When people confess that they are using their expensive and illustrious college degree to study theater, it definitely elicits looks of pity and snooty head shakes. To them, it means suffering the eternal doom of bussing tables and living in your parent’s basement.
Except there’s something that people don’t realize. I didn’t add a theater minor to my academic curriculum because I expect to become some famous actress and spend my life living it up on Broadway. That’s just not realistic unless you go to college in a large city that breeds performing arts. When you add a theater minor you are opening yourself up to a world of diverse social interaction that operates on an entire other plane than what you’re used to. You intake culture, emotion, and life through a college class–I know, it’s crazy. Here’s what a theater minor taught me that any other class never could.
Understanding the Human Condition
Acting is not playing make believe. We actually experience real things and emotions. To act, you have to learn a few things about human interaction, which often means being vulnerable in public. It’s terrifying! Yet, it’s by far one of the best things I’ve taken away from my extra degree.
Vulnerability comes out whenever you have to stand in front of an audience and perform, because in doing so you reveal a small secret part of yourself you would never show otherwise. You discover new things about yourself whenever you do character work. It involves the introspection of yourself. Yikes! Who knows what you’ll find when you dig in to that deep hunk of flesh that’s your heart. Love, childhood trauma, an unnatural fear of the deep sea? I don’t know, but acting will bring it to light in the most public fashion you can imagine, and that’s good.
In the professional world, you will be exceptionally capable of knowing and controlling yourself in any type of environment, as well as adopting empathy for everyone around you. This isn’t something you can learn in a psychology class; it takes theater to do it!
Opening Yourself to Anything and Everything
When I got to college, I painfully discovered that training in theater is not limited to acting. It’s also costume design, marketing, ticket sales, publicity, lights and sound, and godforsaken stagecraft. I was filled with blind rage nearly every day in my stagecraft class, because building sets, using power tools, and generally being dirty just gets me riled up.
This is a lot like how the rest of life is. Having a career does not mean you’ve won and finally just get to focus on your one passion. You still have to do the not fun things that make you act like an angry rhino. At some point, you will be given a task that you may not be very excellent at, but you will have to do it anyways. Taking a theater class will make you prepared for that. You can take on anything life throws at you.
Communication and Presentation Skills
Take a moment to relive those painful COMS 101 memories. Do you remember standing in front everyone with your palms sweating and thinking that maybe you would throw up in your mouth?
Same. I also remember being traumatized at having to give a public speech or presentation, and honestly wanting to die rather than have to keep talking. Theater will rip that fear from your soul in a hot second. I’ve learned how to push through my fear, and act like I’ve got my life together when I’m actually dying inside. I know how to improvise and speak intelligently at the same. You’ll never need to take a marketing class in your entire life, since you’ll have a firm grasp of meeting your audience’s perspective and holding their attention.
Let’s just get it out there–sometimes it can really hard to be in charge while also being a nice decent human being. When I am put in charge of a group of people or project, my first instinct as a perfectionist is to be fascist dictator that wants things done my way and fast. However, life doesn’t work like that. Realistically, when you’re in charge of a group of people, you will have to make compromises and even sacrifice your time for them. I had the opportunity to take a directing class in which I put on a full scale production. This meant managing a cast, crew, and a production and designer team.
It’s important to remember that people can’t read your mind. When you’re in a management position, you need to be a boss and a teacher, and that means having patience and treating other humans how you would like to be treated as a human. Being the head of a large scale production made me feel like I was the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation.
Just Dealing with People
If you’ve ever been in a room full of theater people, you know that it can be a pretty interesting experience. You have the gay men with a better falsetto than you, the exuberant dancers, and overly emotional everyone else. Without being open and empathic to different personality types, it can look like being stuck in some sort of twentieth century asylum. However, dealing with people is an eye opening experience to life in the real world. With whatever career you have, there will be times when you need to communicate with a diverse group of people. The theater community teaches you to appreciate and value each person’s quirks and authentic selves, while also being a team player.