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Let me start off by saying that I believe theatre people work the hardest of anyone. There are long hours, short-lived (but incredible) rewards, and very little pay. But we are passionate about it and are willing to do the work for almost free (sometimes even for free). I am lucky enough to be able to work in theatre and get paid a little money, but I am realizing that one day, I may need to get a job that is not relevant to theatre, or storytelling at all, and I believe that everything I have learned from working in this industry will help me flourish in any situation.
1. Learning how to do something right. Fast.
This is key. For an actor, you have to learn the lines EXACTLY as they are written on the page. As an artist with integrity, you must give acknowledge the writers work for what it is. In the professional world, I’ve heard that people get fired for not knowing the words correctly. An actor has to be ready to understand the framework of the play as well as where her character fits into the world. And you only have six weeks to do it.
2. Understanding how humans work.
You get to meet a lot of people in the theatre. There are people who thrive on attention, people who break under pressure, and directors who want you to live up to crazy expectations that no human could. Those are experiences that have value on their own. The scripts written for the stage are glimpses into the truth. Good acting is telling the truth. There is no facade in acting (well). You do have to learn how to be slightly presentational because of things, but those are only moments in the grander scale of the real story.
3. Listening and communicating
All of my acting work was about these two things. In a scene you are always told that you have to listen to you partner! LISTEN TO THEM! People can tell if you aren’t listening, and if you drift off on stage, during a show, you may end up stumbling around uncertain of where the plot is, hoping your brain can figure it out. Listening is a very active skill. It takes a lot of work and practice to be able to listen well. As for communicating, you have to learn how to engage an audience in the story your character is telling. There is nobody up there but you, so you learn how to tell your own story too. There are also people like the stage manager, a director, cast members, costume designers etc. If you can’t communicate… good luck.
There are plenty of times where an actor screws up a line. We’re human, okay!? But really, a flub is a thing that happens and you have to learn not to beat yourself up about it, because the next night, you have to go back on that stage and deliver the line again. If you get down on yourself for that mess up then the whole of your work on the show becomes unraveled. So one learns to fail, to cry about it and then get over it and move the heck on.
5. Working well with others
This is pretty obvious, right? A single production is finished by an entire team of artists. There is no stage without the builders, there is no sound with out the sound artist, there are no lines without an actor. Despite any personal differences or any crap like that, people in theatre learn how to work with each other to create a finished product. People also respect the boundaries of the roles. A lighting designer will insist that he has stage fright, while an actor will cringe at the thought of hammering a nail into anything (except maybe their eyeballs when a director gives them a line reading). So you have to respect and trust that everyone there knows what they are doing and are not going to kill you by accidentally activating a trap door too soon.
6. Creative Thinking (and critical thinking)
There are a lot of things about a play that are concrete. “This light switch turns on that light, that cable gets plugged in here” etc. And not to negate those important things, but creativity comes into play for all aspects of theatre.A director needs to visualize everything, and everyone else attempts to make that happen. An actor has to pick apart a script and a character to analyze what is happening, what needs to happen and how to get “there”. A designer needs to bring the vision to life. But sometimes, there is just not enough money so you need to figure out how to make Peter Pan look like he’s flying without throwing a cable on the roof and letting him bungee down. In theatre, there are always new challenges and tasks to problem solve.
So, there are a few skills I think I took away from my time as a theatre major. I still have the hope and dream of working in theatre for the rest of my life. So there’s the imagination part of this whole business too.
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