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Monday, September 14, 2015

Five Great Things I Got From My "Useless" Theatre Degree

When I was in my senior year of high school and I told my parents I wanted to go to college, you would think I would have gotten some fanfare or something.

My mother was a bit perplexed. Why did I need to do that? She wasn't against it, she just didn't see why I'd want it. If I wanted an "office" type job I could go to secretarial school, she told me. 

My father, who'd had a few years of college after retiring from the military, was a little more practical. He was okay with me going to college (I had to pay for it, of course) but not for what he termed "a degree in underwater basket-weaving."

The rebellious teen only saw him trying to stomp on my dreams. The practical adult I am now recognizes that the theatre degree and five bucks won't even buy me a cup of coffee on paper. But the things I learned from that degree have carried me a looong way in life and in various careers along the way. For instance:

1. I can sell! (And I really, really hate to sell). One great thing about being an actor is I can improv my way through anything. You want me to convince someone that our product or service is the best damn thing ever? I can do that! And salespeople can work anywhere, honey. Anywhere. I hated sales and still hate having to sell (which really isn't great when you're a blogger and an author and you need to self-promote). Thank God I have my theatre skills to fall back on for all of that.

2. I am the world's greatest diplomat. Rough situation between two coworkers? Departmental or management tensions? Disagreement with a neighbor? Family Drama? I can put on a perfect sympathetic face, listen to all the B.S. and convince you I am completely invested in your happiness as I steer you toward a resolution that hopefully includes minimal further involvement for me. I'm a pro at scene escalation, denouement and exiting stage right.

3. I think on my feet and can ad-lib like you wouldn't believe. You'd have to work awfully hard (or look like Jason Momoa) in order to get me flustered. I'm glib and smart and I can anticipate where this conversation is going long before you probably can. In a presentation setting, I am an engaging and polished public speaker. Unless, as previously stated, you look like Jason Momoa.

4. As a writer, my love of and need for dialogue has helped me tremendously. You cannot imagine how many times I've been stuck writing a scene and decided to act the thing out instead. It really helps me with the flow, the cadence of the words, finding sharper, better dialogue and really knowing where to focus on the emotional peaks and valleys. One of the strongest writing tips out there is "Show, don't tell." As an actor, I'm hard-wired to show you my story, and as a writer, that's been invaluable.

5. I'm just plain fun. Ain't no party like a cast party - and I have been to some doozies. But my fondest memories of my theatre pals across the years (in college and elsewhere) is just plain hanging out. You'll never meet a crazier, more flamboyant, fun-loving, open-minded, big-hearted group of people anywhere. 

My degree may never have gotten me to Broadway (and in all fairness, that part was up to  me, not to my degree) but it's gotten me a lot of other valuable skills and experiences that have helped me immeasurably in a variety of settings. I don't regret my choice for an instant.

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