How My Theatre Background Impacts My Professional Skills in Business

Posted by Elizabeth Levey
March 27, 2015

by Elizabeth Levey

elizabeth-levey-1My Facebook newsfeed is full of friends posting articles like this and this, about the value of theatrical experience outside of the theatre. Why?  Well, yes, as actors, we often have a lot of time to kill: waiting for the monitor to call us in to audition, waiting for our scene to be onstage during a tech rehearsal, riding the subway to our dance class or voice lesson.  But I believe the bigger reason my newsfeed is chock full of these articles from my colleagues is because of their inherent truth. 

Professional actors’ training usually runs very deep, beginning with a childhood or adolescence studying various aspects of the theatre, and often culminating with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in the discipline.  (Not to mention all the hands-on experience gained from working in various productions.) Many professional actors have day jobs or eventually transition out of full-time Show Business. But most of us agree that the skills we learn throughout our professional training far transcend the confines of the theatrical world, and consistently help us to succeed in the business domain. 

“How?” you ask? Here are just a few ways my theatre background has impacted my business professional skills:

1. Presentation skills.  Makes sense, right?  As professional actors, we spend pretty much our entire lives training our voices and bodies to simultaneously connect with the message we’re trying to deliver.  For us, the message is usually the lines of the script, a piece of music or choreography. A background in theatre teaches us that everything we do with our voices and bodies communicates SOMETHING to our audience, and we want to cultivate enough self-awareness to manage those expressions so we can shape our audience’s judgment.

Well, guess what?

That’s no different than what we strive to do when delivering a business presentation.  This pairing of actors and acting technique with the business or corporate setting is not a new-fangled idea, especially in the political realm.  Ever see the movie “The King’s Speech?” An extreme example, true: King of England George VI suffers from a debilitating speech impediment, and hires an actor to help him look, feel, and sound his best when addressing the British people.  A great example of how a background in the theatre can help one be a more effective presenter.

2. Improv! The leading actress fainted in the middle of a performance.  Just before curtain, the discovery character-traits-acting-and-eiwas made that the set automation wasn’t working, and the show would go on without a set.  A fire broke out in the audience.  An audience member went into cardiac arrest and had to be evacuated by paramedics during the finale.  Pop star Prince was escorted to his seat via backstage as the overture began.

These are just a few of the real-life unexpected moments that have happened to me during my career as a professional actress.  And through all of it, the show must go on, and the audience must never know just how messed-up things may be.

As an actor, you must roll with the punches and adjust on a dime.  This agility is no different than what’s required in the business world. Meetings may run off the rails, you may have to deal with an unhappy client or vendor, service may get compromised or interrupted — whatever it may be, you can’t fall apart. You’ve got to rewrite your script on the fly and be flexible. 

3. It’s not me, it’s you.  Sadly, professional actors are very accustomed to rejection. We work in an industry where 97% unemployment is the norm, not the recession backlash.  And losing more than you win can be very demoralizing. But I once had a mentor put it into great perspective for me.  “Do you know why you didn’t get that part?” she asked.  “Because someone else did.”  As long as you’ve put your best foot forward, done the work required, and given it your all, there is no use constantly beating yourself up for not getting the gig. 

There are a million factors that go into casting, and often only a few have anything to do with how talented you are.  The same attitude can serve you well in business, too.  Don’t just lament “why?” you didn’t get the promotion, land the account, or get the plum assignment.  Solicit any feedback you can get, and if it’s useful, use it to learn and grow. If it’s arbitrary, non-specific, or just plain BS, throw it out.  Either way, grant yourself a brief amount of time to feel sad and sorry for yourself, and to manage your emotions.  Then brush yourself off, and try again. 

These are just some of the reasons a theatrical background is beneficial in the business world — there are about 100 more, at least. I'm thrilled to get to share my experience with our clients at Ovation.

Do you have any background in theatre or the arts that’s shaped or helped you as a business professional? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

And for more game-changing, actionable, professional tips from the minds of actors, check this out:

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