My Theatre Degree Does Not Need a “Backup Plan”

I’m in my last semester of my senior year pursuing a degree in musical theatre, and I have a question for the general public: why does everyone assume that artists are going to fail? Anytime I’m asked what my degree is in, and I tell them, I’m met with the same handful of responses: “Oh…good luck with that!”. “Hope you’re good at waitressing/making coffee.” “Yeah, okay, buuut…. what’s your REAL plan?” 

         These responses are, as you probably could guess, very frustrating. And I don’t think they necessarily mean them to be. Outside of the theatre world in particular, when people think about a degree in theatre, they picture one thing: Broadway. And yes, with that understanding, it would be expected for lots of artists’ dreams to fail. But, that assumption is wrong. There are so many ways and places where theatre practitioners can be successful, and a limited understanding of those opportunities does not give you the right to belittle someone and make them seem stupid for making the choice to make their passion their career.

         I’ve also met people who don’t believe that theatre is a “real job”. As an actor, people have made it clear to me that they believe that acting is just like playing childhood games: dressing up, singing songs, and playing pretend. That assumption is also, wrong. I want to focus on Broadway for a second which, again, is not the norm, but is a showcase of the kind of work theatre people can do on a massive scale. ESPN did a segment on the sports science of dancers in Broadway’s “The Lion King” and compared the amount of exercise they do, and the stamina required to that of Olympic athletes. The performers need to have “an aerobic capacity on par with the world’s top soccer players” and travel more than “an NBA MVP average (Fierberg, Ruthie. “ESPN Sport Science Shows Lion King Dancers Match Top Athletes.” Playbill, PLAYBILL INC., 1 Nov. 2016). Saying that performing is just a fun little hobby of singing and dancing is completely wrong and also, insulting to the people who’ve put so much time into learning and perfecting their craft. 

            I understand people having misconceptions about things, I know that there are things I don’t understand that, as a result, I oversimplify or don’t give it the full credit it’s due. But, ignorance does not mean that you can use misinformation and mockery to belittle people who do something you don’t understand. We choose to do theatre as a career because we love it, and we want to make the art that you will enjoy in the future: films, plays, musicals, everything, to inspire the next generation of artists. Please, leave us be, support us, and be there to applaud when we succeed. We need you, and you need us too.