WHAT THEATRE MAJORS LEARN: THE
ADVANTAGES THEATRE MAJORS HAVE FOR ALL JOBS
What Can You "Do" with a
Theatre Major? Plenty!
25 Special Advantages YOU Have.
Often we get asked the question - mostly by parents - about what kinds of skills or
jobs a theatre major learns or can get if they major in theatre. Of course theatre
majors can "do" theatre.
But they also develop a large number of highly valuable skills that make them
valuable employees for any job. This article seeks to help you recognize
your special advantages as a theatre major...more advantages than almost all
other liberal arts grads have.
In somewhat different form, this was first
published in Dramatics Magazine.
It was written by a college theatre professor, and it has since been re-printed
in various other publications, and it also appears on internet sites hosted by
colleges and universities.Although the content of this article is focused mainly on
theatre majors, much of this information is equally applicable to dance majors or,
indeed, any major in the arts.
I spoke to a group of
business leaders about our college's theatre program not long ago, and after my
remarks we had an interesting discussion about what theatre students do and
The executives were
particularly interested in hiring people with qualities like discipline,
dependability, loyalty, and leadership, qualities that theatre students learn
because they must to be effective members of a production team.
One CEO told the group
that her company has found that theatre-trained applicants are valuable
employees because they're energetic, enthusiastic, and able to work under pressure.
She pointed out that they generally have polished communications and human
relations skills, and they're experienced at working as members of a team
toward a common goal. Most importantly, she said, theatre graduates have
a can-do confidence based on their experience of successfully meeting difficult
challenges. "Theatre students have done extremely well with
us," she said, "and we usually hire them because they're
well-disciplined workers who learn quickly and give of themselves to the
Another business leader
agreed: "We like to hire theatre students," he said, "but
it is a shame that when they apply to us they don't seem to realize their
strengths and advantages." (Note his last phrase!)
Not all managers are as
enlightened as those executives about the value of a theatre education in
many apparently unrelated kinds of work (when you apply for a job, you'll have
to teach the personnel manager what special advantages you offer the
company.) But the conversation started me thinking about what theatre
It seems to me that, quite
apart from the special skills that they learn to use onstage and backstage,
theatre graduates enter the job market with important points in their favor:
- First, theatre
classes give them the broad vision that all liberal arts students are supposed
to acquire in college
Second, theatre's special hands-on, learn-by-doing
environment gives them training, experience and skills that can be valuable in
any number of careers.
An examination of a theatre
degree's value in finding work outside of theatre is important both
for (a) students who are determined to study theatre and make it their
life's work, and (b) those who are only considering a theatre major among
a number of other options.
For group "a,"
it is highly likely that at some point in their lives they'll have to seek
non-theatre employment, either permanently or as a way of keeping body and soul
together while they pursue a theatre career. For group "b,"
"What can you do with a theatre major?" is a question of fundamental
The "two types of jobs"
John Munschauer writes in Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart
People that there are just two types of jobs:
work" that requires special training in law school, medical school,
architecture school, and so forth, and
- "trait-oriented work," for which employers seek workers with special traits, such
as communications skills, imagination, reasoning ability, and sound judgment.
Theatre training can be
valuable preparation for many of the innumerable careers that fall in the
You need to be aware of
the many skills you learn as a theatre major. Really. You're a better
candidate for employment than perhaps you know.
And you need to be sure
you let prospective employers know how well you are prepared-- better prepared,
in fact, than students who majored in most other fields. The following
discussion points out some special advantages you have--25 of 'em, and you can
probably add more.
25 SPECIAL ADVANTAGES THE THEATRE MAJOR HAS--- (and
may not even know!)
Here's a list of
twenty-five skills, traits, and qualities of personality that are usually
well-developed in individuals who complete four years of undergraduate theatre
study. Take special note of them. They are more extensive and important
than perhaps you recognize. As you think about them, consider how many of these
advantages are unique to theatre majors--and that you have far more advantages
than majors in most other disciplines.
1. Oral Communication Skills - Many students find that theatre helps
them develop the confidence that's essential to speaking clearly, lucidly, and
thoughtfully. Acting onstage teaches you how to be comfortable speaking in
front of large audiences, and some of your theatre classes will give you
additional experience talking to groups. Furthermore, your work on crews
has taught you that clear, precise, and well-organized oral communications are
best. Oral communication skills are so important to some employers that
they often send management trainees to special workshops. You already
have an advantage.
2. Creative Problem Solving Abilities - Most
people expect theatre students to exhibit creativity in such areas as acting,
design, playwriting or directing, and many companies do recruit creative
thinkers. But employers are not always aware that theatre experience also
helps you learn creative problem-solving techniques that are applicable to many
jobs. Tell them! For one example, tech theatre work--building scenery, hanging
lights, making props, running the show, and so on--is a particularly good way
to learn how to think on your feet, to identify problems, evaluate a range of
possible solutions, and figure out what to do. The same is true of almost
every aspect of theatre. Directing. Design. Acting.
Playwriting. Management. And more. The point here is that your
creative ability, what you've learned about using creative processes to solve
problems, can be directly applicable to virtually any job you may have. Most
major companies believe that a creative problem-solver will become a good
employee. That's you .
3. More than "get it done" - But
theatre students learn that just "getting it done" isn't
enough. Not at all. It goes beyond that. You learn to do it
correctly. In theatre we learn that merely "getting the show on the
boards" is pure bush league and totally unacceptable. Whatever your
theatrical job--tech, performing, research, management--it has to be done right
. You learn to take pride in doing things at your very best level.
Of course an employer will value that trait.
4. Motivation and Commitment - Being
involved in theatre productions and classes demands commitment and motivation.
These are qualities that college theatre faculty members and, in some measure,
you and your fellow students, probably already possess. By example, we
teach each other that success comes to those who are committed to the task at
hand. Few other disciplines you study will so strongly help you develop
motivation and commitment. Many theatre students learn to transfer that
attribute from theatre to other activities such as classes and jobs. For
employers, that positive attitude is essential.
5. Willingness to Work Cooperatively - Your
work in theatre companies teaches you how to work effectively with different
types of people--often very different types! Theatre demands that
participants work together cooperatively for the production to success; there
is no room for "we" versus "they" behavior; the
"star" diva is a thing of the past. Your colleagues will
usually let you know when you violate the team spirit of a production. In
theatre, it's important that each individual supports the others
involved. Employers will be pleased to know that you understand how to be
a team player.
6. The Ability to Work Independently
- In theatre, you're often assigned tasks that you must complete without
supervision. Crew chiefs. Directing. Putting together this
flat, finding that prop, working out characterization outside of rehearsals.
It's left up to you to figure out how best to achieve the goal. The
ability to work independently is a trait employers look for in their workers.
7. Time-budgeting Skills - When you're a
student, being involved in theatre forces you to learn how to budget your
time. You need to schedule your days very carefully if you want to keep up
your grades while you're busy with rehearsals, work calls, and the other
demands that theatre makes on your time. Good time management skills are
enormously important to employers.
8. Initiative - 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, to move a
project from initial concept to finality--and to do it well.
9. Promptness and Respect for Deadlines
- Tardiness is never acceptable in theatre because it shows a lack of
self-discipline, and more importantly, a lack of consideration for
others. Being late for a rehearsal or a work call or failing to finish an
assigned task on time damages a production and adversely affects the work of
many other people. Theatre demands that you learn to arrive on time and meet
scheduled deadlines. That's a job-skill. Employers appreciate workers
who are on time and do their work as scheduled.
10. Acceptance of Rules - In theatre you
work within the structure of a set of procedures and rules that deal with
everything from shop safety to behavior at auditions, rehearsals and work
calls. You learn that you must be a "good follower."
Theatre teaches you the importance of rules, a concept that's valued in any
11. 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 a vast quantity of
material quickly--and accurately . Your work in college theatre will show that
you have the ability to grasp complex matters in a short period of time, a
highly-valued trait to employers. Note that part of this ability is another
significant trait: knowing how to listen. If you don't listen,
you're likely to make some major error that will damage the production.
Listening is a skill for any job and an employer will respect your ability to
listen and comprehend.
12. Respect for Colleagues - In theatre you
discover that a successful production requires contributions from everybody
who's involved. Mutual respect is essential. Working on a
production teaches us to respect and trust the abilities and talents of our
colleagues. A prospective employer will appreciate the fact that you have
learned the importance of respecting your co-workers.
13. Respect for Authority - Only one person
can be in charge of any given portion of a production. The
director. The shop foreman. The tech director. The
designer. Theatre teaches you to willingly accept and respect
authority. That's a trait employers look for in their workers.
14. Adaptability and Flexibility - Theatre
students must be adaptable and flexible. You 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 you may be a member of
the prop crew; in the next perhaps you're in charge of makeup, publicity or the
box office; in a third production you might have a leading role. A worker
who is versatile and flexible is highly valued to most employers; both traits
prove that you are able and willing to learn new things.
15. The Ability to Work Under Pressure - Theatre
work often demands long hours. There's pressure--often, as you know well,
a lot of pressure. It's important that everyone involved with a
production be able to maintain a cooperative and enthusiastic attitude under
pressure. The ability to remain poised under such tensions in an asset
that will help you cope with stress in other parts of your life, including your
16. A Healthy Self-Image - To work in
theatre, you must know who you are and how to project your individuality.
But at the same time, it's important to recognize the need to make yourself
secondary to the importance of a production. This is a tricky balance
that, although difficult to accomplish, is a valuable trait that employers
17. Acceptance of Disappointment--And Ability
to Bounce Back - Theatre people learn to deal with dashed hopes and
rejection on a regular basis. Who hasn't failed to get a role he or she
really wanted or a coveted spot on a tech crew? You learn to accept that
kind of disappointment and move on. You try again. Employers need
workers who are resilient enough to bounce back from this kind of frustration.
18. Self-Discipline - Theatre demands that
you learn how to control your life. More than other students, you are forced to
make choices between keeping up with responsibilities and doing things you'd
rather do. You learn to govern yourself. An employer will respect that
19. A Goal-Oriented Approach to Work - Many
aspects of theatre involve setting and achieving specific goals. In
employer's terms, you've learned to be task-oriented and capable of finding
practical ways to achieve goals.
20. Concentration - Busy theatre students,
involved in a production or other theatre projects while also taking a heavy
academic load, must learn to concentrate if they are to succeed. Acting
classes in particular stress concentration, and once you have learned that
skill as an actor, it can be transferred to other activities.
21. Dedication - As you work in theatre you
learn to dedicate your very being--to doing your best to create a successful
production. There is dedication to that show...to your home theatre...to
theatre as an art. Many theatre students discover that committing oneself
to a given task is deeply rewarding. Employers respect workers who have
learned the value of dedication.
22. A Willingness to Accept Responsibility
- Theatre students sometimes have an opportunity that is seldom given to
students in other disciplines--the chance to take on sole responsibility for a
special project. Being a production stage manager...a designer...a crew
chief...a director. Students with other majors seldom have anything even
close to these lessons. You can expect employers to value this unusual
23. Leadership Skills - As a theatre
student, you have many opportunities to assume leadership roles. You may,
for example, assist a director or designer and lead other volunteers, serve as
a crew chief, or even design or direct a production yourself. In the
nuturing environment of theatre, faculty help you learn from mistakes so you
become a better leader. Leadership training like this can open the
possibility for comparable opportunities in a company that hires you. Can
you think of any other major that offers this opportunity?
24. Self-Confidence - Theatre training
teaches you confidence in yourself. Your accomplishments in theatre show
you that you can handle a variety of jobs, pressures, difficulties and
responsibilities. You develop a "Yes, I can!" attitude.
Of course an employer will treasure that.
25. Enjoyment -- "This is Fun!" -
You've discovered already that theatre people mystify civilians when we say
we're having fun. Non-theatre folk shake their heads when we tell them
that, and they ask how it is possible to have "fun" in a job that
keeps us working night after night, sometimes until after midnight, doing
something that calls for a grinding rehearsal or work schedule day after day
after day, that makes us miss going to a movie or a concert. "That's
fun?" Yes. It is. We've learned how to find enjoyment in what
we do. That's a valuable attribute. We can adapt that to other jobs, find
ways to enjoy other activities. That positive attitude will mean a great
deal to any employer.
AND MORE. MUCH, MUCH
You get the idea.
That list of 25 advantages is a start. No doubt you can add to it.
It seems almost incidental
at this point to mention that theatre majors also learn about theatre.
Most students who choose a theatre major do so because their training will
prepare them for a career in the theatre, and it will. Theatre students
learn to use their voices and bodies and minds and hearts to make magic on
Clearly, though, they
learn much, much more. Few people choose to set out on a difficult,
demanding four-year course of theatre study because it will make them good
candidates for employment in other fields.
But it will.
Far more than any other
major, theatre is excellent training for virtually any job. The trick is for
you to recognize the advantages you have. And to be sure you educate any
Make clear on your resume
exactly what you have learned. 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 a flat. Tell them
what else you've learned. Teach them!
Let them know that a
theatre major has had far more excellent experience than any other major could