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So, Your Child Wants to Major in Theatre?  

It’s that time of year again. Many seniors are going through the process of making very two important decisions. The selection of a university and the commitment to a major can be both exciting and stressful for students, but I’ve found that it’s every bit as agonizing for the parents of these young people. After all, most parents will be making a huge monetary investment in their children’s college educations and future careers. They want to feel confident that their money is well spent, and to be honest, many of them are not so sure that will be the case when they hear the words, “Mom, Dad, I am going to major in theatre!”.

In their defense, most people are not aware of the impact of a good arts education and the range of skills a strong program will develop in a student of theatre. Just take a look at Wells Fargo’s current “Teen Day” campaign which features today’s “actor” and “ballerina” abandoning their individual art forms to become tomorrow’s “botanist” and “engineer”. The ad paints the arts as a passing fancy, nothing more than a hobby to be pursued before a student learns about important fields of study. It sends a message to young people and their parents:  the arts are to be practiced when you’re a child, but once you grow up, you need to find a “real” career. I recently spoke with mothers of two of my seniors, both of whom are planning to major in theatre. One mother was completely comfortable with the idea of her son’s intended major. She also has a daughter entering her sophomore year of college as a theatre major. The other mother was concerned. After researching the average salary of a working actor, she was distressed to learn that her son would potentially be making a salary below the poverty level. She had also, however, dug deeper and found a plethora of information supporting an arts education. Our conversation inspired me to do a little research of my own, and what I found made me laugh, made me cry, and took me for a walk down memory lane. But more about that later…

Our discussion about this topic continued when I received an email from my student’s mother last week. She had found a blog titled “10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success by Tom Vander Well. The following is a link to his blog: https://tomvanderwell.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/10-ways-being-a-theatre-major-prepared-me-for-success/ . I encourage you to read it. It presents an outstanding case for the pursuit of a degree in Theatre and how it impacted his career (which doesn’t happen to be in the world of theatre). When I saw the title of the blog, I decided I wanted to make my own list before reading his. I actually wrote a total of twelve ways I believed majoring in theatre would prepare a student for success, and then began comparing my list to his. I was astonished at how similar they are. The wording may have been different, but we came to basically the same conclusions. You might want to try it for yourself by making a list of your own prior to reading my list or his blog.

12 Ways Being a Theatre Major Will Prepare You for Success

  1. Collaboration
  2. Professionalism
  3. Passion/Enthusiasm
  4. Work Ethic
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Communication Skills
  7. Empathy
  8. Creativity
  9. Problem Solving
  10. Flexibility/Adaptability
  11. Resourcefulness
  12. Ability to multi-task in a fast paced environment

After making my list and reading Mr. Vander Well’s blog, I thought back to a book I read last summer, Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson. He discussed how in 2008, IBM had published a survey of characteristics their leaders needed most in their teams. Two priorities emerged: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas. Leaders who were surveyed had commented that these qualities were lacking in otherwise highly qualified graduates. Both of those skills made my list of twelve qualities. Mr. Vander Well also had several qualities listed that involved both creativity and adaptability. Yet these qualities aren’t measured on all those standardized tests that are given each year, leaving the impression that they’re not particularly valued. They are, in fact, qualities that are stigmatized or marginalized in some classroom settings, and yet these very important skills are learned and practiced daily by theatre students in classrooms across the nation.

I wanted to put the list I compiled to the test, asking my former theatre students for feedback. I posted the following on Facebook: “I’m interested to hear your take on how (if at all) having a theatre education and/or participation in theatre productions has helped you in your career/job.” Many of these students did not pursue the arts after high school, but there are a few artists in the group. Among the participants are an attorney, a nurse, businessmen and businesswomen, a sales representative, a real estate agent and former Chairwoman of the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil, a customer service representative, an artist, an actor, an opera singer, an IT Specialist, an elementary teacher, a high school teacher, an adjunct faculty member and field supervisor for a Texas university, an airline transport pilot and owner of a Gyrocopter business, a jewelry store owner and designer, a long-term care provider relations advocate, a computer technician, and a stay-at-home mom. Reconnecting with them while reading their reactions filled my heart with many beautiful memories and filled my eyes with a few happy tears. Although some of the responders are just a few years younger than I am, they’ll always be my “kids”. And they reiterated what I already knew. Some of their reactions utilized words lifted straight from my list or straight from Tom Vander Well’s list; lists they’d never seen before. Here is a condensed version of their individual responses:

“From being involved in theatre, I learned the comfort of being in front of a crowd, the ease of mingling with and talking to people, and honestly, it helped make interviews a breeze. It gave me so much confidence.”

“Working with set design and makeup gave me the experience I needed to become a successful artist.”

“Being involved in theatre helped to enhance my verbal and written communication. It gave me a confidence I don’t think I’d have otherwise.”

“I was very unsure of myself, and I was incredibly afraid of failure. I was able to overcome those things. Along with my parents and family, I credit theatre with shaping me into the person I am.”

“Thanks to my involvement with theatre, I had no fear when I chaired the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil and stood weekly in front of 400 managers, all men, all old enough to be my dad!  I was prepared and confident every single time. It has carried over into all aspects of my adult life.”

“Theatre gave me the confidence to speak in front of large audiences. It showed me the value of being prepared as well as how to continue rolling with things when things don’t go as planned.”

“It taught me to speak loudly, confidently, and clearly. Theatre teaches body awareness and nonverbal communication skills and how to work as a team member. It teaches how leadership and partnership aren’t too far from each other. One of my favorite things theatre teaches is when you help others in your ensemble, you are really helping yourself. You also learn to be flexible. Things won’t always go as planned.”

“It made me feel comfortable to talk to people. And now I’m a nurse and have to talk to people every day.”

“Theatre helped me in my professional life more than most subjects. I majored in business, and I excelled at presentations. In fact, I was offered a great job my last semester of college because of one of my presentations. I was also offered a promotion after a great presentation. Theatre and UIL competitions were key in my professional and personal success.”

“It helped me be more comfortable in my skin.”

“I had no idea how fun it would be! Theatre helped me become more confident and expressive. Now that I’m a teacher, I get in front of my students and act every day! I found the niche I’d been looking for since middle school. I definitely think ALL students could benefit from speech/theatre.”

“I was also involved in band and choir throughout middle and high school, but that can’t compare to the lessons I learned from theatre. Theatre gave me a backbone and a platform to be a more confident me. It was my safe place, my home, where I fit best.”

“Theatre was the first place I felt safe being vulnerable. It was the first place I had to truly trust in the group. We supported each other. It helped me to learn to interact with people who were very different from me. I gained an amazing base of life skills I use every single day as an adult.”

“I loved improvisation. It helped me to think on my feet, create an idea quickly and completely, and learn how to read an audience, all skills I use when working with my clients as a computer technician. I was also in band, and I still love music, but I don’t play my clarinet anymore. I still use the theatre lessons I learned daily! As an added bonus, theatre opens a world of literature up and gave even this avid reader more material to explore!”

“I would definitely say that my flair for performance, fostered on stage in high school, proves useful for litigation in law.”

“Out of all my childhood experiences, I remember having a great family apart from my real family.”

“I became an elementary teacher and having that theatrical background helped me unleash my creative side.”

Well, there you go. My “kids” confirmed what I knew all along. A theatre education is invaluable. I truly don’t believe you can put a price on what our students learn when studying theatre and participating in productions. So, your child wants to major in theatre?  I say, congratulations! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If your child loves theatre, he or she will find a way to make a living doing it. Lots of people have. I did, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Many thanks to my wonderful former students, my forever kiddos, for participating in my survey. I love and miss you all.

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