Whichever adult(s) in your world mentor you on how to succeed in life, chances are, at least one has said something like, “You can’t make a living in theatre!” As frustrating as it is to hear, let’s assume they mean well. They want you to be able to eventually support yourself in a comfortable lifestyle, and they fear a career in the arts is just too unpredictable — even though that may not actually be the case.

Let’s dispel the idea that reliable employment is only found outside the arts and remind our mentors and ourselves that fear isn’t always right.

The theatre skills you learn in school are vital to success in nearly every field of work, and when the time comes, you’ll find a way to pursue the arts out in the real world if it’s your true passion. Meanwhile, let’s do a refresher on the value of what you’re learning now.

5 Ways Your Theatre Skills Transition to the Workforce

The Bard must have seen into the future and discovered the current social media scene! Shakespeare’s line from As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage,” is embodied on social media every day. Now, you’re wise enough to know that the most effective social media feeds employ serious planning, staging, editing, and branding. Long gone is the notion that a person can simply hold up their smart phone, record themselves, and go viral with their clip!

Even beyond social media, successful entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, lawyers, political leaders, and, yes, actors, use theatre skills daily. Not to mention there are plenty of theatre careers to consider and many ways that your theatre lessons can transfer to real-life roles. Case in point: Read our story of a self-proclaimed music kid who is now a successful sound designer.

So let’s explore the skills you already have that can help you land the perfect job.

1. Inspired public speaking can be learned.

First off, get your voice warmed up to do its job. Maybe this sounds silly, but warming up your vocal cords and preparing to enunciate so listeners can clearly hear your message is important for speakers as well as singers. Try these tongue-twisters for actors and have fun as you get ready to inspire.

Along with getting your body ready to speak, remember the power of pacing and emphasizing your words. You can partner up with another Thespian and experiment with this technique, taking turns speaking and listening. How does emphasizing too many words distract the listener? How does a slower or faster pace affect the message? Does it become more urgent if said quickly?

2. Clear communication matters everywhere.

Yes, we live in the age of text messaging and texting abbreviations abound. Maybe you’ve experienced miscommunications based on text messages that have left you laughing or crying.

Text messaging is often misinterpreted for several reasons. Perhaps the sender meant their words as a joke, for example, but the recipient couldn’t hear the laughter in their voice or see sender’s body language.

It may be trite and it’s true: An actor’s body is their instrument. The subtleties of facial expressions, hand gestures, vocal inflection, and even the direction in which an actor is speaking all tell part of the story. Try these exercises to improve your presence on stage or improve your general communication skills. You’ll find yourself giving new thought to how you walk, use your hands, and even how you use your facial expressions.

Investing in physical training is always worth the time and effort, especially when we remember how powerful our body is in communicating clearly.

Plan a Theatre Career People around a table with laptops

3. Effective collaboration is vital to every show’s success.

We’ve all been part of a group assignment outside of theatre where some contribute more than others. And we’ve felt the resentment of having to carry other people’s loads for that assignment to succeed. Don’t be the one not contributing—you won’t learn anything from the experience, and you’ll be a burden to others in the group.

Theatre teaches collaboration intrinsically. Each member of the company—from the producer and director to all the cast members, technicians, and ushers—have a key job to do for the production to be successful. If even just one person’s job doesn’t get done, it affects the end result. Learning to understand your piece of the puzzle, own it, and execute it with commitment and authority while also leaving room for others to do the same is a valuable skill. Our directors are there to coach us when ideas abound or priorities collide, so learning to let go, readjust, and continue forward in a slightly new direction without derailing the process for everyone is also just as important in the real world as it is in the theatre.

4. Commitment to a collaborative effort includes everyone agreeing on the goal.

In theatre, one short scene in which a character’s greatest challenge is revealed can be the key to understanding their motives. Learning to work with others, whether in an acting scene or on the props crew, improves your value to a show.

When it comes to commitment, do what you say you’re going to do. For example, if you’re struggling to find a costume that’s on your list, speak up sooner rather than later. Maybe someone else on the crew knows exactly where to find that period piece of clothing.

Also, find the courage to say you can’t take on a particular assignment when you know it’s outside your ability or skill set. Perhaps offer to switch with someone who has the required skills. Saying “yes” when you know you can’t do what’s asked sets everyone up for failure. And the other person may have the desire to take on something else. Win/win!

5. Become more coachable and you’ll go far!

What does it mean to be coachable? There are a couple million results if you Google this query, but it comes down to a willingness to change. Yes, the willingness to set our egos aside and try new things that may (or may not) work. It’s an admission that your initial attempt might not be the best or only way to achieve a goal, and feeling safe enough to try a different approach that might not come as easily for you. Being adaptable to various viewpoints and experimenting to get the desired result is a highly transferable skill desired in almost every profession.

And it’s something you’re likely already doing with your castmates, director, or theatre teacher.

Being coachable means having a genuine curiosity about different techniques or beliefs. Communication coach John Millen has these six tips you can learn to be more coachable and ultimately more successful.

Success Beyond the High School Stage

Whether you’re taking on a leadership role and need to command attention on the “work stage,” are leveraging your years of script analysis to improve your written communication, or just working with new people and are looking to create healthy boundaries and collaboration, transferring the skills you’ve learned as a Thespian can go a long way toward helping you advance.

Patty Craft is a regular contributor to Dramatics.org.

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