Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
Last week, I completed my last final exam – a performance for a Reader’s Theatre class – in college. Now, after years of studying my favorite art form, I’ll finally be graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre. I promised myself that when the time comes, I wouldn’t get too sentimental. However, in light of this occasion, there is one thing that’s been on my mind lately that I wanted to speak about. It is something that I think many people reading this blog can relate to:
“A THEATRE DEGREE IS USELESS!”
While the above phrase couldn’t possibly be more different from my own opinion, it keeps sticking in my head because I’ve heard it said so many times, along with questions such as...
“Is theatre really a necessary subject in schools?”
“Aren’t you worried about finding a REAL job after college?”
“You’re spending tens of thousands of dollars worth of tuition for THIS?”
I suspect that I’m not alone when I say that I’ve heard people say things along these lines over and over again, and that I’m sick and tired of hearing such phrases. Having actually finished up work in my college theatre program, I can now say that this feeling of frustration I’ve had has only grown stronger. I speak from personal experience when I say there are many different benefits that come with studying theatre at a four-year university, some of which I’ll admit that I didn’t know about myself until I actually went to college.
Let’s start with what I would think should be obvious: As a Theatre major, one of the most important life skills that you inevitably improve upon is being a good communicator. No matter what job you go into after college, it is highly likely that you will need to have solid, professional communication skills in order to be successful in that position. When looking back on what I was like when I first started my college career, and then comparing it to me in the present day, I’d personally like to think that I’ve made significant progress – especially over the course of this past year – and that the challenges and tasks that the Theatre department presented me with played a role in that.
However, that’s not the only area where students can potentially see improvement by becoming a Theatre major. In my theatre history classes, I honestly learned more interesting facts about the history of the world than I ever did in any of my high school history classes, and I certainly learned more historical facts that are relevant to what I’m doing with my own life. In my technical theatre classes, I learned that while mathematics never be my favorite subject, even that was a subject that certain people needed to be skilled at in the arts, and I was certainly challenged to do better at math while I was in those classes. For the writing intensive classes that Theatre majors had to take at my school, I had to significantly improve upon my research and my essay writing skills, in a way that I’d like to think has helped me a great deal with some of the things I’m doing with my life today. Oh, and perhaps this last one might be stretching it a tiny bit, but some of the acting and movement classes that Theatre majors take could potentially be a good form of exercise. That’s always a good thing, right?
Along the way, students are required to significantly develop the critical thinking skills that are typically expected from any college student in any department. When studying theatre at a four-year university like the one I attended, students are pushed to examine and think about a wide variety of academic subjects and current issues, and then apply them to the art of theatre and performance in a way that is both relevant and engaging to the audience. This is true whether we’re talking about character analysis that every great actor does, the research and vision that any director needs to bring to the table on Day 1, the practicalities that anyone in technical theatre needs to be thinking about over the course of the production, and yes, the creative process behind any decent playwright, which leads me to my next point…
In addition to all of this, I got to learn more about my first true love as an artist along the way. During my college career, I have – at least according to my professors – shown a great deal of growth as both a student and as a playwright, which I think is something that all students should aspire to do in school, whether they are interesting in playwriting, acting, directing, or anything else in the arts or elsewhere. I think it’s fair to say that the reason I’ve apparently changed so much during this time period is due to my experiences in a college theatre program such as this, which challenges and encourages students to go further and broaden their horizons far beyond where they might have imagined going prior to attending college. To be honest, I’m not sure if certain other departments (*cough*Math*cough*) in college could have ever given me an experience that is as rewarding – both artistically and academically – as I have gotten as a student in the Theatre department.
For some of you who are reading this column, perhaps you’re just starting to think about college, and whether or not you want to be a Theatre major. Perhaps you’re facing questions from others in your life over whether or not this is what you ought to be studying in college. A few of you might even have some personal doubts of your own, as to whether or not getting a Theatre degree will really be worth it.
Believe me when I say that it is.
I can’t promise everyone that they are going to end up getting a job in their preferred field after college, much less right after they graduate. However, the truth of the matter is that no matter what major you are in college, the job market is going to be competitive anyway, and for those of us who love theatre, the odds of us getting a job doing what we love would be significantly lower without a college degree in this subject. So as long as you’re planning on going to college, I strongly encourage you to go with the intention of studying something that you actually feel passionate about, as opposed to studying something just because you think it will lead to you making lots of money. If you do that, then who am I to say that you definitely won’t find work anywhere in the world of theatre?
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of post-college life, here’s a little word of advice to anyone who is lucky enough to find work somewhere in the theatre industry after graduation: Don’t EVER let anyone tell you that what you do for a living isn’t a “real” job. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who says that isn’t worth your time.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).