Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Ways Being a Theater Major Set Me Up For a Successful Life
The Arts in our public schools are disappearing at an alarming rate. The town next to us has cut the vocal program from their class schedules. The schools in my town have moved to offering ½ of the music program they had a few years ago. They don’t offer a theater program. The only theater available for students to experience is the 3 plays volunteers dedicate their time and energy to give to the students in my area. It won’t be long before the Arts will be removed completely from the public schools in my area.
I do not believe this will be good for my community’s future. The ARTS ADD to life and help students prepare for success in the future as they become contributing members of the community.
I have a confession to make. I was a theatre major in college (yes, complete with the snooty but appropriate ”re” spelling). I’ll wait for you to stop snickering. Alright. I know it comes as no surprise. My passion boldly declares what I spent my educational dollar on.
When I chose my major, I had no pipe dreams about becoming a professional actor. (Actually, I wanted to be a director). I did it because more than one wise adult had advised me that my actual major in college would have less impact on my eventual job search than having the actual degree. “Study what you love” I was told, “not what you think will get you a job.” I listened for once and chose theater because I’d done it all through my secondary education, I had relative success doing it, and because I simply loved being a part of it.
Fast forward 25 years and, like many people, I am nowhere near the way point on life’s road I envisioned I’d be back in college. I am a mom of 5. I volunteer at my local high school so in an attempt to support the arts. I have come to realize how much being a theater major set me on the road towards success… even to be a successful mom and community member.
1. Improvisation. The great thing about the stage is that when it’s live and you’re up in front of that audience anything can, and does, happen. Dropped lines, missed entrances, or malfunctioning props or costumes require you to improvise while maintaining your cool. I am the queen of wing-it. Theater taught me how to focus, think quickly and make do while giving the impression that you've got it all under control.
2. Project Management. A stage production is basically a family project (that would be my current reality) or a business project (my husband is currently working in project management). You have teams of people making up one team working to successfully accomplish a task on time, on budget in such a way that you earn the applause and an occasional standing ovation. Being taught to stand at the helm of a theatrical production was a family management or project management practicum. (I can juggle and multi-task like no one’s business!)
3. Working with a Limited Budget. Everybody who has worked on stage knows that it’s not the road to fortune. Most plays are produced on a shoestring budget. This forces you to be imaginative, do more with less and find creative ways to get the results you want without spending money. That completely describes my life, not to mention the lives of nearly every person I know.
4. Dealing with Very Different Human Beings. The theatrical community is a mash-up of interesting characters. It always has been. From fringe to freakish to frappucino sipping socialites and everything in between, you’re going to encounter the most amazing and stimulating cross-section of humanity when you work in theater. Life is like that. Once you leave the controlled environment of public school you are forced to be friends with, work with and live near people of all ages and all personality types. Not one of my friends is the same age as me. I can be dealing with teens in the morning. By lunch I've come in contact with a few crazy adults and a couple hyper toddlers. In the evening I am surrounded by emotional artist types. Nothing is predictable and yet I am able to interact with people of all ages, religious beliefs and personalities. Theater taught me how to appreciate, understand and effectively communicate with a widely diverse group of human beings.
5. Understanding the Human Condition. Most people have the mistaken impression that acting is all about pretending and being “fake” in front of others. What I learned as a thereat major was that good actors learn the human condition intimately through observation and painfully detailed introspection. The better you understand that human being you are portraying from the inside out, the better and more authentic your performance is going to be. In my life I am constantly using the same general methods to understand my family, my students, as well as myself and my co-creators in theater I believe that having a better understanding of myself and others has ultimately made me a better (though far from perfect) mom, wife, artist, employee, and ultimately friend. I didn't learn methods of observing and understanding others in Advanced Math or Sports for Life, I learned it in Acting I & Acting II.
6. Doing Whatever Needs to Be Done. When you’re a directing you have to learn to do it all. Light design, sound engineering, acting, directing, producing, marketing, PR, set design, set construction, ticket sales, budgeting, customer service, ushering, make-up, and costuming are all things I had to do as part of my college career. Within our merry band of theater majors we all had to learn every piece of a production because at some point we would be required to do what needed to be done. I learned that I can capably do just about anything that I need to do. I may not love it and I may not be gifted or excellent at it, but give me a task and I’ll figure it out. The experience, can-do attitude and indomitable spirit I learned in the theater have been essential to success in any situation I am in where I am asked to participate in a wide range of tasks.
7. Hard work. I remember creating an authentic hut on the side of a mountain at Sundance Theater. We worked for days mixing grass with lye. (I learned about chemical peels then too!) I added the finishing touched to the roof while standing precariously on a rickety ladder high enough above the stage that it would make an OSHA inspector soil his boxers. Sleepless nights, burnt fingers and a few brushes with tragedy were needed to get that house done. But, we got it done. It was fabulous. And a few weeks later we tore it down, threw it out, and got ready for the next production. C’est la vie. In life I have periods of time with unbelievable workloads in which there are sleepless nights, seemingly endless days and tireless work on projects that will be presented and then will be over. C’est la vie. I learned all about that as a theater major… and it is satisfying.
8. Making Difficult Choices. You've got four parts and twenty four people who auditioned. Some of them are your best friends and fellow theater majors. Do you choose the inexperienced jock because he’s best for the part or the friend and fellow theater major who you fear will never talk to you again if you don’t cast him? A few difficult choices must be made in real life (sadly – the extinction of the Arts in public school) This is particularly true in businesses. The higher the position the harder the decisions and the more people those decisions affect. Being a theater major gave me a taste of what I would have to digest in my family and in career. (I gave up theater for a very long time in order to raise my children).
9. Presentation Skills. From what I've experienced, individuals who can stand up confidently in front of a group of people and capably, effectively communicate their message while even being motivating and a little entertaining are among the rarest individuals in the business or teaching world. Being a theater major helped me be one of them.
10. Doing the Best You Can With What You've Got. I remember an Acting I class in college in which a pair of students got up to present a scene they’d prepared. They presented the scene on a bare stage with no lighting, make-up, costumes, props or set pieces. It was just two students acting out the script. It was one of those magic moments that happen with live theater The rest of the class were transfixed and pulled into the moment, reacting with surprising emotion to what they witnessed. You don’t need Broadway theatrics to create a magical theatrical moment on stage. You don’t even need a stage. The same is true of life. You don’t always need the latest technology, the best system, or the greatest whiz bang doo-dads. Give your best. That is all.
I’m proud to be an alumnus of Brigham Young University. I am proud to be a Theater Major. Some may argue that sports teach life lessons the best. I disagree. For me it was the arts. I’m saddened that school’s theater and music programs are waning. How will our future be weakened without the Arts as a part of educational choices? I believe it will change things.
What can I do? I can volunteer. I can fight to keep the Arts in schools. What I have learned I've tried to pass on to my own children. Study what you love. Follow your passion. It will serve you well wherever life’s road takes you.
What have you learned from the Arts?