• Patrick McAndrew

Can Theater Practice Make You Happy, Healthy, and, Dare I Say, Wealthy?

Can theater practice make you happy, healthy, and, dare I say, wealthy?  “Happy? Of course!  Healthy? Eh… Wealthy? Pat, are you sipping Grandma’s Kool-Aid!? What are you smoking?!”

I’m not smoking anything!  And I bet Grandma’s Kool-Aid is delicious! These exclamations go against the societal grain.  I remember telling a friend’s parent that I was getting my degree in theater, which he responded by saying, “Oh, well you might as well just throw your money in a furnace!”

Those of you pursuing a career in theater definitely understand.  When someone asks you, “What did you study in college?”  “Oh…I studied theater!”  Brief pause.  “Oh…that’s cool.”  Or the ever-exciting question, “What do you do?”  “I do theater!” Crickets.  Or you get the occasional, “Oh!  Theater is so much fun!  I did all of that in high school!”  Other artistic majors I’m sure can relate.

I’m not one to judge these naysayers.  Many of them may participate in theater themselves for the love of it, a great hobby that fuels their creative passion while they make money through more realistic means.  And, believe me, I am all for that!  If you are involved in theater in any capacity, whether it be taking an improv class, doing community theater, or dabbling in your school’s theater department, I’m all about that life.  This is because I think theater is an essential aspect for one’s personal development.  Rare will you find an individual who has been involved in theater in some way and has absolutely hated it.  Sure, you may not have been super excited about playing Bush #2 in your elementary school production, but I have never met anyone past those childhood and young adolescent years who has been involved with theater in some capacity, whether involved in a production or even just taking a class, who has not enjoyed it.

Now, of course one isn’t going to be making bank in the theater industry.  A working actor is always struggling to juggle multiple jobs while attending auditions, even many Broadway stars.  However, it is possible to make a living in the theater, and there are many people who are living full and fulfilled lives because of it.  Not saying it’s easy.  Nothing wonderful in life ever comes easy, but it is possible.

It’s no surprise that theater makes people happy, whether it be those pursuing it professionally or those pursuing it more as a hobby.  But healthy?  And wealthy?!  Har-har-har!  Bear with me, my friends.

Notice how I say can theater practice make us happy, healthy, and wealthy.  What we need to realize is how crucial and important theater actually is.  The skills that one gains when exposed to theater, whether it be in class, in rehearsal, or even watching a play, are life-changing.  When these skills are transferred to a multitude of industries, an individual or family can benefit emotionally, socially, physically, and even financially. 

Abraham Maslow, an inspiring American psychologist, created the term “self-actualization.”  Unlike so many psychologists who studied people who suffered, Maslow was focused on studying those human beings who thrived, who lived happy, successful, and fulfilled lives.  I recommend checking out his book, Motivation and Personality, as well as some of his other work!  Self-actualization is essentially the destination of achieving optimal psychological health.  Some qualities held by those who are self-actualized individuals include creativity, spontaneity, playfulness, simplicity, empathy, listening skills, self-awareness, confidence, among many others.  Hm….

Yo, Yo. It’s Maslow.

When immersed in theater practice, you must have a creative mindset, and be willing to change and adapt at any moment, also known as spontaneity.  A play is called a play for a reason, as it requires a childlike playfulness in the approach, even if performing a serious drama.  There is inherent simplicity in the theater: you and other characters are performing a story or scene.  It’s that simple, but just because it is simple, it does not make it easy.  You MUST have empathy when involved in the theater: how else can you relate to the character you are portraying?  How can you direct if you can’t understand characters with wildly opposing viewpoints as yourself?  This allows you to understand different types of people.  And, if you aren’t listening to what is going on around you, then theater just doesn’t work.  You need to be self-aware and know yourself well enough if you are going to be placing yourself into someone or something else.  Lastly, you need the confidence to get up and perform, even if it is far from perfect (as it can’t really, ever be perfect).  It gives you the confidence to ACT, both in a performative and doing sense.  You can’t procrastinate when you’re onstage.  These skillsets go beyond acting and also relate to the roles of director, playwright, designer, etc.

In order to succeed you have to be willing to fail a lot.  In theater, we are failing every day.  The skills learned in the theater can be applied to an individual’s current job or occupation in pretty much any field.  Applied Theater is a practice I have a great interest in.  It is defined as “the practice of theater and drama in non-traditional settings and/or with marginalized communities. It encompasses theater practices that tackle areas of social and cultural policy such as public health, education, housing, social welfare, and juvenile and criminal justice.”

Applied Theater, like Maslow’s predecessors, is often focused on those who are suffering.  This has enormous benefit to the world at large and I highly recommend looking into the impact that theater can have on marginalized communities.  But, like Maslow saw in the field of psychology, I believe that Applied Theater can be used to help people achieve their highest level of potential and their optimal psychological health.  For the skills learned in theater directly correlate with those of self-actualized individuals and these are the skills so highly valued in human relationships and in industries like business, medicine, politics, and so on.  So, if you are looking for a better life for yourself, do theater.

Oh, and what does this all have to do with The Low Tech Trek?  If you’ve kept up with my blog, you have read about how these same skills, empathy, self-awareness, listening, and the like, are all in danger because of our continuous, excessive stimulus and devotion to technology.  Theater is a mirror held up to society.  And theater and life work best when we are fully engaged and not endlessly distracted.

What are your thoughts?  Is the power of theater really this strong?  Comment below!


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