“So what are you studying?”
“Oh. *laughs* So what are you actually going to do?”
This, and the ever popular, “Have you thought about a business degree?” are conversations I have become accustomed to having. As a theatre major, most see my time at a University as a waste of money because I will never be able to get a “real job”. However, I have compiled a list of reasons why theatre majors are just as marketable as other majors in the business world.
In any job, communication both written and spoken is absolutely critical. In theatre, actors and designers both must find ways to communicate their ideas or issues with their peers. Miscommunication within the theatre can lead to wasted time and costly, and sometimes dangerous mistakes.
Learning to articulate one’s thoughts in a clear and efficient manner is a discipline that is taught and encouraged through theatre, and is a skill which can transfer to virtually any job available. There will never be a time when typing a well-worded email, or giving a thorough presentation is a bad thing.
Theatre is essentially one giant group project, in which there is no possible way for one person to do everything (trust me, I’ve tried). For someone like me, who wants to be in control, and micromanage every last detail, theatre has taught me to rely on my peers, and also to help them when they are struggling. Fail or succeed, it is a group effort, and the same is true in the business world.
3.Creative Problem Solving
In theatre, things don’t always go right. In fact, a perfect performance is just a myth. Once, as I was waiting for a performance two of my siblings were in, I received a phone call from my younger brother, who was backstage in a panic because he left his Converse shoes at home, which he needed for his costume. There was not enough time to run home to grab the shoes, so as we weighed our options, I noticed my older brother, who was in the audience with me, conveniently had on a pair of Chucks himself. I told him: “Take off your shoes. Don’t ask questions.” And like a champ, he did. I ran the shoe backstage, the show went on, and my older brother watched the performance in his socks. The show must go on is a phrase that is engrained in performers’ heads, and when something goes awrye, it forces us to think on our feet, and quickly.
However, it is not only in emergent situations that we are forced to come up with creative solutions to challenges. Sometimes productions call for a shoe falling from the sky, or a window to break on stage, and designers must find ways to rise to those production challenges (If you’re wondering, a cardboard box placed strategically on a pipe, with a very long rope attached can make a shoe fall from the sky)
Theatre forces us to think outside the box (or sometimes in the box, if we go back to the shoe scenario), and we are willing to fail before we find success. This stick-to-it-ness and willingness to experiment are helpful when challenges come up in the workplace.
“To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late and to be late is to be left behind”
This quote is the mantra of the theatre world. Actors are trained to be early, as to be ready to go exactly at the desired start time. This is a habit which is useful in all aspects of life, not just in theatre and the business world (but those are probably the two most important places, amiright?).
Being in theatre requires one to look at their current situation, and ask, “Why is this working, or why isn’t it, and what can I do to make it work?” It is necessary that actors can reflect accurately on themselves, and make changes accordingly. In any job, self reflection is helpful to finding personal success.
I would like to personally dismiss the myth theatre is an easy major or an easy profession for that matter. For each hopeful who wants to actor professionally, there are hundreds of other hopefuls with the same, or sometimes even greater skill set. Because of this, there is no “off-season” for actors. They must always be working to further their talents. Additionally, theatre is taxing on the mind and body. Running a dance number over and over, while singing, requires a lot of stamina, and when auditioning for shows, hearing “no” takes mental stamina. Most actors, and the ones likely to find success, are willing to put in extra hours and sacrifice things (like sleep) in order to make sure they properly suited for their craft. This dedication is something that seeps into other aspects of actors’ lives, including their “day job.”
I cannot remember a time before my highlighted planner and accordion folder. In order to be successful in theatre, one must be organized. It is impossible to remember every audition, rehearsal call, or meeting without some kind of organizational system. Once actors find a system that works for them, it is easily transferable to their other schedules, and, coupled with punctuality, that I mentioned earlier, actors who are hired in an office will never miss a meeting OR be late.
Theatre forces people to reach outside their comfort zone, and for some, that may just be getting on stage and delivering one line. For others, it may be getting on stage and singing, and for others, it may be getting on stage and singing and dancing while dressed in a leotard. It doesn’t matter where people fall on this scale, theatre instills a sense of confidence in all who participate, which can be carried throughout life. While I nervously walk to a professor’s office, I often find myself saying, “If you can talk on stage in front of an audience, you can talk to one professor.” Maybe someday I will be saying, “If you can perform for an audience of 3,000, you can present at this board meeting.”
On the flip side of confidence, theatre also teaches us to be humble. We will never be the best, and this is something as actors, that we must come to terms with. We also learn very quickly, through ensemble roles and bit parts, that the world (did I say world? I meant show) does not revolve around us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t important to the story.
Finally, theatre teaches everyone who experiences it, to have a little compassion. The stories we as actors tell reflect the world around us, and those stories open up new perspectives which we hope will be taken outside the fourth wall of a theatre (if you know theatre, you’ll understand that I just made a little, very funny, joke there). At the end of the day, we are sharing an art form in hopes that those who see it, will walk away with an understanding they didn’t have before.
Thanks for indulging me in this post. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out Change Agent’s 9 Ways a Theatre Degree Trumps a Business Degree.