The Make-Believe Major (or… People Say the Darndest Things) – Part I

This post begins with a love storyCrush.  Ill-advised infatuation.

And a competition.

During my time as an undergraduate, there was a certain young man who took an interest in me, and I definitely took an interest in him.  He was whip smart, witty, ambitious, handsome enough, and a great conversationalist.  He was not a theatre major, though he took several classes in our department.  Throughout our doomed acquaintance, we had a sort of friendly cut-throat competition centered on academics.  In fact, he wagered that he would easily graduate with a higher GPA than I would.

He didn’t.

After losing, however, he argued that it wasn’t an equitable battle.  If he told me once, he told me over and over that his major was much harder than mine (and more worthy and more academic and more serious and… you get the point).  I never knew how to respond except to roll my eyes and call him a sore loser.

But it stuck with me, and my academic pursuit felt diminished for a long time.

He’s not alone in his opinion.  Throughout my professional career, I’ve encountered many individuals who have said deeply disparaging things about theatre as an academic endeavor or a profession in general.  Aside from being hurtful, these comments come from a place of ignorance grounded in stereotypes and half-truths.

So from my own limited experience, I would like to address some of the statements that have been leveled at me at some point during my studies and career.

Exhibit A:  Don’t you all just play games in class?

There are always acting or directing exercises practiced in select classes that may look, to the outsider, like pointless frivolity.  But they are not pointless.  So much of what we do demands creative problem solving and fresh, innovative ideas.  Many of these exercises are used to develop and hone critical thinking abilities in a time-sensitive environment.

There are also many classes that demand extensive research, analysis, and memorization.  We constantly examine dramatic structure and literary theory.  We must communicate in the language of design (set, lighting, sound, costumes, make-up, hair and wigs, properties, graphics) and be skilled in carpentry, scenic painting, sewing, make-up application, hairstyling, electrics and wiring, publicity, public relations, business management, and technology.   We must have a solid grasp on math (especially geometry), psychology, world history, major literary movements, foreign languages, fire and safety codes, structural engineering, politics, current trends, cultural differences and personal health.  We should be critical of our own work and thoroughly versed in the ideas, problems, and history presented in each new production.  By necessity, we must also be trained as good communicators, listeners, and collaborators—always able to provide an answer for the artistic choice we are determined to pursue.

So no… it is *not* all fun and games.  But it is a comprehensive education that results in very marketable skills.

Exhibit B: But everyone just ends up working at a Starbucks.  Or starving.  Or switching careers.

First of all, I see no shame in holding down an honorable job to pay the bills, no matter where that comes from.  Life hits us hard from all sides, and sometimes you just have to survive.

However, in my experience, I’ve known two (TWO!) theatre majors who took jobs at Starbucks.  I imagine if we took a comprehensive query of Starbucks baristas, we would find people from all walks of life with a myriad of specialized interests and pursuits.  So, this argument against theater seems a little short-sighted at best.  But yes, *some* theatre majors end up in an entirely different field.  Yet I’ve known mathematicians, nurses, foreign language specialists, teachers, businessmen, lawyers, cooks, and engineers who, at some point, have significantly changed career paths.

That said, theatre provides individuals with a wealth of skills and knowledge that can be utilized in almost any job.  I’ve got this lovely man’s article posted outside my office door.

But I also want to highlight the wealth of opportunities available in the theatre.  If you are willing to learn and branch out, the options are vast.  There are far more jobs to be had than just as an “actor.”

Backstage View

Backstage View

Let me provide you with a sampling:

  1. Stage Manager
  2. Designer (in any area)
  3. Director
  4. Playwright
  5. Choreographer (Dance or Fight)
  6. Casting Director
  7. Technical Director
  8. House Manager
  9. Business Manager
  10. Artistic Director
  11. Dramaturg
  12. Educator/Academic
  13. Critic
  14. Carpenter
  15. Seamstress
  16. Crew Member (in any area)
  17. Box Office Manager
  18. Scenic Painter
  19. Master Electrician
  20. Board Operator (Lights or Sound)
  21. Rigger
  22. Music Director
  23. Dance Captain
  24. Vocal and/or Dialect Coach
  25. Agent

Yes, it’s true that many theatre practitioners must supplement their income by taking second or third jobs.  Yes, it’s true that most theatre practitioners market themselves in more than one area or specialization.  But where there is true passion for the art, there is determination, sacrifice, and grit.

We’ll pursue this discussion further next week with an examination of two related comments leveled against the wisdom and intelligence of those who champion theatre, but for now I hope this has generated a deeper understanding of the discipline and a respect for the level of training demanded of our majors.

To be continued…


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Traci Ledford, Department Chair and Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, received her Master of Fine Arts in Directing as well as her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing and Design from Baylor University. In the interim between the two degrees, Traci served as the Education and Outreach Intern at the Dallas Theater Center before devoting nine years to teaching theatre in the public school systems of Texas and North Carolina. As a director, Traci has helmed over fifty productions. Among them are Our Town, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Three Musketeers, The Voice of the Prairie, Moon Over the Brewery, Cyrano de Bergerac, All My Sons, The Dazzle, Sunday in the Park with George, Eurydice, and The 39 Steps. Traci also continues to perform as an actress; her roles have included such classics as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Viola in Twelfth Night, Mariane in Tartuffe, Andromache in The Trojan Women, and the Mother in Blood Wedding. Most recently, she appeared as Rosannah DeLuce in Brilliant Traces. Traci’s interests also extend to playwriting.

3 thoughts on “The Make-Believe Major (or… People Say the Darndest Things) – Part I

  1. I get it. Have a sister who is an actress and sometimes stage manager or tech crew. She works very hard when she’s in a play – which is usually on top of the job(s) that pay the bills.

    Of course, I have a job where I get to sit around a read books all day. I wish.

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