming industry workshops. The more events you can attend, the more proficient you will be in what kind of work they’re doing. So commit to whatever you can each month, but I recommend at least two events per month.

Heads Up: Depending on the company, if you arrive early enough before a reading, you can often volunteer to read stage directions or be a part of the reading itself.

3) Review the Playbill.

Know the people who are in charge. If you want to build strong relationships with the companies on your Target List, your research needs to go beyond what shows they are producing. You need to also become familiar with the staff.

Learn the name of the artistic director. Find out what the Literary Manager looks like. These are the people who cast the readings and the productions, so armed with this information, every time you go to their events, you can get to know them. Whether it is at the gala, an opening night, or a preview of their new show, be sure to say hello, congratulations and shake their hand. Let them begin to put a name with a face.

4) K-I-T

Last but not least, whenever you see a show or attend a reading, send one of these contacts a card or social media shout out. Maybe it is a thank-you for the opportunity to volunteer or a bravo on a spectacular opening. The point is to make them a part of your life.

You’re a New York City actor now, and we’re a strong, supportive community. If you want to be a trusted part of that unique group, and a part of one of your targeted acting companies, you have to put yourself out there in an authentic way that adds value. If you’re not willing to take a chance on your career, you cannot expect anyone else to do it for you.

If you invest even just three months into being a regular part of a theater company on your Target List, you’re going to start to feel like you’re included in the theater community in a way that you haven’t before. When you invest in others, they will invest in you. So, if you’re willing to commit the time, you’ll discover the wonderful opportunity New York City offers to empower yourself and your career.

For a list of theater companies, download my FREE Broadway Survival Kit here.

Bret Shuford is a New York based actor, creator, and Broadway Life Coach. He offers private and group coaching, helping people find a greater sense of fulfillment in their lives and careers.  Learn more at www.broadwaylifecoach.com.


  1. Excellent tips, Bret (and thanks, Dallas). It’s important to get to know those behind the creative scenes. And true, it’s also good to know which theaters do what fits YOU in the type of work you want to be doing. I used to just audition for everything and found that all venues don’t fit all types. I’ve come to understand more about artists values as well as my own. And often while researching theater companies, those values are stated. Thanks for sharing.

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