the theatre degree; or, how to intentionally starve yourself with $40,000 in student loans

It’s becoming more and more clear as the days go by that my Theatre Arts degree from Boise State isn’t going to help me one bit. While most people say that just having a college degree to begin with is a good place to be, I find that most prospective employers take a look at a theatre degree and say, “What can we do with that?” The trouble, it seems, is that most degrees in college center on specific vocations: business, management, business management, fixing cars, nursing, being a doctor, film and television, english (teaching), history (teaching), mathematics (teaching) and, of course, teaching. Art, on the other hand, is shunned, and we — painters, actors, musicians, singers — are huddled into this corner where we become, ostensibly, Jack of All Trades.
Most people, for example, don’t know the sheer amount of business knowledge that a theatre major receives during our collegiate career. By the time I graduated I basically knew how to run a theatre company, and I sort of know the odds and ends in getting money from sponsors and grants. Technical theatre is about learning carpentry, electrics, and sound engineering. Playwriting is about English skills, proof-reading and creative writing. Directing is about management. In a way, the only truly useless person in a theatre company is the actor, because all they do is utilize their bodies for the show. They don’t build, they don’t manage. They are fodder for the audience. It’s surprising that they get so much attention.

The problem is that while theatre students learn all these different aspects, we don’t learn enough. We go into the job market with okay skills in everything. Our only boon is that we work well under pressure, since that’s what a rehearsal schedule is — two to four weeks of rehearsal, and we open, no matter what. But employers don’t see that. Employers see an actor who doesn’t have any job skills whatsoever. A bunch of roles in various plays doesn’t mean you have what it takes in the real world. In fact, it suggests the exact opposite — that you like playing in a fantasy world, and thus couldn’t handle real problems.

This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Theatre students are fully capable of handling any problem thrown at them, because they usually are at some point in the production process. We work well with others, and form bonds easily because that’s what we do. Some actors are prima donnas, yes, but those ones are shunned by the theatre community as well.

I graduated Boise State with a Theatre Arts degree, and my work resume is a hapless mishmash of three or four jobs I’ve worked since 2001. It looks like the resume of a 16-year-old. What it doesn’t take into account is that I spent most of my days in school, for twelve or thirteen hours, going to class and then going to rehearsal. Or that point a couple of years ago when I had to work to live in Boise, so I would go in at Hastings at 7:00am, leave at noon to go to class until 4:30, and then rehearse from 6:00 to 10:00. Most people who are business majors don’t do this. I don’t think anyone works as hard as people in the arts. I don’t think they even understand the amount of work we put in, on top of our jobs and extra-curricular activities. I’m not complaining. I’m actually happy about all of it. It’s tough but the end result is fantastic: opening night of a show you worked your ass off for, and now people get to see it. It’s great.

I just wish that employers knew what we did, so that they could understand what we can do for them.

And on that note, I should go and look for a job.

By Josh

I'm the guy who owns this site, ya dummy.

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