• Patrick McAndrew

Theatre and Emotional Intelligence

I am just finishing up Daniel Goleman’s well-known book, Emotional Intelligence, and I can’t help but discover the parallels between the skills that make up emotional intelligence and those skills gained when training in the performing arts.

Goleman’s in-depth book goes into a lot of detail with regards to what makes up emotional intelligence.  He discusses how emotional intelligence, or your emotional quotient (EQ), is a better predictor of a life of happiness than your intellectual quotient (IQ).  The book also dives into the anatomy of the brain and scientific hoopla that proves these facts, but I will save that discussion for all of you science peeps up in ‘ere.

Goleman bases his studies on emotional intelligence around that of an influential Harvard theorist named Howard Gardner.  Gardner developed a short list of skills that fall under emotional intelligence and it’s those skills that determine one’s EQ.  Goleman calls them “Gardner’s 5 Main Domains of Emotional Intelligence” and they are as followed:

Gardner’s 5 Main Domains of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-awareness– knowing one’s emotions

  • Managing emotions– the ability to handle your own feelings

  • Motivating one self

  • Empathy– recognizing emotions in others

  • Interpersonal effectiveness– handling relationships

Goleman then discusses in his book how these essential social skills can help aid depression, anxiety, relationship and work-related problems, and so on.  But this isn’t a book report of this awesome book.  If you want to read more, check it out!  What I want to discuss is how these skills, the “5 Main Domains,” are learned when studying the performing arts.

You MUST be self-aware as an actor if you are to portray another character.  If you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly tackle someone else?  Managing emotions is another essential skillset in the theatre.  You need to portray specific emotions at specific times, so even if you are not necessarily feeling these emotions, you must portray them.  Otherwise, the audience can see that you are acting and that’s not cool.  That’s not cool.

You must motivate yourself to audition, learn lines, study your role, study the play, study this and that and really everything.  If you are going to be in the theatre industry, you have to work hard and motivate yourself, even when you don’t feel like it (we’ve all been there).

Empathy, empathy, empathy.  I’m a big believer that you should be empathetic if you are working in the theatre.  Actor, director, playwright, whatever you may be, you must be empathetic.  “But there are so many mean people in the theatre business!”  Alas, this may be true, but I’ve met a lot more nice ones, personally.  I’m led to believe that if you are taking someone else’s story, someone else’s character, and presenting it to an audience, you have to respect it and you have to handle it with care.  That requires empathy.

And, last but not least, interpersonal effectiveness!  In an industry that requires you to interact with people both for better or for worse (but hopefully better), you need to know how to work with people!  One always hears stories about how some starlight is wickedly talented, but awful to work with.  People like working with people they like and the theatre is the best stomping ground for being thrown into a room with a bunch of people and putting together a play or show of some kind.  I think this is a skill that needs to be taught and developed more as we grow up as children.  Where better than in structured play?

The great thing about theatre is that what you learn can be applied to a bunch of different industries.  Business, healthcare, and the like, we are always going to be required to interact with people (let’s hope).  Theatre engages us in doing so.  I highly recommend enrolling in some sort of theatre, acting, or improv course.  It’s very rare that people walk away regretting their decision.  This is because you make a connection in the theatre.  It requires you to.  Or else the scene falls flat.

And with the rise in technology, are our real lives falling flat?  Are we not connecting with each other in the ways we should?  Is emotional intelligence at risk with excessive technology use?  Comment below my friends!


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