Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

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Performing Artists

Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

The chances of getting work as a performing artist are limited because the performing arts industry in New Zealand is small and competition for roles is high. The size of the industry also makes it difficult to sustain a career as a full-time performing artist. Many supplement their income with other jobs.

How to become a performing artist

What they do

Actors entertain people by acting out a role using body movement and speech. They may act live in the theatre or act in recorded television shows, advertisements or movies.

Entertainers entertain people by singing, dancing, playing musical instruments performing other entertaining acts. They may perform live in concerts, shows or circuses, or record their performances to be sold later.

Their tasks may include:

  • reading scripts and undertaking research to gain understanding of parts, themes and characterisations
  • learning lines and cues, rehearsing parts, and applying vocal and movement skills to the development of characterisation
  • preparing for performances through rehearsals under the instruction and guidance of production directors
  • acting parts and portraying roles as developed in rehearsals in film, television, radio and stage productions
  • practising dance routines and interpreting the choreographic content of the production
  • performing dances for audience entertainment, coordinating body movements and facial expression, usually with musical accompaniment
  • composing and notating ballet compositions and other dance routines
  • creating and performing individual performance routines
  • rehearsing, auditioning and travelling between entertainment venues
  • creating melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures to express ideas and emotions in musical form
  • translating ideas and concepts into standard musical signs and symbols for reproduction and performance
  • undertaking research and liaising with clients when composing musical backing for television commercials, popular recordings, and radio, television and film productions
  • auditioning and selecting musicians and Singers
  • selecting music for performances and assigning instrumental parts to musicians
  • directing musical groups at rehearsals and performances to achieve desired effects such as tonal and harmonic balance, rhythm and tempo
  • studying and rehearsing repertoire and musical scores prior to performances
  • playing music in recital, as an accompanist, or as a member of an orchestra, band or other musical group, from score and by memory
  • performing music and songs according to interpretation, direction and style of presentation, using highly developed aural skills to reproduce music.


Qualifications needed

There are no specific entry requirements to become a performing artist. However, there are a number of workshops, courses and qualifications that can help develop your skills. These include acting, singing or movement workshops, lessons in playing instruments, and certificate, diploma or degree programmes in performing arts.

Amateur acting experience, such as in school productions or amateur theatre, is also very useful. Many communities have Repertory or Little Theatre societies.

Although there are shorter courses in performing arts and drama and theatre studies, the bachelor’s degree is popular.

Aspiring musicians can do a Bachelor of Music. This is especially useful for classical musicians. There are also other certificates and diplomas available for musicians.

Cost of study

Bachelor in Drama & Theatre or Performing Arts
$19,500 over three years

Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for  fees-free tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation..

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services:  

Where to study

The specialist provider of performing arts qualifications in New Zealand is Toi Whakaari – the New Zealand Drama School. Unitec, South Seas, and The Actors Programme all provide training for acting and ether performing arts. You can also study performing arts, music, or drama and theatre at various universities, wānanga and polytechnics throughout the country. Careers New Zealand’s website has a searchable database of NZQA-registered courses.

South Seas: 
The Actors Program: 
Toi Whakaari (New Zealand Drama School): 
Careers NZ, Education and training: 

Completed qualifications

The number of students completing a bachelor’s degree in performing arts has been between 600 and 800 in recent years. Drama qualifications at other levels are also available.   

Qualification completions chart


Source: Ministry of Education

Professional organisations

Equity New Zealand represents performers in contracts, disputes, training and other professional issues.  

Equity New Zealand:

Income and employment prospects


In 2019, the estimated average income for performing artists was $34,100. Some individuals, however, earn considerably more.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

Employment and skill shortages

Performing artists’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
1,308 1,323 1,560 1,720
  0.2% 2.7% 1.7%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
*Growth projections are for the broader category “Arts Professionals”.

The number of performing artists employed in New Zealand was stable over the period from 2006 to 2013. Future growth for the wider category of ‘Arts Professionals’ looks very good, above the average for all occupations.

There is, however, plenty of competition for acting roles, which means it can be hard to find work. Acting employment is also often characterised by fixed-term roles, which can feel less secure than permanent roles. 

Employment chart


Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
15% 25% 2% 59% $39,000

Source: Ministry of Education
*Two years after completion of a Bachelor of Performing Arts.

Three years after graduating, most people with a degree in performing arts were either in employment or overseas . Some were in further study, while a few were receiving benefits. The median salary was around $39,000 at that point.

Performing artists are not on Immigration New Zealand's skills shortage lists.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

The number of online job advertisements for the category “Actors, Dancers and Other Entertainers” has increased  since 2013. Note that many vacancies for these jobs are not advertised online.

Jobs advertised chart


Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Although some vacancies are advertised through talent agencies and websites such as Trade Me Jobs and Seek, professional performing artists work with their agents, who receive confidential casting briefs (audition calls) from casting directors. Employment can also be found through proactive job-seeking with potential employers.

Trade Me Jobs: 

Career path

There is no clear career path for performing artists. Pay rates vary depending on your ability and experience, location, and the type of work. Being a performing artist can also be a pathway into other roles in the performing arts industry, such as writing, directing, and producing, and into teaching roles in the education sector.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level performing artists.

  • Ballerina
  • Circus Artist
  • Clown
  • Comedian
  • Composer
  • Conductor
  • Dancer
  • Hypnotist
  • Magician
  • Musician
  • Singer

Other information


More information on performing artists is available through Careers New Zealand and Actors Equity New Zealand.

Careers New Zealand: 
Equity New Zealand:


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of performing artists has been coded to the following ANZSCO codes for the purpose of this report:

211111 – Actor
211112 – Dancer or Choreographer
211113 – Entertainer or Variety Artist
2112 – Music Professionals