From the Stage to Security – Why I Got my Degree in the Arts

When I started my career in technology I didn’t know a switch from a server. Goodness, my exposure to technology was strictly around personal devices and whatever theatrical technology we were using (lighting consoles, etc.) Now, I’ve grown up with the internet and computers, but it was all end-user accounts – I had no idea how any of it worked, and frankly, I didn’t care. If it fulfilled the need, I was happy with it.

I never intended to get into this field, it actually found me. You can read more about that on my blog for the Women In Leadership Nexus here. As you know, there is a TON to know about technology and it changes every day. Since I was moving from Texas, I actually missed all the technology training and just came up for the sales training before I was positioned to start cold calling. I was terrified. How am I supposed to have a conversation about something I know little to nothing about – especially with a stranger? Moreover, how am I possibly going to set a meeting to talk more about what I don’t know?

My theatre degree. That’s how.

My collegiate experience wasn’t the average. My nights and weekends were spent at the theatre: painting, programming, running lines, anything that needed to be done to get the show up and running. This was, of course, on top of all my general education classes and all that those entailed. 16-18 hour days were the norm. Classes 9-1, Scene Shop 1:30-6, Rehearsal 7-10, then homework or other work for the show depending. (Tech Week was even crazier.) For all intents and purposes, I had three full-time commitments: class, work, and shows.

Our department wasn’t huge, it would fluctuate between 25-35 people each semester, and we put on some serious theatrical work. (As in flying an airplane in, having a mobile functioning “electric chair” and shows with over 400 light cues.) Just about everyone had multiple responsibilities on the mainstage show, as well as other directing projects and acting scenes for classes or workshops. My last mainstage show at Wesleyan I personally had 7 full-time responsibilities ranging from light board op all the way to Assistant Director. 7 jobs for one show, on top of class and work. In one single day I could go from carpentry to electrics to monologues to research. Versatility is critical in theatre.

Now, I’m not saying all of this to brag. I loved every second of it. Yes, it was exhausting. Yes it was stressful. It was also rewarding and more than fulfilling. There is no better feeling than seeing a show go up without a hitch – it’s like landing that massive deal that you’ve worked on for months.

It was still work, but it was work I loved to do, work that I believed in – which not only allowed me to have a better attitude about it, it allowed me to learn. When your mind is open, you can learn all kinds of things. Not only was I gaining vast theatrical knowledge, I was learning life skills as well.

Teamwork. Communication. Responsibility. Dedication. Thinking on your feet. Presenting yourself the way you want to be seen. Understanding social and professional cues. Problem solving. These are the kinds of things I learned by working in the arts. “The show must go on” is an infamous quote for a reason. When something goes wrong, the entire production company chips in to fix it, all without the audience knowing. Trust me, I didn’t know the meaning of the word stress until I was a stage manager.

Getting a degree in theatre is like getting a degree in life.

But how did it specifically help me when I started in technology? Easy.

  • I memorized my intro. I turned my introduction into a monologue and rehearsed it over and over again.
  • I used a call script, edited in my own words. My acting coaching made it easy to sound human rather than robotic.
  • I wasn’t afraid to ask for help from the person I was calling. The arts is all about collaborating and mind-share. The IT Director is going to know more about it than I am anyway, use it as a place to learn.
  • I improvised. When it got off script or I didn’t feel comfortable talking in depth, I would have a conversation about anything, life/work/etc. (I even had a 30 minute cold call about Star Wars once.)
  • I studied after hours. Since I was used to working ridiculous days, when I was done with work I treated the technology like homework so that I would know more the next day.
  • Most importantly: I read the situation and matched accordingly. Working onstage is all about working off your scene partner. If you’re not connected, it will come across that way. This is especially critical on the phone where you can’t see their face.

I won’t even get started on the vocational skills gained by getting a theatre degree. Carpentry, scenic art, sewing? You betcha. I’m surprised all the time by the skills that are needed for every day life that I gained in college. Theatre did that.

I encourage everyone who has an interest like the arts, sports, etc to study or do it in college. There’s this asinine belief that you HAVE to work in the field that you got your degree in, which is a hindrance to a lot of passionate and capable people. Of course, there are certain professions that this doesn’t apply for. I would prefer that my doctor actually have a medical degree rather than just playing one on T.V. – but you understand the point I’m making here. I can directly correlate my success in sales to things I learned in college, and isn’t that what the actual point of furthering education is?

The best part of all of this is I’ve found ways to incorporate the creative process into every day life through things like this blog. It’s an incredible networking ice-breaker too!

Your passion doesn’t have to be your job to play a role in your success.

Have a similar story? Leave it in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

One thought on “From the Stage to Security – Why I Got my Degree in the Arts

  1. J. Everton says:

    Well, well. Happy to hear so much stuck with you, by you. One of my own favorite things about theatre in college is that every play analyzed, designed or acted in class or in production carries the responsibility and opportunity to learn a new world. A specific world of time and place, of politics and religion, of customs and psychology, and a chance to venture outside your own cozy life and learn to think like someone else. And as you point out so nicely here, it teaches you resourcefulness and a process for learning new skills and incorporating what you learn in your everyday life. What else offers that kind of diversity?

    If you have 20 minutes, go to YouTube and find the audio of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address titled “This Is Water.” I now require my directing class to listen to it. When you’ve listened, let me know what you think.
    Merry Christmas.
    JSE

    Like

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