I have, on many occasion, said that my time in the theatre has been instrumental to any success I have had in my life. Whether it was acting, directing, designing sets or lighting, my time spent wrasslin’ the muse of theatre has paid big dividends in my life. I can especially see the fruits in the various work I do in the church, and when a college friend of mine posted this link today, I knew I wasn’t crazy.
Well, not for this reason, at least.
So, inspired by Tom Vander Well‘s post, here are the 10 ways that being a Theatre Major prepared me for a life in church work:
Theatre taught me how to focus, think quickly and make do while giving the impression that you’ve got it all under control.
No one, and I mean NO ONE, knows what’s coming next in ministry. You can have your day perfectly planned out and then you get the call that someone has died, or that they just need to talk, or something incredible happened and you are the one they wanted to tell. We plan as best we can in the church, but it often goes awry.
2) Project Management
A stage production is basically a business project. You have teams of people making up one team working to successfully accomplish a task on time, on budget in such a way that you earn the applause and an occasional standing ovation.
One’s mind usually goes to worship as the equivalent, but there are so many more areas to keep track of than that. Coordinating those who give their time to a congregation is often a full-time job. And, often, those folks don’t want you messing with them. As an Elder at my former church said to me, “I manage 800 people on a daily basis, but they all have to do what I say. I wouldn’t take your job for anything.”
3) Working with a Limited Budget
Most plays (especially small college shows) are produced on a shoestring budget. This forces you to be imaginative, do more with less and find creative ways to get the results you want without spending money.
During my college days we used to say “We’ve done so much for so long with so little, that, now, we can do anything with nothing.” I don’t know about your Stewardship Campaign this year, but most churches are increasingly feeling the pinch. It’s time to get creative!
4) Dealing with Very Different Human Beings
The theatrical community is a mash-up of interesting characters. It always has been. From fringe to freakish to frappucino sipping socialites and everything in between, you’re going to encounter the most amazing and stimulating cross-section of humanity when you work in theatre.
Yeah, that pretty much describes most churches I’ve known.
5) Understanding the Human Condition
Most people have the mistaken impression that acting is all about pretending and being “fake” in front of others. What I learned as a theatre major was that good actors learn the human condition intimately through observation and painfully detailed introspection.
“Art imitates life” is a commonly understood reality for theatre folk. The only way preachers can effectively make the Good News be actual good news is by knowing the depths of the human heart and what it needs to keep beating.
6) Doing Whatever Needs to Be Done
When you’re a theatre major at a small liberal arts college there is little room for specializing within your field. You have to learn to do it all. Light design, sound engineering, acting, directing, producing, marketing, PR, set design, set construction, ticket sales, budgeting, customer service, ushering, make-up, and costuming are all things I had to do as part of my college career. Within our merry band of theatre majors we all had to learn every piece of a production because at some point we would be required to do what needed to be done.
I may not have liked it, but if a light bulb needed changed, I was the one to do it. Sure, Hebrew Exegesis didn’t teach me that, but a pastor’s gotta do what a pastor’s gotta do.
7) Hard work
I remember creating a tree for one of our college shows… Sleepless nights, burnt fingers and a few brushes with tragedy were needed to get that tree done. But, we got it done. It was fabulous. And a few days later we tore it down, threw it out, and got ready for the next production. C’est la vie.
Pastor types like to talk about the “relentless return of Sunday.” It’s always coming and you just want a little break, but you stare that puppy down and you git-r-done.
8) Making Difficult Choices
You’ve got four parts and twenty four schoolmates who auditioned. Some of them are your best friends and fellow theatre majors. Do you choose the unexperienced jock because he’s best for the part or the friend and fellow theatre major who you fear will never talk to you again if you don’t cast him?
Sometimes, you are the only one who can make a decision. Do you have the guts to make some folks mad/sad/angry/frustrated? Theatre majors do.
9) Presentation Skills
From what I’ve experienced, individuals who can stand up confidently in front of a group of people and capably, effectively communicate their message while even being motivating and a little entertaining are among the rarest individuals in the…world.
When it came time to stand up in front of my preaching class and deliver my first sermon, it was a walk in the park. I’ll let other judge the value of my content, but my theatre professors made sure I walked out of college with the skills to talk in front of people.
10) Doing the Best You Have With What You’ve Got
I remember an Acting I class in college in which a pair of students got up to present a scene they’d prepared. They presented the scene on a bare stage with no lighting, make-up, costumes, props or set pieces. It was just two students acting out the script. It was one of those magic moments that happen with live theatre. The rest of the class were transfixed and pulled into the moment, reacting with surprising emotion to what they witnessed.
One thing I’ve found to be true: you don’t need “stuff” to make church work well. You don’t need screens, a sound system, flashy robes, a big choir, etc., etc., etc. Whatever God has gathered is whatever God needs. We can make big waves with the stuff God has already brought our way.
Any other theatre folks out there? What lessons did you learn from your time on the stage?