There has always been a persistent misconception about theatre. Why major in theatre? The theatre major won’t be the last person to be laughed at, or dismissively told, “Theatre is not a real job.”

It’s plainly obvious theatre majors can “do” theatre, but what is often underappreciated and overlooked is that they also develop a wide array of invaluable skills that make them ideal employees for any job. The unique advantages the student internalizes as a theatre major need to be recognized.

Besides the specialized skills that they learn onstage and backstage, theatre graduates enter the job market with the omni-expansive vision that all liberal arts students are expected to acquire in college, and theatre’s special hands-on, learn-by-doing environment gives them the training, experience, and skills which prove tremendously beneficial in any number of careers.

The measure of a theatre degree’s value in finding work outside of theatre is equally important both for 1) students who are committed to theatre as a career, and 2) those who are only considering a theatre major among a number of other options.

The practicality of the aspects and intangibles of a theatre major being considered are valid, sensible issues. The prevalent misconception of a theatre degree being useless is a persistent one, powerful in its influence over whether a student decides to major in theatre (usually not). Some employers may think that all an actor knows is just memorization and the ability to walk on stage without bumping into furniture, and tech people know only how to put up flats and hammer nails.

The “two types of jobs” (according to John Munschauer’s Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People) are identified as:

“professional work,” which require specialized training;

“trait-oriented work,” for which employers seek workers with special traits (such as communications skills, critical thinking, imagination, reasoning ability, et cetera).

Not only can and is theatre training specialized, it ultimately proves to be invaluable preparation for a broad scope of “trait-oriented” careers. The many skills learned as a theatre major transform our graduates into highly-competitive candidates for employment than would be assumed.

Among these skills I have referenced, please consider how many of these advantages and abilities are unique to theatre majors–and that a student double-majoring in theatre leaves college with far more advantages than majors in a singular discipline.

Example 1 – Articulate self-expression

Many students find that theatre helps them develop the confidence that’s essential to expressing themselves clearly, lucidly, and thoughtfully. Acting onstage teaches the student how to be comfortable communicating in front of large audiences, and some of your theatre classes will give him/her additional experience engaging groups in dialogue. Backstage work, especially crew duty during performance runs, will help him/her understand the strength of clear, precise, and organized communications. Some employers view these skills as essential and they often send management trainees to special workshops. This is where the theatre major has already created a built-in advantage for him/herself.

Example 2 – Creative problem-solving

Most people expect theatre students to demonstrate creativity in specialized disciplines such as acting, design, playwriting, or directing, and many companies actively recruit creative thinkers. However, employers are not always aware that theatre experience does help the student learn creative problem-solving techniques which are applicable to many jobs. For one example, technical theatre work— building scenery, hanging lights, making props, stage-managing a show, to use a few examples— is an exceptional way to learn how to think and identify problems on the spot, come up with possible solutions quickly, and make snap decisions. The same is true of almost every aspect of theatre. The point here is that your creative ability AND what you’ve learned about using creative processes to solve problems can be directly applied to virtually any job you have in the future. Most major companies believe that creative problem-solvers are good employees, and our majors are trained with the mentality of viewing mediocrity as unacceptable. Theatre students learn that “good enough” isn’t enough. It goes beyond “good enough.” He/she learns to do a job with the right approach and attitude. Whatever his/her theatrical job in any one of our productions— tech, performing, research, management— it has to be done right and without excuses. He/she learns to incorporate pride into doing things to the best of his/her ability and nothing but the best quality. Employers value that highly.

Example 3 – Motivation and commitment

Being involved in theatre productions and classes demands commitment and motivation, what’s known as the proverbial “fire in the belly”. These are qualities that college theatre faculty members, and to an extent, the average theatre major, probably already possess. We teach and lead through example that success comes to those who are responsibly committed to the task at hand. Not too many academic disciplines will strongly help the theatre major cultivate an ingrained work ethic. Many theatre students learn to transfer that attribute from theatre to their classes and jobs. For employers, a positive attitude helps productivity.

Example 4 – Initiative and dedication

Personnel managers call people who approach work with initiative and enterprise “self-starters,” people who do what needs to be done without waiting to be asked, without needing to be told. The complexities of a theatrical production demand individuals who are willing to voluntarily undertake any task that needs to be done in order for the production to succeed. In theatre, we’re all self-starters. We learn how to take initiative, move a project from initial concept to finality, and do it superbly. As the student works in theatre, he/she learns to dedicate himself/herself to doing his/her best to create a successful production. There is a dedication to that show. There is a dedication to theatre as an artistic medium. Through empowerment, many theatre students realize that successfully committing oneself to a specific task from start to finish is its own reward. Employers respect and appreciate workers who have learned the intrinsic value of dedication.

Example 5 – Willingness to work cooperatively and the ability to work independently

Our work with theatre companies teaches us how to work effectively with different types of people and often different personalities. We emphasize and practice ensemble theatre at Gallaudet. Ensemble theatre demands that participants work together cooperatively for the production to succeed; there is no room for “we” versus “they” behavior; seeking to be the “star” is unrealistic, selfish, and destructive. In the theatre world, it’s important that each individual supports the others involved. Employers will be pleased to know that theatre majors understand exactly how to be a team player. For example, he/she might be assigned tasks that must be completed without supervision, such as backstage crew responsibilities, putting together a flat in the shop, finding a certain prop, working on characterization, and experimenting with ASL translation outside of rehearsals. It’s left up to the theatre major to decide how best to achieve his/her goal. The ability to work independently is an attractive trait to employers looking to hire.

Example 6 – Time management skills

The theatre major is expected to learn how to budget his/her time and prioritize. He/she need to schedule his/her days very carefully if he/she wants to keep up his/her grades while busy with rehearsals, work calls, and the other competing demands of theatre on his/her time. It cannot be emphasized enough how important solid time management skills are to employers, as well as the ability to learn quickly AND correctly. Theatre students, whether they’re memorizing lines or learning the technical aspects of a production, must have the ability to absorb vast amounts of material quickly and accurately. His/her experience in college theatre will show that he/she has the ability to grasp complex matters in a short significant period of time, another highly-valued trait to employers. Understand that part of this ability is another trait: knowing how to actively listen. If the theatre student doesn’t know how to actively listen, he/she is likely to make some major mistake harmful to the production. Active listening is a skill for any job and an employer will look hard at his/her listening and comprehension abilities.

Example 7 – Adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to focus under pressure

Theatre students must be adaptable and flexible. They need to be willing to try new ideas, accept new challenges, and have the ability to adapt to constantly changing situations and conditions. In one production he/she may be a member of the prop crew; in the next perhaps he/she is in charge of makeup, publicity, or the box office; in a third production he/she might have a leading role. A worker who is versatile and flexible is highly valued by most employers. If he/she are both, it is proof to them that he/she is able and willing to learn new things, thus improving his/her marketability as a prospective employee. Theatre work often demands long hours, usually under a lot of pressure and stress. Everyone involved with a production has to be able to maintain a collaborative and enthusiastic attitude in such situations. The ability to keep one’s composure under these challenging conditions is unquestionably an asset enabling the theatre major to cope with stress in other parts of his/her professional working life.

Example 8 – A healthy self-image, self-confidence, and self-discipline

To work in theatre, one must know who he/she is and how to project his/her individuality. But at the same time, it’s important to recognize the need to make him/herself secondary to the importance of a production. This is a tricky balance that, although difficult to achieve, is a valuable trait that employers prize. Theatre training teaches the major to cultivate confidence in him/herself. His/her varied accomplishments in theatre demonstrate that he/she can handle a variety of jobs, pressures, difficulties, and responsibilities: multitasking at a higher level. Theatre demands that one learns how to control his/her life. More than other students, the theatre major is forced to make choices between keeping up with responsibilities and doing things he/she would rather do. He/she learns to govern him/herself.

Example 9 – Leadership

The theatre student is presented with opportunities to assume leadership roles. He/she may, for example, assist a director or designer and lead other volunteers, serve as a crew chief, or even design or direct a production him/herself. In the “safe” environment of our theatre Arts program, faculty will help students learn from their mistakes, and they become better leaders for it later on. Leadership training like this can open the possibility for comparable opportunities in a company that hire students with a BA degree in theatre.

Few people choose to set out on a difficult, demanding course of theatre study because it will make them good candidates for employment in other fields. Far more than any other major, theatre is excellent training for virtually any job: the theatre major is usually better-prepared than students who majored in most other fields.


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Theatre and Dance

Sorenson Language and Communication Center (SLCC) 1201

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