Three major life skills or attributes people learn in theater

“Why would you study theater?” “Why would you work in theater?” “Why do we need theater?” “What good can theater do for people?” I’ve heard this all before and then some. So has every other person who works in theater. Not gonna lie, we don’t like hearing it. As we work to advocate for theater, we are obligated to share what it does for people who pursue it. Theater may look easy and it may look like someone wouldn’t have anything to gain by working in it, but not everything is as it seems. The field of theater actually teaches a number of critical life skills or it makes a person develop valuable attributes. I’m here to share three examples with you. (It should be noted that I’m not trying to imply that every theatrical artist (actor, prop artisan, director, etc.) possesses every single one of these, though they might. The point is, these are just things that theater has to offer. Depending on what area or areas you engage in, you may learn all of these or just one or two.

#1. Building stuff! 🙂

The area of Stagecraft involves, among other things, building sets. If you’re going to be building sets, this means you must learn about tools and supplies such as power drills, wrenches, nuts and bolts, sanders, and more! You also have to learn about lumber. You have to know how to do measurements. You also have to learn about safety in working in an area like this. For that reason, it’s a good idea to take a First Aid Class. (Of course, it’s a good idea to do that, regardless.) These are all things that can be used outside of theater. Whether that’s for housework, skills you can use in a job, or anything in between. In fact, how you would hang a door for a set is the same as how you would do it in real life. Here’s a bonus fact: in stagecraft it’s important to know how to tie a bowline knot and the ability to do that is a critical survival skill!

#2. Dealing with disappointment

This example may not exactly be tangible but it sure is important to have in life. If you’re going to work in theater, whether that’s as an actor, playwright, director, etc., you better be willing to deal with disappointment because you’ll likely see some of it, if not a lot. In fact… you’ll probably see and deal with a lot of bullshit! You’re going to get turned down for an opportunity you pursued. Maybe it’ll be a part in a play, maybe a grant you wanted for a show, maybe a directing opportunity, and so on. But at some point, you’ll get passed up for something you really wanted. It’s worse when you really deserved it over the person who got it. Or maybe you didn’t deserve it…in which case it wouldn’t be bullshit. If it’s the latter, you can take that as a life lesson. You can figure out where you went wrong and strive not to do it again. If it’s the former, well that teaches you to be strong despite how unfair things can be and thus you’ll be more prepared to pursue new opportunities.

This is all easier said than done, but that’s the point. Getting used to dealing with disappointment and hearing things you don’t want to hear is hard! But it’s a great attribute to have in life and you’ll definitely get it by working in theater. It makes you stronger in the long run because working your way through that gruff experience ensures you’ll likely be able to take it when it happens again. It also makes you stronger because you know what to look out for. I’m not talking about dealing with disappointment to promote any sort of toxic positivity. You can be sad, you can be angry. I am. But be smart and keep your head up. Maybe you’ll decide that theater isn’t for you, or maybe you’ll give it up for now and may or may not rejoin it in the future. This is all OK too, provided you made these choices for the right reasons. But the bottom line is, having this experience can help you deal with it when it happens again.

#3. Budgeting

Did you know that theater costs money?! And did you know that unless you have resources and/or people in your life that can donate money for a show you wanna put on, that it’s extremely time consuming and difficult to raise money for theater? So, on that note, you better know how to stretch a dollar. You better know what to spend your money on and what you can make do without. Putting on a play has a number of expenses: venue, rehearsal space, props, costumes, event insurance, posters and other publicity costs, and so on. If the play has fighting then you need a fight choreographer, even if it’s just for one thing like a slap. Safety first! If you’re an amateur theater as opposed to a professional one, are your actors working for free? If not, then you’re probably paying them a stipend. How big of a stipend is that? Sometimes this varies depending on the role.

Keeping track of all this stuff will require knowledge of a good software program such as Excel or a software that’s specifically for budgeting. You’ll need to list your expenses to see if your numbers add up. And if they don’t, and you can’t raise more money, you’ll need to see what you can get rid of without compromising the quality of the show. Maybe you can double or triple cast an actor. But watch out! If you’re working with copyrighted material you need to get the license holder’s permission first!  Another thing to watch out for is if you’re spending donated money correctly. If an organization gave you a grant for venue cost, you need to use their money for venue cost! If you want to use it for another expense, you can ask that donor’s permission, but they may say no!

Crunching numbers takes time. If you create and maintain a budget for a play, this is real world experience that you can make use of both in a job and in your personal life.

The life skills that theater provides is endless. Before you think of theater as easy and all glamorous, remember, it takes a lot of work. And that work gives valuable experience to a person that they can use in and out of theater.

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