We theatre folk have all likely heard some version of: You need a real job! We’ve been told by those who love us, and who want us to be financially self-sufficient, that a job in theatre is risky at best. They point to Bureau of Labor stats that say the average actor only makes about $21 an hour, and that we need a back-up plan. They mean well. Of course, they do.

But if you have theatre in your blood like so many of us do, and you’re interested in all the theatre opportunities (not just the acting ones, which let’s be honest, represent only a tiny portion of the work), then there are jobs in the real world that pay real-life-supporting salaries. This “Theatre at Work” is a new series in which we’ll  introduce you to people who have meaningful jobs and who get to participate in theatre at work.

Meet Christopher Stewart, the Director of National Strategy for Kids’ Club in the greater Cincinnati area. We talked with him about his theatre training and how he gets to do theatre at work.

What was your first show and what did you do?

My first audition was in high school, for the spring musical, Fiddler on the Roof. I didn’t know what I was doing but I really went for it. I figured that even if I bombed the audition, I’d at least try to entertain the director and other people auditioning. I got cast as Fyedka, an acting but non-singing role, and I loved every second.

What training has had the biggest impact on your theatre skills?

In college I took a couple dance classes to get into good physical shape. My ballet and modern dance classes helped me to find new ways to use my body to tell stories and embody characters. Dance also helped me learn physical self-control and discipline, to be aware of what every part of my body is doing and what my body language is communicating to other people. I also loved voice classes. Even though I’m not a strong singer, knowing how to control my breath and the pitch, timbre, and quality of my voice helps me. Any time I speak in public, tell stories to my two young sons, or when I’m performing for a camera I use the lessons I learned.

Theatre at Work Chris Stewart Crossroads 1200x800

Christopher Stewart has a passion for theatre and gets to do theatre at work in his position as Director of National Strategy for Kids’ Club in greater Cincinnati. 

How does your theatre experience serve you in your current work?

Director of National Strategy for a local church’s kids’ ministry doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of performing involved. However, performing is a big part of my job! We teach thousands of kids lessons about our faith every week through our YouTube channel. I quickly learned that my acting and speaking skills are useful.

For example, we’re on a set when we film and then the video is uploaded to YouTube. I’ve got to memorize lines, rehearse blocking, direct other actors, and play characters in stories. I’ve been able to collaborate with a team to create  characters, write scripts, and do voice-overs.

I also had to learn to pay close attention to the text of a script, which I think is a lot like how we Christians are supposed to read the Bible: with close attention to the text of scripture. I think one of the most important skills an actor can learn is the ability to read well.

Where did you get to do theatre at work before Kids’ Club?

I worked at The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati for seven years as an actor, director, playwright, and acting instructor. My biggest challenge was that I was involved with so many projects I felt tired all the time. Also, it was hard feeling like I had to just “figure it out on my own.” I had to learn to rest, to listen to my own body, to pay attention to how much time I was spending on different tasks. Tasks like learning lines, rehearsing, writing, or making props.

I had to learn to stand up for myself and tell my boss or co-workers if I needed help. I also had to learn to say no, even to fun opportunities. Because if you don’t have the time or energy for a project, pretty soon it’s not going to feel fun at all. Sometimes you have to say no in the short term, so you get a bigger benefit in the long term.

My favorite production was a play I wrote for The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati called Mozart’s Sister. It told the story of Nannerl Mozart, a woman history has mostly ignored because she lived during a time when women weren’t allowed to do a lot of things men were allowed to do. I loved researching Nannerl’s relationship with her famous brother, and how she still made the most of her talent and her life.

The biggest life lesson I learned from working in professional theatre is to remember to play. It’s called a play for a reason. It’s supposed to be joyful and fun and exhilarating! The people playing parts on stage, the people working in the booth or backstage, the people in the audience have all taken time away from “real life” to go to the theatre and experience a story. Sometimes life can be difficult and the problems in our world can feel overwhelming, and the arts can help us refocus as we find encouragement and strength. 

What would you like to tell us that we haven’t asked?

I’ll just say this, because I know some people reading this might be in high school: It’s okay not to know what’s in your future yet. You’ll figure it out in time, and you can and should take your time! I’d also say (and I could get in trouble for saying this, but it’s the truth) that you don’t have to go to college to have a successful life, or even a good career. There are amazing people doing worthwhile work in all kinds of fields without a college degree and decades of student loan debt to pay off.

And there are plenty of people (myself included) who define success differently, in terms of family, purpose, community, and faith. These are all things you can have even if you don’t go to college.

Especially if you want to go into the arts. It’s one of the lower-paying fields overall, which is cool because most artists are more motivated by craft and meaning than by financial gain. Where you went to school and whether you have a college degree matter way less than whether you can do the work. Show up to your auditions and interviews and prove you can do the work. Period.

You’ll learn a lot of the technique and “education” you need to be successful in theatre as you do the work. You can learn from your co-performers and cultivate your skills. You can figure out how to get better headshots and resumes. You’ll make connections with people who can help you by getting out there and doing it. That said, if you want a college education and experience, go for it! 

You can find Christopher Stewart on LinkedIn

Patty Craft is Content Manager of Dramatics.org. She lives and writes on 10 acres in southwestern Ohio where she also hikes to her heart’s content.

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