10 Practical Life Skills That I Learned from Being a Theatre Geek
The other day, as I was packing up my classroom for the day, some high school students came by to raise money for their theatre club. Being a former theatre geek myself, I happily donated (for the exchange of some Cracker Jacks) to their endeavor. I have students who are convinced that they are going to play pro football someday (and thus don’t need to learn multiplication) and I giggled looking back at all my friends back in high school who were convinced they’d be receiving Oscars by their 25th birthday. Very few of my stage friends are still working in theater, but as I drove home I couldn’t help but think of how “playing pretend” with my cast-mates on the stage helped me learn essential life skills I needed as an adult.
- Public Speaking– You may not be on a stage, but chances are, you will not be able to avoid getting out of speaking in public. Whether a meeting, social gathering, or career, an adult should be able to speak comfortably and confidently in front of a group of people. As a teacher, I cannot thank theatre enough for helping me harness the skill of imparting information in an engaging and entertaining way to my students!
- Empathy– When you take a role as an actor, you have to walk in another person’s shoes, actively thinking about how your character would see the world, emotionally respond, think, talk and act. Though adults don’t practice playing the roles of the people around them, getting in the habit of looking at life through another’s lens can help you relate, engage, and communicate better with others who are different from yourself.
- Interviewing– Auditioning is so much like interviewing. Between preparing your resume and your monologue, you are practicing the skill of selling yourself to an employer, highlighting what you can bring to the show. When job hunting, the audition process prepares you to communicate what you have to offer and how you stand apart from the competition.
- Responsibility… yikes, nothing quite as embarrassing as forgetting your lines. Some people are easy studies and can pick up dialogue quicker than a jingle in an irritating advert. But for some people I’ve worked with, it did not come as easily. I had one actor friend who suffered from severe dyslexia, making both reading and remembering his lines extremely difficult. Life’s not fair sometimes… but we still are responsible for our roles. I was always so impressed by how he just worked that much harder, because the audience was looking for a show, not an excuse or a free pass for an actor’s learning disability. The discipline of learning lines on a deadline taught me about pulling my weight for the good of the team without excuse.
- Improvisation– There are whole acting classes on this, but truly, this needs to be a life skill mastered by all. I learned very quickly in my first year of teaching that my master lesson plans rarely worked out as intended! Unexpected questions or bunny trails, unannounced fire drills and hitches such as the copy machine being broken that morning could leave me frantically floundering in my pages of chronologically dictated notes. I learned life can not be planned and predicted in 5min increments. Instead, improvisation skills have allowed me freedom to embrace the natural flow of interest and discussion from others, while adhere to a broader framework of my overall goals. In everyday life, this same skill has helped me overcome those daily frustrations when the show must go on.
- The show must go on– Guess what? Bad things happen. Sometimes you wake up feeling exhausted and have you get yourself looking decent and out the door before 6am. Your coworker may forget to pull their weight and leave you to pick up the pieces. Your boss may not give you the applause you think you deserve. There are “fun”datory events were you simply are not comfortable and you’d rather be home in your yoga pants watching Netflix. Maybe *gasp* someone offends you!!! Suck it up, Buttercup. Being in theatre, you learn quickly that things aren’t always ideal, but you put on your brave face and put on the best show you can with what you have! Working through a problem will take you much further than complaining about them!
- How to cry on cue– Speeding tickets turned into warnings… enough said 😉
- Theatre Makeup– I once had a friend fall asleep in her theatre makeup and when she woke up, could not open her eyes. While she slept, her tears melted her eyeliner and mascara, her heavily coated top and eyelashes fusing together. The event was equally horrifying and humorous… also why I use LashBoost for huge lashes now instead of damaging fake eyelashes!
- You’re Not Always the Star (and that’s okay) – I think this is a really hard lesson for kids and adults nowadays… in a social media, #selfie world, it can be hard when the focus is not on us and we are called for the moment to serve in a supporting role. Not getting a part was a great lesson not only in humility, but in how to deal with disappointment with grace, how to receive feedback well, and how vital supporting roles are to a production. You learn to appreciate the hard work that goes into set design, acting, costumes, lighting, audio, marketing (among many other roles). Often by happenstance, you’ll find additional talents in yourself because you were forced to serve in an area that you wouldn’t have sought if your fixation wasn’t on stardom. I’ve had actor friends find their passion for audio/visual and marketing careers because they took a turn being on the sidelines. When it’s your time to shine, you can more fully appreciate and give accolades to the diverse talents that let the whole show function.
- Authenticity Matters- There are many folks who have nver set foot in a theatre class who have mastered drama J Real life rarely translates on film or stages, though the glamour is real. You see the beauty in the everyday moments and emotion in your home. Who you are in REAL LIFE (not on stage, or Facebook,…) matters most. Though you may never earn an Oscar for your role as wife, mother, sister, or friend, you know those are the most meaningful characters you will every play!
Though theater didn’t make me the most popular kid in school, I learned invaluable lessons there. Even if your kid is not meant for Hollywood or Broadway, being in theater as a student helps practice these adult skills. I would not trade that time for anything because I’ve learned that all the world is a stage, and the lessons of theater have helped me thrive in it!
Many thanks to all who suffered through my performances 😉