We’ve all heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”. From the prevalence of this expression, it can assumed that our society, and the entertainment industry, values the highly skilled specialist over someone less skilled in a given area but well-rounded.
Many of the people lauded in the theatrical community are regarded for singular talents. Ivo van Hove is a remarkable director, Chekhov is known for his particular style of playwriting, Bette Midler is a celebrated performer, David Korins is the biggest name in scenic design today, and so on. Each of these people, and many others, have devoted considerable time, focus and work towards their specific craft and this has allowed them to flourish. The other theatrical skills they hone (such as performers training in dance, or scenic designers working in carpentry) are typically in service to their specific path. Even “triple threats” are still trained for just one area of theatre: performance.
But what of the diverse skillset?
There are people in the theatre who may not have a singular drive like those mentioned above. They may instead be devoted to exploring the many facets of theatre and learning all they can. They may not know what they are best suited for, and so try everything to see what works for them. I’ve been that person (in many ways, I still am), and I have worked in practically every department of theatre over the years. Sometimes it was to try new things. Sometimes it was to supplement training I already had. Sometimes it was just because the production had an opening and I was available.
I have been an actor, a director, an assistant director, a writer, a scenic designer, a carpenter, a rigger, a flyperson, a stitcher, a dresser, a painter, a lighting designer, an electrician, a spotlight op, a board op (both for lights and audio), an audio engineer, a special effects supervisor, a prop master, a stage manager, a house manager, an usher, and floor crew.
I’ve done all of those jobs, most of them more than once, and I’m only twenty-four. I don’t list all of that to brag (well, maybe just a little), but rather to demonstrate how many skills someone can develop when they try as many things as possible. I, and people like me, may not be the best of the best in a particular field, but we’re hard workers and fast learners.
Jacks (or jills)-of-all-trades may be viewed as “masters of none”, but I would argue that their versatility is exactly what makes them so valuable. They are just as much a part of the theatre scene as anyone else, and we not only need to recognize their existence, but also to welcome their unique approach.