I Have a Theatre Degree (and I’m Okay)

Welp, I did it. I got a new job.

While I was applying to graduate school, I decided to take a swing at some job applications in higher ed admin, because what did I have to lose? Turns out I gained a job in career services at a university on Long Island. I’ll do the masters thing eventually. The job did not require me to relocate in a matter of days like grad school did, and instead of me paying it money, it is going to pay me money. Crazy!

Meanwhile, I told the dean who interviewed me about this blog. His response was, “Huh, you don’t seem awkward.” So I guess that means I have made some progress and can now come across to a stranger as a semi-functional, employable human being. At least for an hour anyway. Let’s see what a career brings.

Which sort of brings me to today’s topic.

As a creative person, I know a lot of creative people who pursued creative degrees in college. We’ve all been told the same things as we pursued these creative degrees: that we were in for a long road, that our skillset was not viable to the workforce, that we would be lucky to be eating crackers in a studio apartment we share with four other artists because there are no jobs in our field and no jobs outside of our field that we can do.

I know a lot of people who are able to pursue their creative aspirations and still feed themselves. Because the job that pays them steadily is not their job. Their art is their job; their job is a means to survive in the meantime. My deepest and utmost respect to those who do this. If it were up to me, artists would be paid as much as software engineers, for they are equally important.

I got out of college with my theatre degree in tow and the decision already made that I wasn’t going to pursue acting. I still have artistic aspirations but know full well they are things I can pursue in my free time. My art is not an extension of myself. I love storytelling and everything about it, but I don’t need it the way others need it. (I wish I did in some ways.) So, I set out to find a new path.

I had done several internships in story editing, arts administration, and marketing at this point, so I had a tool belt. I went on dozens of interviews while maintaining a job in food service. I met with a speakers bureau, a fashion agency, marketing firms, and some theatres themselves for admin roles. That last category was the only one that didn’t make some sort of comment about my degree, but those jobs are extremely competitive because everyone with a theatre degree who wants a 9-5 job would kill for them. I had relevant experience to all of those jobs and yet that one line on my resume was all anyone could say anything about. Most of them said, “Oh, so you must have waitressing experience.” (This wasn’t on my resume.) Yes. Acting and waitressing are completely interchangeable. I may as well have put that I also have a degree in waitressing, as they are the same thing.

After applying for over 500 jobs (I counted once) and having about 30 interviews, I finally received an offer…for another unpaid internship in publishing. What did that interviewer say to me? “Ah, yeah, I have a theatre degree. Was never able to get a real job. That’s why I am starting this business. You must be struggling.” So apparently I was being given the internship out of solidarity more than anything else. This internship turned into the job I just quit and I regret accepting it more than I regret getting a theatre degree.

Because here is the thing. I don’t regret getting a theatre degree. I never have, for not even one minute. And it breaks my heart whenever I hear another creative person with a creative degree saying something along the lines of, “I can’t believe I wasted all of this money on a useless degree.”

The fact that employers look at a creative degree and don’t see a beautiful myriad of applicable skills to their company is one of the biggest problems our society has. The fact that it is such a prominent mindset that it has managed to snake its way into the minds of artists and is causing them to be bitter toward their art is downright tragic.

Artists are storytellers. Artists know more than anyone about how to influence emotions. Artists understand human behavior. Artists are empathetic. Artists think outside the box. Artists perceive a reality beyond what is right in front of you. And in a capitalistic society where everyone’s got a product to push and where the innovation gap is so narrow, companies need people who are going to come up with a good story. The right rhetorical strategy is the only thing that’s going to make anybody money these days.

Not to mention that because of my theatre degree, I can sew your pants back together after you split them right before a big presentation, I can tell you the name of that client’s wife because of my quick memorization skills, I can screw a chair back together, and I’m entertaining, dammit!

But apparently all we are capable of is waitressing (not to poo-poo waitressing. I made more money doing that than I’ll probably ever make again and it was also probably the hardest job I’ll ever have in many ways).

Perhaps that is why I have been drawn toward career services. Because this was the first job interview I’ve ever been on where the only comment on my theatre degree was, “Oh, that’s really interesting. I bet you know a lot about x, y, and z.” I want to work with artistic universities to help students who maybe decide being a full-time artist isn’t for them, and who therefore need to find a new path using the incredibly valuable skills they acquired while pursuing their degree. Make no mistake. The world needs creation. The world needs artists. Without art, we would all be terrible. If every single dystopian novel ever written didn’t teach the world as much, I don’t know what will.

So I guess this is my new mission.

Well, this and that whole wage gap thing…

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