“A Theatre major? What will you do with that degree?”
If you’ve got a Theatre degree, or have considered getting one, you have likely encountered this question. It is typically followed by, “Well, I guess you could always teach.” (Sound familiar?)
While we at Ludlam Dramatics are really into the idea of Theatre teachers, we recognize that not every BA/BFA in Theatre plans to be an instructor. Not everyone in the general public understands how useful Arts degrees can be!
To that end, we are beginning a new blog series in which we will interview some of our favorite Theatre undergrads and find out how their degree has helped them with the non-theatre jobs they do now.
I’ll go first!
I am Jennifer Ludlam and I have a BA in Theatre from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. The Ludlams have had several jobs since leaving college, including a stint as the technical directors at a community theatre and many years in the classroom teaching creative dramatics. I now partner with my husband in running Ludlam Dramatics and have a thriving business as a professional Belly Dancer. I have worn a lot of hats since graduating, but perhaps one of the most adventurous is that of an entrepreneur!
Since 2010, I have owned and operated four small businesses. It’s been an amazing ride and I owe a lot of it to the lessons learned in the Theatre. Here are some ways my Theatre degree prepared me to be an entrepreneur:
It takes a lot of guts to get out there onstage and “be” someone else in front of an audience. It also takes a lot of guts to quit your nine-to-five and strike out on your own. Just as you prepare for a role one rehearsal, one line, one beat a time, you build a business one dream, one task, one action at time. Many days throughout the process, I have had to remind myself that if I can get up in front of an audience, I can do anything. More people are afraid of public speaking than are afraid of death. Theatre gave me the courage to go for it, knowing that there would be rejection and struggle and vulnerability. It also gave me the knowledge that the reward is worth every bit of it.
My first entrepreneurial effort was a fitness dance studio centered around adults. Fitness is a tough industry. There is a constant ebb and flow as people wax and wane in their own personal motivation. Most days were spent trying to convince potential clients that this business could be what they needed to reach their fitness and wellness goals. I quickly learned that motivation is not something that can always be contagious. You just can’t want it for them. But, I also figured out that courage IS contagious. My willingness to step out of comfort zones inspired the clientele to do the same thing. Before long, they were trying new foods, changing the way they responded in relationships, and unapologetically being themselves in life! By being in the spotlight whether it was comfortable or not, the people around me were encouraged to take a look at themselves and find their own spotlights. And isn’t that the essence of theatre, after all?!
Running a small business is expensive. It can tax your finances, your time, your emotions, your physical well-being, and your relationships. Guess what? Working on a show can do the same things. Putting work into show after show cultivates character traits that promote personal maturity. It is the perfect training ground for financial budgeting, efficient task management, self-care, and nurturing relationships. These skills are essential when you own your business.
Many years of re-using materials from the last set, mixing old paints to get the perfect new color, and creating a rehearsal space out of anything made for some mad thinking-outside-the-box skills. My second business was an outdoor fitness program for moms with young children. We used the environment as our gym and did not have any equipment except a resistance band. Giving the moms a great workout while entertaining the kids in their strollers required pulls from every bag of tricks that I had acquired. The task required quick thinking and a lot of creativity. Even the simplest of improvisational activities in class helped me to hone these skills.
Businesses today are as unique as the business-people who birth them. There is not an instruction guide for every creative idea, so most days include a lot of trial and error. The improvisational skills learned onstage and in class help with creative thinking, finding a solution for any problem, and a drive to keep things moving. It is imperative to listen, think, and respond appropriately to a huge variety of situations.
As a Stage Manager, I was ALWAYS multitasking. Since even the best stage managers aren’t able to add hours to the day, we figure out systems that work for our own brains to make everything run smoothly and efficiently. With so many plates spinning, the most adept SM’s are able to find shortcuts that save time and stress without compromising on quality. This skill is necessary in many careers, but I have found it most useful in business ownership.
There are so many jobs outside of Theatre that can benefit from theatrical skills. Some more abstract, some more practical, but all of them useful. I look forward to exploring this topic and encouraging young artists to explore the theatre in higher education and to Live Life Dramatically!
Do you have a Theatre degree and are working a non-Theatre career? Tell us how Theatre prepared you!