Speaking as a person who has a degree in the performing arts from a small town in Pennsylvania where acting opportunities are slim to nil, I understand well the frustration that shortage of skill utilization can havoc. The “acting bug” bite is a tough one to ignore, and one can get antsy. However, if you’re under these circumstances, and a big city is nowhere in your near future, one cannot live by acting alone. Many nearby acting chances are volunteer-based and although they will earn you brownie points for your theatre resume, they won’t put food on your table. In college, my acting professors would always assure us of the necessity of a backup plan in terms of a career due to the unstable nature of show business. But if you decide after an acting degree that you want go white collar, how do you do it?
Clerical skills vary from person to person. It’s all about experience and preference. But when you’re going in for your interview, the fact you have a B.A. in Acting, Theatre, or Film might raise a few eyebrows if you’re not applying to work at a studio or theater. You have to convince a potential employer that your skills are versatile enough to work at their facility. Let’s look at a few skills commonly gained through an acting degree, and match them up with some business habits.
Voice training is important for the stage because it helps to nurture a promising singing voice and to strengthen a strong, clear speaking voice that will be able to project to a crowd. In a job where you deal with the public, a confident, articulate voice is crucial, whether you’re talking to someone over the phone or face-to-face. When I once temped as a receptionist, my boss told me one of his number-one pet peeves at the job was hearing a representative over the phone sleepily mumble.
Anything can happen when dealing with the public. An angry customer can go ape on you for bad news. At my current job working at a public library, I’ve had numerous patrons argue with me over a ten-cent fine. Customer service requires personal strength and quick-thinking in order to placate a client, and improvisational skills learned from stage-play and acting exercises can aid you greatly. Just like you must be constantly aware and anticipant of what your co-star is going to say or do while onstage and react appropriately, so must you be aware of potential office showdowns.
If my film degree has taught me one thing, it’s that only 25% of a film is the actual acting. The rest of it is a cocktail of editing, technical maneuvers, coordination, an endless stream of science and mathematics, and marketing. Being able to work as part of a team is an awesome asset because it’s so universal. It’s essential to pretty much every job, and for the most part, any degree you earn will teach it in some way or another. With a performing arts degree, it manifests in your ability to work and get along with other actors/crew members. In order to pull off a film or play, you must have good communication, a cool head and the ability to take direction.
For my first acting class in college, we read Constantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares, wherein one exercise the author undergoes is sitting at a lone table onstage and practicing focusing on the immediate space in front of him, and by the end of the week he expands his focus from the table to the stage, and finally, to the entire room. It’s not so much a lesson in Zen as it is a stress on the importance of being able to let the audience melt away in your mind so you can perform your actions easier and more truthfully while you’re onstage. To be able to focus on your given task until completion without being easily distracted may seem simple enough, but when sitting in the middle of an office filled with ringing phones and the rapid-fire clacking of keyboards, even the easiest task could seem daunting.
You might be thinking that these skills are broad and applicable to any profession, and can be taught by any degree or with any amount of “real world” experience, but the performing arts teaches us to market ourselves. After all, it’s not called “show business” for nothing. Acting is a business, and we are taught to treat it as such-alongside all the artsy stuff. And whether the business is handling a client call or memorizing a script, the aforementioned skills go hand in hand. So fellow actors, the next time you’re in an acting rut and need to pencil-push for your daily bread, put your degree out there, and break a leg!