Let's start by defining our terms. 1. Theatre career--a lifetime of work in one or more areas of the dramatic arts. 2 Professional--in the dramatic arts, the only professionals are union members working for union wages. The rest are either semi-professionals who make some money at it, but not at union levels;` or amateurs who do theatre because they love it, rather than for money. OK? Swell. Using these definintions, of course it is possible to have a theatre career without being a professional. In some ways it may even be prefereable. It has more flexibility. You can work in many areas. And you can often do what you want to do rather than what others want you to do. I spent thirty seven years in educational theatre as a teacher, playwright,producer, director, designer and actor. I spent another ten years as a playwright, producer, and director of my own theatre companies, and squeezed into all of this I also owned and operated and wrote and directed for a dinner theatre, acted in semi pro dinner theatre, and spent ten years acting in professional films as a SAG member. I also had founded and operated and acted and directed for a theatre while I was in grad school. And since I stopped producing and directing theatre, I have continued to teach acting and I have written a book on preparing for professional acting. But, I know, and I think it is obvious from this brief run down of my experience, that I have had one heck of a career in the theatre even without any of the professional work.
It has been the best career I could have had, even though my employers rarely kept their promises and I had to make do as best I could for all the years of my career. It was a creative challenge that I enjoyed and look back on fondly. Best of all, and one reason, no doubt, why my employers sometimes did not support me, was that I did it MY WAY. I even eschewed the possibility of changing jobs to "better schools" because I cherised being my own creative boss. I loved it and I recommend it heartily as a career to those who also love the theatre.