SOME STUDENTS are fortunate enough to have parents who fully support their theatrical activities. Others are not so lucky. There are lots of parents out there who keep hoping their children will just grow out of it. Or major in something worthwhile. Or at least learn a trade. Anything but theatre!

What can a son or daughter say to parents who are leery about their child’s attraction to drama? Well, if I were an undergraduate who wanted to major in theatre and whose parents were less than enthusiastic about that prospect, I might send them the following letter.

Students work to assemble their set at the 1983 International Thespian Festival.

Students assemble their set at the 1983 International Thespian Festival.

Dear Mom and Dad,

You’ve been asking me what I was going to major in, and I’ve finally decided: theatre. Now before you both collapse, I want you to know that I’ve considered this very carefully, and I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

First, theatre isn’t just a bunch of kids playing around and having a good time. At its heart, it’s really about what people do and why they do it; about the clothes they wear and the objects with which they surround themselves. In many ways what I’ll be studying in theatre is very similar to what someone in psychology studies — namely, the whole scope of human behavior. In theatre, we just do it through different means and to different ends.

Through the theatre program, I’ll be studying many of the greatest works of art that human beings have created. Not many people read the non-dramatic works of the ancient Greeks or the Elizabethans, yet their plays are produced over and over again. Through the plays, I’ll also be getting historical perspective and exposure to other cultures. Just this semester, I read plays by Aeschylus and Sophocles, by Shakespeare and Marlowe, by Molière, Ibsen, Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller. Not to mention Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet.

Of course, my studies aren’t all in books. Dad, you know all those power tools down in the basement that you’ve always wanted me to learn how to operate? Thanks to the scene shop, I can now not only hammer a nail but also run a circular saw, a radial arm saw, a table saw, a band saw, a router, and a lot of tools you don’t even have. I can whip out a passable table with turned legs in just a couple of hours. I’ve also learned how to draft scenery and how to wire a pretty decent electrical system. Over in the costume shop, I’ve even learned how to make some of my own clothes!

I know that one of your concerns is how I’m going to make a living. After all, a lot of performers are unemployed. One thing I’ve already learned is that for every performer on the stage or screen, there are at least 10 people who are never seen who are making decent livings. There are writers, designers, technicians, directors, makeup artists, wardrobe personnel, publicity people, agents, box office personnel, and legions of managers and assistant managers of this and that. Remember On Golden Pond? The film had only six people in the cast, but the credits went on for five minutes. And all those people were part of the project.

I also want you to know that while my major is theatre, I’ll be taking a lot of courses in such allied fields as film, telecommunications, and public relations.

A Thespian prepares for her performance at the 1983 International Thespian Festival.
A Thespian prepares for her performance at the 1983 International Thespian Festival.

Another thing about theatre and job opportunities is that putting on a play is really an excellent work experience. After all, it’s a cooperative group effort working toward a defined goal within strict deadlines. Many of my friends who have been in charge of crews in the production program have gone on to positions of responsibility in the outside world after college. Some of their jobs have been in theatre and entertainment, but many have been in other fields — from construction and teaching to recreation and retailing. So, you see, in many ways theatre is one of the most liberal and general studies I could possibly undertake.

Finally, I know that one of the concerns you have is the lifestyle of performers: constantly moving around, having no roots, living from hand to mouth. And all those weird people I’d have to associate with. I also know that your concern comes from your love for me and your desire for me to have a life full of happiness and fulfillment.

It’s true that some people in the entertainment field live unsettled lives, but it’s also true that most of them have lives about as normal as you two. To be honest, I think one of the reasons I’m attracted to theatre is that most of the theatre people I’ve met have been bright, witty, energetic, and alive to the world around them.

So, Mom and Dad, there you have it. I hope you’ll think about what I’ve said, and I hope you’ll come to see our production of Equus next weekend. I have a lead. You’ll get to see a lot of me onstage. And remember I am always

Your loving, 
Theatre Major

This story appeared in the September 1985 print version of Dramatics. Learn about the print magazine and other Thespian benefits on the International Thespian Society website.

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