An interesting and important list: 25 Life Skills learned in Theatre
By Dr. Louis E. Catron
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.
- 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.
- Creative Problem Solving Abilities
Most people expect theatre students to exhibit creativity in such areas as acting, design, playwrighting 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 organization.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 job.
- 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 treasure.
- 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.
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 ability.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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 ability.
- 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?
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.
- 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 MORE.
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 stage.
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 prospective employer!