The stand up comedian Jared Logan has a joke that goes something like this: “I was on academic scholarship and then I used that money to become a theatre major. That’s like if you win the lottery and then just spend it on Beanie Babies.” Upon hearing this joke, I immediately laughed. And then I wondered: Am I laughing because of the truth behind this joke? Has he spoken to my experience as someone with a BA in Dramatic Arts? Or was I laughing because I’d heard so many people make similar comments to me about my chosen career path? Countless people have questioned my judgment when I told them I’d decided to major in theatre, and many openly wondered why I hadn’t chosen a more practical field of study, such as business, and then taken acting classes on the side. But here’s the thing: I knew I wanted to be an actor. Wouldn’t it have been a bigger waste of my and my parents’ money if I’d chosen a more “practical” major, only to devote all of my time post-grad to pursuing acting and writing? Plus, I also knew that if I ever changed my mind, my degree in theatre would qualify me for the pursuit of a Law Degree, and Business Degree, as well as prepare me for countless other careers. Here’s why:
It’s all about how you view your degree, and what you see as its purpose: Many degrees, especially in the arts and humanities, don’t correlate exactly with a specific career path. Instead, they’re meant to teach you many different skills and perspectives and how to use them over the course of your professional (and personal) life. What this means is that these degrees are preparing you for a multitude of different possible futures, and those of us who earn them are able to get creative with our job prospects. This is especially true of a theatre degree. Majoring in theatre forces you to examine and practice every aspect of bringing a production to life— Many of my classmates and I tried acting, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting, stage management, design, producing, and publicity over the course of our undergraduate careers, and each discipline taught us different skills while showing us that they all bear significant connections to one another. So, we learned to apply the skills we learned to several other situations.
I’ve often been asked in non-theatre-related job interviews how I might use my specific undergraduate training on the job. The truth is, I’ve been able to spin what I’ve learned in a ton of different ways to suit a particular situation. I probably learned how to do that in pursuit of my degree—Improvising at a moment’s notice is often required during live performance. Teamwork is another skill employers look for, and one that any actor can say they’ve learned: Who among us hasn’t been thrown into a cast of unfamiliar people and had to devise a whole play together based on one vague piece of text? Okay, that might be a bit of an extreme example, but working in a group is undeniably vital to the production of theatre. Many corporate jobs also require presenting in front of an audience, a given for any actor, and being able to delegate tasks, something second nature to any experienced director. We also know the value of time and deadlines, from being told by teachers that “early is on time, and on time is late.” We theatre majors know how to stay calm under pressure, or at least channel those nerves into our performance, from that opening-night adrenaline. We know how to decipher difficult language from studying Shakespeare and Congreve. Because of our creativity, we’re able to take what we’ve learned in school and use it to work, not only in entertainment, but in almost any field.
So, did I spend my lottery winnings on Beanie Babies? I don’t think so: I realized that my degree taught me how to think critically about any situation I might be in. I use my training every day, sometimes in ways I didn’t even consider while still in school. And when I’m asked questions about, say, my problem-solving skills or how I work in a team, I’ve learned enough about myself in my drama classes to effectively answer my interviewer. Although theatre majors may have chosen an unconventional area of study and career path, we are prepared to take on the world and find fulfillment in doing so.