I’m the oldest of four children, and so far three of us have finished college as theater majors. While I’m sure my parents secretly despair for our less than lucrative life choices, I actually believe four years of acting class is one of the best things that can happen to a person.
The skills I learned performing on stage continue to pop up in almost everything I do at Ketchum, and I think they can serve anyone working in marketing, communications and beyond. Here are a few examples:
- Physicality. In any business revolving around constant communication, it’s essential to be conscious of your body – how it looks, how it moves, how it works. Cultivating this awareness leads to a mastery of the impression you make with your audience. This is no less crucial for an audience of clients, prospects or colleagues than it is for paying arts patrons.
- Language. Vocalizing words brings language to life in a truly tangible way. Reading and listening to Shakespeare is great, but it’s even more enlightening to invest his lines with energy and feeling by speaking them out loud. And each new script you tackle provides fresh insights. The words and ideas that you absorb go on to inform the writing, speaking and thinking you do while communicating with your own audiences.
- Empathy. You don’t need to subscribe to “the Method” (I certainly don’t) to use acting to explore the thoughts and emotions of others. When you put yourself inside the head of another human being and literally walk around in their shoes, you can’t help but expand your understanding of how minds work. Using the words and gestures of imaginary people can help you see things through the eyes of real people: your client, a member of your target audience, your co-worker, your boss, etc.
- Collaboration. Contrary to the stereotype, there’s very little room in theater for divas. You usually share the stage with other actors, receive guidance from a director, deal with designers and stage managers and tech crews… Stage acting can create a group intimacy that rivals even the most tight-knit of office teams. Every other person on stage (and many who aren’t) are depending on you, and you’re depending on them. It’s a constant education in teamwork, which we all know is a real necessity in this industry.
- Improvisation. No matter how hard you try, sometimes you go off script. You need to quickly correct a mistake, bail out another performer or take advantage of a spontaneous moment to delight the crowd with something unexpected. The more you perform, the more keen your intuition is for thinking several steps ahead and staying alert to peoples’ subtle cues. If you’re in a pitch presentation, in conversation with a client or talking to the media, this skill can come in very handy.
- Creativity. Combining all of these skills shows why acting is a form of creative activity. It’s about solving problems of expression and figuring out how to break through in the way you communicate – using yourself as the medium. It’s a great way to stay in tune with your instincts and keep yourself receptive to the big ideas this industry depends on.
One final note: These ideas apply particularly to stage acting – film and TV have their own rules. The main difference is that when you’re on stage, everything happens in real time, and your success or failure depends on being sharp in the immediate moment – kind of like real life. So go ahead and audition for your community’s production of Guys and Dolls – you can consider it on-the-job training. (And they say a theater degree is impractical…)