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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University > Alumni & Friends > Stay Connected > Millikin Quarterly > Posts > What theatre majors learn

Discovering a classic among our own
by Jerry Johnson ’82, Associate Director of Communications

Several years ago while searching the Internet on a
theatre-related topic, I stumbled across an essay entitled, “What Theatre Majors Learn: The advantages theatre majors have for all jobs.” I was fascinated by its insights on the many behaviors and skills people develop or enhance through their involvement in theatre. I knew how much participation in theatre had enriched my life and given me a greater understanding of teamwork, self-discipline, patience, perseverance and resilience. I filed away a copy of the essay on my computer for future reference, without really making note of the author’s name.

Fast forward a few years and I am working in the Millikin Alumni and Development Office as part of the communications team. Deb Kirchner, director of communications and services, as well as editor of Millikin Quarterly magazine, is preparing some alumni profiles about theatre majors who have made careers outside that field as an example of how a Millikin education prepares graduates for professional success, even in careers outside their MU majors. I immediately thought of the essay and shared it with her.

She asked me to find out if we could use the essay in the magazine and maybe even get an interview with the author. I discovered it was written by Dr. Louis E. Catron, a professor of theatre, speech, and dance at the College of William & Mary in Virginia for more than 35 years. Deb thought the name sounded familiar and we were quickly reminded that Dr. Catron was a 1958 Millikin communications/English graduate. Sadly, he had passed away in October 2010.

Originally published in Dramatics magazine in December 1991, Catron’s essay has since taken on a life of its own. It can be found on countless websites as well as in university theatre handbooks across the country, from California State University-Bakersfield to Pensacola State College. I enjoy knowing that part of Catron’s significant legacy – this little essay filled with his passion for and knowledge of theatre that gained worldwide attention – has now been published in abridged format on the pages of his alma mater’s magazine.

Read about theatre alums who are performing their learning in off-stage careers in this issue.

What theatre majors learn
by Louis Catron ’58

Business leaders are particularly interested in qualities like discipline, dependability, loyalty and leadership, qualities that theatre students must have to be effective members of a production team.
Theatre-trained applicants become valuable employees because they’re energetic, enthusiastic and able to work under pressure. 

Here are  23 skills, traits and qualities that are usually well-developed in individuals who study theatre.

1.  Oral communication skills. Theatre helps students develop the confidence that’s essential to speaking clearly, lucidly and thoughtfully, particularly in front of large groups.
2.  Creative problem-solving skills. Tech theatre work, such as building scenery and making props, is a good way to learn how to identify problems, evaluate possible solutions and figure out what to do
3.  Motivation. Being involved in theatre productions and classes teaches students that success comes to those who are committed to the task at hand.
4.  A willingness to work cooperatively. Theatre demands that participants work together cooperatively and understand how to be a team player for the production to succeed.
5.  The ability to work independently. In theatre, you’re often assigned tasks that you must complete without supervision. It’s left up to you to figure out how best to achieve the goal.
6.  Time-budgeting skills. When you’re a student, you must schedule your days very carefully to keep up your grades while you’re busy with rehearsals, work calls and other demands of theatre.
7.  Initiative. The complexities of a theatrical production demands individuals who are willing to voluntarily undertake any task that needs to be done; self-starters.
8.  Promptness and respect for deadlines. Being late for a rehearsal or a work call or failing to finish an assigned task on time damages a production and affects the work of many other people.
9.  Acceptance of rules. In theatre you work within the structure of a set of procedures and rules that deal with everything from shop safety to behavior at auditions, rehearsals and work calls.
10.  The ability to learn quickly. Whether memorizing lines or learning the technical aspects of a production, theatre students must absorb a vast quantity of material quickly and accurately.
11.  Respect for colleagues. In theatre, you discover that a successful production requires contributions from everybody involved. Mutual respect and trust are essential.
12.  Respect for authority. Only one person can be in charge of any given portion of a production and theatre teaches a willingness to accept and respect authority.
13.  Adaptability. Theatre students may be a member of the prop crew in one production; in charge of makeup, publicity or the box office in the next; and have a leading role in a third production. 
14.  The ability to work under pressure. Theatre demands everyone involved maintain a cooperative and enthusiastic attitude under the stress of long hours.
15.  A healthy self-image. To work in theatre, you must know who you are and how to project your individuality, but also recognize the need to make yourself secondary to the production.
16.  Acceptance of disappointment. Theatre people often fail to get a role or a coveted spot on a tech crew, but learn to be resilient enough to bounce back from this kind of frustration.
17.  Self-discipline. Theatre demands that you learn to make choices between keeping up with responsibilities and doing things you’d rather do.
18.  A goal-oriented approach to work. Many aspects of theatre involve setting specific goals and finding practical ways to achieve those goals. 
19.  Concentration. Acting, in particular, stresses concentration and, once learned as an actor, that skill can be transferred to other activities. 
20.  Dedication. Many theatre students discover that committing their energy, their very being, to a given task is deeply rewarding. 
21.  A willingness to accept responsibility. Theatre students sometimes have an opportunity that is seldom given to students in other disciplines – the chance to take on sole responsibility for a special project.
22.  Leadership skills. In theatre, you assist a director or designer and lead other volunteers, serve as a crew chief or even design or direct a production yourself.
23.  Self-confidence. Accomplishments in theatre show you that you can handle a variety of jobs, pressures, difficulties and responsibilities.

Few people choose to set out on a difficult, demanding four-year course of theatre study because it will make them good candidates for employment in other fields.  But it will. 


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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL