There’s a reason that people fight so hard to keep the arts in schools, despite constant incredulous opposition and budget cuts. There is simply nothing like the arts to cultivate the ingenuity of young minds, while teaching them to be articulate, eloquent, quick-witted, and highly creative. And those who fight for the arts are exactly right to do so: these are exactly the attributes that I, as a young professional, needed to be able to flourish in the business world, especially in communications.
The Memorandum for Drama 2 at MIHS
While I am about to show you why this is true, you should know that I write this piece with a bias: I was a Drama major at the University of Washington (Class of 2011). However, I did not choose my major because I held on to some childhood dream of becoming a famous actress. I chose it because everyone told me that your major did not matter as long as you cultivated the skills you needed to succeed… so you might as well do what you love. I have been involved with theater for as long as I can remember, so I knew that the “Communicative Arts” were exactly what I needed to do (and wanted to do!) in order to expand upon the abilities that would get me my real dream job.
Here are five ways being a theater major has prepared me for the Public Relations industry:
1. Communication. There is nothing more necessary to be successful in PR than the ability to communicate well. And theater is the quintessential medium to learn how to be an amazingly effective presenter. Where else do you learn to stand up in front of a crowd while confidently and compellingly communicating a message with a motivating and entertaining flair? Furthermore, creating and building relationships are the foundation of the PR industry. In the theater, it is imperative to study the human condition so as to intimately understand the character you are to portray. I cannot stress the importance of being trained to observe and understand others in any professional situation, but it is especially useful for Public Relations to understand your client’s needs, their customer base, and even the wants of your own co-workers! Finally, you will never meet a more odd or eccentric group of human beings than those who choose to work in theater. It is through my experiences collaborating with absolutely every kind of person imaginable that has taught me to understand, respect, and effectually communicate with an unusually diverse variety of people.
Improv at the beginning of Godspell at YTN
2. Improvisation. In the world of theater, improvisation happens all the time – such is the nature of live performance. If something can go wrong it will go wrong: dropped lines, missed entrances, a prop not functioning correctly, even a fire alarm mid-performance – I’ve done it all! I even used to be a part of an “improv” group, in which you’d create comedy out of basically nothing. At the time is was all fun and games, but now that I’m in the PR industry it is amazing how useful it is to be able to focus, think quickly, rapidly respond to the problem, and do so while maintaining the persona that everything is under control. Every day in PR is different, and to do well you must not only have a high tolerance for chaos, but also thrive in the midst of a challenge. Crisis communication is a necessary and abundant part of Public Relations, and the ability to keep your cool and improvise quickly is an invaluable attribute when your client’s reputation is on the line.
Yes, that is a paper mache dress based off of the Sydney Opera House
3. Doing What Needs to Get Done. The Drama major at the University of Washingon does not simply allow you to get your acting classes in and go – rather, you had to learn everything it takes in order to make a production a reality. That meant lab hours learning how to do lighting and sound design, intricately building stage design dioramas, “teching” (being part of the technical crew) for the graduate student performances, creatively costume design, stage make-up design, and even work as an usher or at the concession stand. While I definitely spent a few weeks of my life living up in the rafters of a theater running a spotlight, running around backstage helping with quick changes, and painstakingly hot-gluing tiny set pieces to miniature stage dioramas, I could confidently say that I had the ability to do whatever that was needed to be done. Yes, it was hard work. But that pro-active, get ’er done attitude is exactly what I needed to learn to be successful in the business world. Those who do well in PR are the ones that go above and beyond by putting in the extra time, effort, and hard work. Beyond that, I learned that in order to be effective at what you do, you need to understand everything that goes into making it work. For Public Relations that means understanding media relations, broadcast news relations, TV and web production, and meticulously studying how and why the media chooses to publicize. Without theater, I doubt I would have realized the imperative need to intimately understand what goes into your success.
4. Resiliency. Public Relations has consistently been named as one of the most stressful jobs in America. There’s always an impending deadline, multiple projects to finish, and the impending havoc of potential bad publicity at any moment. Additionally, PR is a competitive sport – successful agencies are looking for go-getters who will garner results. If your work ethic is not up to the challenge of late hours, a readiness to do whatever is needed, and serious attention to detail then this is not the right career path for you. Similarly, the world of theater does not allow one to sit idly by and get things handed to them. To merely attempt to get a part you must face multiple auditions against very worthy competitors, and constantly work on improving your skill set. Even when you get the part you are then expected to work long hours getting ready, and memorize everything during your off time. The name of the game is results (in either arena), and theater revealed the inherent correlation between the amount of work put in and the magnitude of your positive results.
Shadow Gods (I was Athena) in The Odyssey at YTN
5. Creativity. Last but certainly not least! The talent of creativity is not merely a gift granted to certain people. It is a skill that must be honed, trained, practiced, and developed. In order to do well in theater, PR, or in life, it is necessary to break out of established ways of seeing something and look at things in a different way. While any fool can create publicity, it is up to the PR professional to find imaginative ways to beneficially promote their client’s key messages and mission in the public eye.
Likewise, in theater you are always trying to find a way to make the same old play new and exciting, attempting to create a sensational original play, or find some other way to ensnare and enrapture your audience’s attention. It is also endlessly important in both fields to creatively use what you are given. For example, both industries usually have to make due with a limited budget – and therefore need to resourcefully use what little they have to make magic. It is through ingenuity that we can use less to make more, not to mention find new and stimulating ways to make things interesting (whether those things are dusty old Shakespeare plays or a boring press release!). Theater showed me the importance of being inspiring, breaking the rules, and not being afraid of taking risks in order to make your final result truly meaningful.
I am proud to have been a Drama major, and so thrilled to be using the expertise I’ve learned for my job path. While it doesn’t hurt that I write a mean essay (maybe my next blog should be “Why a Law Minor is So Useful”), and have learned the finer points of the daily duties of PR professional (press releases and media alerts galore!), it is because of what the theater has taught me that I know I will find success.