What do you do with a BFA in Theatre?

by Travis Brendle, Stage Manger – Actor’s Equity Association

Mom, Dad…I want to be an actor.” This phrase has stemmed fear and uncer­tain­ty in many a house­hold since the begin­ning of time. Looking into his­to­ry, Actors were con­stant­ly lumped into a social cat­e­go­ry along side gyp­sies, vagrants and thieves. Looking into the present, many con­sid­er a career in the enter­tain­ment indus­try, as one of uncer­tain­ty. Growing up I was always told “Only 10% of actors are work­ing at any giv­en time, and that includes they guy serv­ing your tea.” Many high school stu­dents who are gung ho about being an actor, tech­ni­cal, design­er or stage man­ag­er decide to go to col­lege to get either their BFA (Bachelor Fine Arts) or BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Theatre. After decid­ing to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Stage Management, I have learned of many dif­fer­ent things that can be done with a degree in the­atre. Just because one spends four years of col­lege learn­ing how to become an actor, tech­ni­cian or singer, doesn’t mean that each of the skills learned in their col­lege career won’t be an asset to any job that they may apply for. Here are three exam­ples of jobs that many of my friends and col­leagues have, or have had, not uti­liz­ing their BFA in their orig­i­nal intent.

1) Sales: Actors, in their purest form, are sales­men. An actor’s job is to con­vince an audi­ence that they are not only some­one else, but to believe that every­thing they are say­ing is truth. One of my dear­est friends went to a very good col­lege with one of the best BFA Acting pro­grams in the coun­try and is now a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sales­woman in the Chicago area. In talk­ing with her, she said that her degree came in handy in a more ways than she could ever imag­ine. In even the most basic of act­ing class­es, she learned the impor­tance of talk­ing clear­ly, using vocal inflec­tion to keep one’s atten­tion, and most impor­tant­ly, look­ing the per­son you are talk­ing to direct­ly in the eye. Since we are in the age of the iPhone and Facebook, many of the up and com­ing gen­er­a­tion does not have the basic con­ver­sa­tion­al skills that are required in the sales. Many actors are being employed by major com­pa­nies to sell there prod­ucts not only in the coun­try, but over­seas. In my opin­ion, actors are more per­son­able, open to change and dif­fer­ent cul­tures than their many of their busi­ness school coun­ter­parts. Many large com­pa­nies are employ­ing union actors to work in their over­seas offices, where the impor­tance of a good con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist is so impor­tant to ensur­ing the sale.

2) Teaching: The most com­pelling teach­ers are actors. If you think back to your favorite class­es in school, the root cause of that love is not nec­es­sar­i­ly because of the sub­ject, but often because of the edu­ca­tor lead­ing the con­ver­sa­tions. The best English teach­ers make the work of Dickinson, Steinbeck, and Twain jump off the page and come alive. The best his­to­ry teach­ers lead you through the March on Washington, the inva­sion of Normandy Beach and John Glenn’s first lunar step as if you were there. And even that great Math teacher made proofs and algo­rithms make sense by mak­ing them rel­e­vant, often by enter­tain­ing songs, poems or games. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (the composer/​lyricist team respon­si­ble for SeussicalOnce on This Island, and Ragtime) got their start writ­ing the epic teach­ing tool Schoolhouse Rock. The best teach­ers are inher­ent­ly sto­ry­tellers, whether they were trained in it or not. And hey, the ben­e­fits and time off is pret­ty appeal­ing, isn’t it?

3) Guest Relations: Down to it’s core, guest rela­tions staff deal with (peo­ple) prob­lems. Whether it be a concierge at a major resort, to a guest rela­tions offi­cer at major com­pa­ny, the peo­ple deal­ing with the con­cerns of their cus­tomers have a very hard job to do. With my BFA in Stage Management, I have had a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ty to solve prob­lems. From deal­ing with irate design­ers to work­ing with an actor who needs help mem­o­riz­ing their lines, a stage man­ag­er is the ulti­mate Guest Relations posi­tion. In my col­lege career, I was required to take many com­mu­ni­ca­tions class­es. My inter­per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion class taught me how to not only read people’s body lan­guage, but also how to use my body lan­guage to help com­mu­ni­cate a point. My human resources class taught me how to effec­tive­ly man­age a group of peo­ple with very dif­fer­ent job descrip­tions, while main­tain­ing author­i­ty. My speech class­es taught me how to speak effec­tive­ly, clear­ly and suc­cinct­ly. All of these class­es, and the many more class­es I took in my four years at CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) gave me the skills need­ed to work with any and all peo­ple dur­ing any and all sit­u­a­tions

As seen above, in get­ting a BFA in Theatre a stu­dent is giv­en a wide and var­ied range of skills that will be a great asset in many job fields.

What oth­er jobs could you see a per­son with a BFA in Theatre doing? I can’t wait to hear from you!

The Musical Theatre History Map

by John Howrey

I made this for my Graphic Design Degree Project at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2008. The orig­i­nal prob­lem I set out to solve was to help my stu­dents choose the best musi­cal the­atre audi­tion mate­r­i­al. Rather than come up with a nifty search­able song data­base, I thought that we’d all be bet­ter served by learn­ing more about the his­to­ry of musi­cal the­atre. So much about choos­ing song for an audi­tion is about mak­ing con­nec­tions to oth­er shows.

I’m proud to say that this map has been a huge hit. Prints have sold at auc­tions to ben­e­fit some local the­atres and it was even pub­lished in Frank Jacobs’s Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. You can buy a print of the map (and some oth­er things) here.