I found this this morning…
“Things Theatre Majors Are Tired of Hearing”
And it frightened me.
Here’s the article in italics and my responses…
1. “What are you going to do with that degree?”
Ah the skepticism that emerges from friends and family when they find out a loved one is majoring in theatre. This comment may have good intentions somewhere deep down, but it comes off as snarky and just plain rude. There’s no magic coursework that makes one major better or more superior than another. Furthermore, the arts are important, and if we’re going to keep them going, we need future generations to continue learning.
What you can say instead:“What would be your ideal job?”
I dunno about you, but I had no idea what my ideal job was when I was in college. My ideal job always changed about once every semester, and it continues to do so at an even faster rate these days.
In college, if someone asked me “What are you going to do with that degree?” I’d respond “Have a shit ton of fun.”
If someone had ever asked me what my “ideal job” is, I’d probably have said something like “live in a gypsy caravan performing one-woman Shakespeare shows in corn fields across the country.” Both these responses freak the crap out of people who value job security.
(WHICH IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD VALUE.)
My dream job looks a lot like a Terry Gilliam movie. (We did say “DREAM” job, right?)
Be skeptical of kids getting theater degrees. Please. We’re going to have to get used to the snarkiness and rudeness of “Oh, you do… art?” that will happen just about every five seconds from the rest of the world for the rest of our lives. Better hear it from well-intentioned loved ones first. And if watching what people’s faces do after declaring “I want to be on Broadway!” makes you sad or tired or bitter, well, welcome to doing art for a living.
And there is magic coursework that makes some majors better / superior to others – they’re called doctors.
2. “So do you ever have to write any papers?”
Yes. Yes we do. In fact, we write papers on books such as The Empty Space by Peter Brook – a book that non-thespians would probably find bizarre and confusing. This is, of course, on top of 30+ hours of rehearsals a week, most of which don’t end until 11pm. Yawn.
What you can say instead: “What sort of classes do you take?”
So, 19 year old college Freshman Gracie, what sort of classes do you take?
Puppetry. And sword fighting. In Acting 1 we’re learning how to walk through a door.
Did I have to write any papers? Of course. In my non-theater classes. SOME TIMES really excellent theatre teachers would give me assignments like take-home exams, or they’d make me read (mostly plays), but the papers that I wrote in most of my theater courses weren’t any more challenging than the ones I wrote in high school.
College was easier, and way WAY more fun, than high school.
I majored in theater because I knew that would be true.
For the record: I tried to read The Empty Space on my own – no professor ever asked me to- and I got bored pretty quickly. “Non-thespians” (let’s just leave aside the total snobbery that comes with separating people into “thespians” and “non-thespians”, Jesus H Crimony) would also get bored reading it. Because Peter Brook isn’t an author, he’s a director. That book is the equivalent of a very smart man kind of babbling into a tape recorder. It isn’t difficult because it’s high-minded artsy fartsy bullshit that’s too difficult for a poor, unintelligent, non-thespian to grasp… it’s just not that good.
P.S. No one actually reads Brook, Brecht, or Stanislavski. We just learn how to talk about it as if we have. (If you’re REALLY ambitious you will walk around your summer theater internship with “An Actor Prepares” under your arm so that everyone around you knows that right now you’re painting flats and cleaning toilets, but some day… some day…)
3. “But you don’t have to take finals right? You just act out stuff in class?”
Wrong. Our finals are usually analytical questions about the plays we’ve read. We have to respond to essay-based questions about Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, and other equally challenging pieces of dramatic literature. This is in addition to performing scenework in front of our peers and professors, after which we get critiqued (aka ripped to shreds.)
What you can say instead: “What do you have going on for finals week?”
No this one’s totally true. I don’t remember fearing Finals unless it was Physics, Art History, or BioPsych, which I took for fun. Everything else I could study for or rehearse the day before and get by eeeeenough.
I hear going through critiques when you’re in the BFA is really tough- because the professors that you spent most of your time worshiping in small dark rooms then give you feedback about what you’ve been failing at… but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to that anyway.
Sorry, man, what were you saying about how if I don’t flop around in a unitard with a bunch of these other classmates, I’ll never be the best Hamlet I could be? … I wasn’t listening for a second, I was thinking about the muppets.
I actually had a professor who noticed this about me. I was helping him with a project –during finals week- and I jokingly said “Hey, what kind of grade do you think I’m going to get on your exam?”
He said “You’ll get a C.”
“You’re used to sliding by and studying the night before. My exam will be surprisingly tough. But it won’t be too hard. You’ll pass with a C. Because you’ve never really studied in your life.”
FUCK YOU, I thought, and I studied really hard and got an A.
Reverse psychology might be the only thing that works on punk kids.
4. “You’re lucky you don’t have to do math.”
Yes I am!
Hah! That’s funny. Because when we have to fulfill our technical theatre requirements (or if we’re majoring in technical theatre), there’s actually a lot of math involved. “Measure twice, cut once” is a motto for a reason. There are certain classes that expect us to design a full production, which requires the knowledge of specs. We often have to dig into our recessed memories of high school math in order to make sure things are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also safe.
What you can say instead: “Are you taking that required calc class?”
Hah! YOU’RE funny!
Calc is not required.
The math involved in building a set – at least at the level that I have applied to building a set – requires measuring. Measuring. The drafter did the math, I just have to cut the wood properly. In fact, some times I’m not even the one cutting, I’m just putting it together. If you can do “one of these things is not like the other” on Sesame Street, you can look at a picture and put wood together to make a flat. There are a LOT of specialized skills that go into carprentry, which you can learn on the job. None of them require calculus.
Now, if you’re a designer….. or a master electrician… maybe there’s more math involved. But those are, like, advanced degrees, apparently. Nobody ever asked me how much voltage I could put through a black box space without burning the building to the ground. That requires, like, algebra. Pretty sure.
If someone wants to tell me that their very specific, very difficult theatre job requires a ton of math, I will probably believe you.
But I’ve never needed more than what I can figure out on the calculator on my flip phone.
Actors: this is the closest you will get to math. Posing for a stock photo.
5. “At least you can always teach theatre.”
Yes I can!
There are a lot of jobs for theatre majors that have to do with standing in a middle school class room trying to impart the wisdom of theatre games unto 13 year olds who hate their lives. And the turnaround in those jobs is pretty stunning, so administration is always happy to hire a new forensics coach. Go for it. Have tons of fun. I’ll be interested to see how quickly YOU burn out, because I actually LIKE young people and it didn’t take me that long.
This is true, but there’s actually a lot of work that goes into getting a theatre education degree. We don’t just graduate with our BA and automatically get to walk into a middle or high school teaching job. If we decide that we want to pursue education in a public school system, we’ll have to follow the appropriate steps towards getting our teaching license. This often includes a masters degree (hello, grad school student loans), standardized tests, practicum internships, and a lot of paperwork.
What you can say instead: “Do you ever think you’ll want to teach theatre?”
Read that carefully – if you want to teach full time at a public school, you have to get a teachers certificate. This is true. I almost did it. It would have taken me a couple extra years of school and a lot of work, a lot of beurocracy, a lot of red tape and jumping through hoops. And when I was all done, I would have then had to, well, teach in a public school.
Power to teachers. Thank you, teachers. Teachers are awesome.
If you want to be the person representing a theater company that walks into a classroom and says “yo, push your desks to the side, kids, let’s play some games!”… you do not need a teaching certificate.
6. “So you’ll basically be a waiter/bartender/hostess/receptionist for the rest of your life.”
This was the best quote from this article: “There’s actually a lot of different ‘day jobs’ that working actors can acquire.” Ones that aren’t waiter/bartender/hostess/receptionist? There ARE? TELL ME MORE! “The skills that we are developing as theatre majors can be applied to many different career paths. Think about it: we’re well-versed in literature, we can build things, we’re creative, we are great at thinking on our feet, we’re well-spoken, and we’re great problem-solvers. That sounds an awful lot like a list of qualifications in a job description, doesn’t it?” YES IT DOES. IT CERTAINLY DOES. And these qualifications have been on my real-person resume for YEARS. Nobody cares.
Try finding anyone currently seeking kids fresh out of college in the job market with all of those skills on their resume. Point me in their direction. Go ahead. Do you have a job for someone who claims that they are “well-spoken”? Do you have a job for someone who wrote “well-spoken” on their resume? Does being “well-spoken” entitle anyone to employment?
Nobody cares about you or your theater degree. Get an actual skill in something that people need, and then they’ll respect you.
7. “What’s your back-up plan?”
This is well-intentioned, but it’s hard to hear and difficult to answer. For most of us, when we’re still in college, we don’t want to think about our back-up plans. We want to believe that we’re going to make it to Broadway, or a successful regional theatre, or wherever our ideal job would take us. If we don’t at least try, we’ll forever be kicking ourselves with regret. Logically and realistically, we’ll work on our back-up plans as we get closer to senior year, but for now, we’re pouring all of our energy into this major, and we’re damned if we don’t believe there’s at least a chance that we can make it.
What you can say instead: “What’s your dream show/role?”
NO. ASK THIS QUESTION. ALL THE TIME. You can ALSO ask them about their dreams, but ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR BACK UP PLAN.
Here’s a brilliant piece of advice: You can have both.
Children in theatre – have a back-up plan. Get used to people asking you what it is. In fact, do your back-up plan FIRST and then go BACK and do theatre. The happiest people I know did this and they have stable incomes. Being anything else first doesn’t make you less of an actor. In fact, it will in all liklihood make you a better actor, because you can’t teach life experience in a studio. If you’re willing to let college be harder than high school, you will eventually have some kind of job security before you do something like dig yourself into school debt so you can have a career in poverty.
Just because Jennifer Lawrence is, what, fifteen years old or whatever doesn’t mean that YOU must start your career being a Hollywood actor NOW. You know what she was doing before Hunger Games? Eating squirrel. She got an agent when she was like 14 and has been terrified of her career ever since, because she knows she won the lottery and it will end soon.
Be worried when your theatre student says they don’t have a back up plan. Don’t go to college for theatre UNLESS you have a backup plan. Plan A, Broadway, plan B, something else – You can hold both these things in your heart. You should be afraid of “what if it doesn’t all work out the way I expect it to”. Shoot for your ideal job, of course! Go for it! But going for it with all your soul doesn’t mean eliminating all your other options. Betting all your money on one number is dumb. That’s just statistics. (Which, I know, were not required, so it’s kinda hard to grasp for us.)
If we’re talking “logically and realistically”, theatre degrees have nothing to do with logic nor reality.