My relationship with theater is one that goes back as far as I can remember. My dad was the theater teacher in my hometown, both my parents majored in it, and I dedicated as much time as I could to it throughout high school.
It was one of my majors in college, and I logged countless hours attending rehearsals, memorizing lines, and putting on heavy-duty makeup.
Now, I work from home and spend most of my time reminding people to put on their shoes and not put marbles in their mouths.
It’s pretty easy to look at the theatrical part of my college career and feel like I wasted my time… like I had a whole lot of fun in front of people so that I could owe the government thousands of dollars. I don’t like to admit it, but on the days where I feel the most run-down and unsatisfied, I sometimes do, in fact, feel that way.
It’s just not true. When I’m feeling good, when my head’s on straight, I realize that almost everything I hold dear right now is in my life (in some way, at least) thanks to the theater I participated in in my younger years. It’s even the vehicle through which I met my husband, who wasn’t even a theater major. My personality has been shaped by it, and the skills I’ve gained from it are helping me achieve the goals I so desperately want to conquer.
Although I had convinced myself I was going to become a famous actress very early on, I was still completely terrified when it came time to being up on a real stage for the first time. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, and in a school as small as mine, getting onstage meant every single person in that entire building was going to witness it.
In my first official school play, my character was the ghost of an old-time gangster’s moll. I had a Boston accent (at least what I thought a Boston accent was) and was haunting a hotel that was hosting a high school’s dance. It was cheesy and fun, and I was so nervous for the opening scene.
When I walked off the stage after that first scene, I was a different person. I had just gotten on the same stage that I watched my dad direct for most of my life, and it had gone pretty well. I hadn’t died, no one threw tomatoes at me, and I hadn’t fallen on my face or experienced any kind of accidental bodily-created noises. I had gotten up in front of people to perform, and I knew it was something I could do again.
Now, even though I’m not working in a theater-related position, I attribute most of my moderate success to my theatrical background. I’m not afraid to talk to people I don’t know, so I’m able to build a network for myself that will help me gain new contacts and (ideally) clients. Now, nervous? Sure, but not afraid.
Inevitable Exposure to Error
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from theater is that you will make a mistake and (unless you’re doing theatrical skydiving or snake charming) you probably won’t die from it.
Especially early on in theater, you’re going to make errors. Whether it’s a missed line or a dropped prop, it will happen. More than that, you’re going to make mistakes in front of people. This is not a pleasant feeling, and you probably won’t ever forget it, but it prepares you for the mistakes that you will inevitably make in the future, and most of these won’t be quite so public. You learn how to respond to failures gracefully, learn from them, and move on.
All of this should (It doesn’t always. Some people never learn, and you’ll have to get used to that) teach you a good lesson in humility. There are times in theater when you are just crushing it, and it’s easy to feel like you’re pretty spectacular at what you do. These are the times when those past errors are important, because you can always make a mistake, no matter how well things are going. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be confident, and that you shouldn’t celebrate your successes… just that a high horse is never the best seat in the house.
Exposure to a Variety of Different Personalities
In every profession and walk of life, you are forced to coexist with a variety of personality-types. This is especially true in theater. What I learned is that, since it’s a generally accepting environment, people feel encouraged to be themselves, and their personalities often seem amplified. I’m not even talking about the stereotypical “theater kids” who speak in British accents and wear leather pants. I met some of my least favorite people I’ve ever encountered, as well as people I could not live without. Some of the most introverted, isolated people I know frequented the theater department (albeit in more behind-the-scenes roles). Working together with people who make me want to scream AND with people I genuinely respect to create something bigger than all of us taught me patience, tolerance, and the ability to put grudges aside, even if only temporarily.
Give it a chance.
I can’t express enough how important it is to let your kids (or yourself, for that matter) try theater. They don’t have to like it, and for God’s sake if they don’t, don’t force them to do it again. But they deserve the opportunity to see how they feel about it. The benefits begin as soon as you step on a stage, even if it’s just the simple fact that you got up there in front of people. That takes guts, and it’s good to know you’ve got them.
Lauren Bonk is a freelance copywriter and editor who’s been wrangling children and words since 2010. She blogs about working from home and life in general at The Curtain and Pen. Lauren high-fives her husband regularly, and isn’t sure if she likes Karaoke or Doctor Who better. She’ll get back to you on that.