Category Archives: New York City

9 Ways a Theatre Degree Trumps a Business Degree


Some of you may know this about me, some may not. Despite having spent the last 15 years as a PR & communications professional, my college degree is in theatre. I have never in my life taken a marketing class, or a journalism class, or a business class. Yet, by most measures, I’m enjoying a successful career in business.  “So what?” you ask… read on.

I was having a conversation with my friend Sara this week. She’s an actress. Like most actresses, she also has a Day Job that she works to pay the bills between acting jobs. This is the reality for most working actors in LA, New York and the other major centers of the entertainment industry. She was pointing out to me that she viewed her theatre background as a weakness in her Day Job career field, and that it was holding her back. She asked for my advice.

My advice? There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength. Here are just a few skills that a theatre degree gave me that have served me enormously well in business:

  1. You have advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills: taking a script and translating it into a finished production is a colossal exercise in critical thinking. You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps, and you have to have a keen eye for subtle clues. (believe it or not, this is a skill that very few people have as finely honed as the theatre people I know. That’s why I listed it #1).
  2. You’re calm in a crisis: You’ve been on stage when somebody dropped a line and you had to improvise to keep the show moving with a smile on your face, in front of everyone. Your mic died in the middle of a big solo musical number. You just sang louder and didn’t skip a beat.
  3. You understand deadlines and respect them: Opening Night is non-negotiable. Enough said.
  4. You have an eye on audience perception: You know what will sell tickets and what will not. This is a very transferrable skill, and lots of theatre people underestimate this, because they think of theatre as an ART, and not as a BUSINESS. I frequently say (even to MBA-types) that theatre was absolutely the best business education I could have gotten. While the business majors were buried in their books and discussing theory, we were actually SELLING a PRODUCT to the PUBLIC. Most business majors can get through undergrad (and some MBA programs, even) without ever selling anything. Theater departments are frequently the only academic departments on campus who actually sell anything to the public. Interesting, isn’t it?
  5. You’re courageous: If you can sing “Oklahoma!” in front of 1,200 people, you can do anything.
  6. You’re resourceful: You’ve probably produced “The Fantasticks” in a small town on a $900 budget. You know how to get a lot of value from minimal resources.
  7. You’re a team player: You know that there are truly no small roles, only small actors. The show would fail without everyone giving their best, and even a brilliant performance by a star can be undermined by a poor supporting cast. We work together in theatre and (mostly) leave our egos at the stage door. We truly collaborate.
  8. You’re versatile: You can probably sing, act, dance. But you can also run a sewing machine. And a table saw. And you’ve probably rewired a lighting fixture. You’ve done a sound check. You’re good with a paintbrush. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty for the benefit of the show. In short, you know how to acquire new skills quickly.
  9. You’re flexible: you’ve worked with some directors who inspired you. Others left you flat, but you did the work anyway. Same goes with your fellow actors, designers and stagehands… some were amazing and supportive, others were horrible and demoralizing to work with (we won’t name names). You have worked with them all. And learned a little something from every one of them.

These are the top reasons I’ve found my theatre degree to be a great background for a business career. What are yours?

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)

Would You Privatize Defense?

Timothy Noah of Slate wrote this article yesterday about the case for socialized healthcare. It’s an allegorical tale of an America with privatized national defense. People who place a high value on defense (and have the money for higher premiums) would be able to afford the best defense plans, and the people with little money or inclination to put toward defense would have less expensive premiums, but higher out-of-pocket costs for paying the militia to defend them against attack. Those people living in cities that have already been attacked (Baltimore, Honolulu, Washington DC and New York) would basically be uninsurable, because the defense insurance companies would place them in a very high risk category.

Sound familiar?

This is the way the political left needs to start framing these discussions if they’re going to make people understand that healthcare, like national defense, isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a moral responsibility of the government to care for its people. Everyone, regardless of income, deserves the same access to heathcare.

In our current system, costs are skyrocketing. The system is broken, and needs to be fixed. We’re the wealthiest nation on earth, yet the only nation of its kind with this kind of healthcare system. What’s wrong with us?

Blog Tag – I’m “it”!

Anyone ever play Tag? That’s the game where you tag someone, and they become “it” and you chase each other around until someone tags you and you become “it” again and the game continues ad infinitum.

Well this is just like that, except we’re on the Internet, and when you become “it” you have to tell everyone five things about yourself that other folks may not (or, may, actually) know. SO … I’ll tell my five things and if I tag you, then you’re up next. Comment on your own blog, or comment on mine. Whichever works best for you.

I was tagged by Gerald Baron here.

So here goes. My five things. In no particular order —

1) Travel: I have visited all of the 48 contiguous US states. I have never been to Alaska or Hawaii. In fact, I have lived in seven of them (in descending order of time as resident: Colorado, Washington State, Montana, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Massachusetts). If you want to test me, go ahead. I can tell you a story from any of the states I’ve visited. Outside of the US, I’ve been to Canada (does that count?), Spain (twice), Greece, and had a brief layover in the Rome airport (but I don’t count that, usually. Though it is interesting). In spite of all this, I don’t consider myself particularly well-travelled.

2) Theatre: I got my college degree in Drama from The University of Montana. While studying there, a good friend and I founded a summer children’s theatre camp. The Montana economy being what it was at the time, we didn’t want to have to work at McDonald’s, you see. Sadly, the organization no longer exists, but in the memories of the scores of kids who attended during its seven years. I was first introduced to performing in Musicals while attending my high school, Colorado Academy. I played in the chorus of that most ubiquitous of high school musicals, Fiddler on the Roof. Since that time, I have been involved in more than 50 productions. I intend to do some more theatre at some point, though I’m taking a bit of a hiatus for now.

3) Religion: I check the box marked “None”. I’m an atheist. There are no gods, no devils, no heaven, no afterlife. This here and now is all we’ve got. I’d like to use this forum to clear up two common misconceptions about atheists. First of all, “atheist” is a description, not a label. It’s a subtle distinction, I know, but an important one. It describes my views about theology, not a club to which I belong. Which leads me to my second point: The word “atheist” comes from the Greek “atheos” meaning “godless one”. It does not mean that I am out to destroy religion and its followers. Being that America is a predominantly Christian nation, I have many friends and family members who are devoutly religious. I do not share their views and we share a mutual respect. I’m happy to discuss this subject at length with anyone who is interested. Just ask me. As my friend John P. is fond of saying “my religion doesn’t have a problem with other religions. I wish you the best of luck with your faith.”

4) My wife and I met online. We just celebrated our 3rd anniversary. Does that make me an “early adopter”?

5) I once was homeless in New York City. Well, not EXACTLY homeless in a sleeping-on-a-steam-vent sort of way. But my roommate (Phil) and I were evicted from our Manhattan apartment by the NYC Housing Marshal without having any knowledge that it was about to happen. Phil and I were sub-leasing our apartment on East 80th Street from a guy named Alex. Trouble was, Alex wasn’t giving our rent to the landlord. He was putting it in his pocket. For FIVE MONTHS. So she had us evicted. Trouble was, she didn’t know that Alex had even sub-leased to us, and we didn’t know that he hadn’t told her. Phil and I both assumed, because we’re good people, that this Alex character was a decent guy, an honest guy. Well, he wasn’t. So …

So for four days, literally all I had was the clothes I was wearing. I had no address, no clothes, no bed, nothing. Only when we made contact with the landlord and told her our story did she grant permission for us to get all of our stuff out of the City storage facility (which is located in a CHARMING neighborhood in the industrial section of the South Bronx, on a street where the rats do not fear human-kind). After PAYING $500 to get our stuff out of city storage, we had to arrange transportation and sort everything out. When the Marshal and his associates come to clean out your apartment, suffice it to say that they don’t exactly use bubble wrap or label the boxes. I’ll let you use your imagination about the level of chaos that was visited upon us when we unpacked.

After that, I lived on my own until I got married. No more roommates or subleases for me!

6) Okay, I know it was only supposed to be five things … but I couldn’t resist. The sixth thing is that I’ve found out recently that there’s a guy out there who has my same name. But he’s not me. In fact, he’s an author who lives in the UK. His website is here and his blog is here. Check them out. We’ve exchanged a few emails, and he’s commented here on my blog before, and I sincerely hope I get to meet him one day. He seems like a terrific chap.

And now, since I’ve revealed my Five (well, six, actually) Things, I hereby tag the following five (well, six, actually) individuals:

Jake Stanford

Brian Sibley (the other one)

Patrick Van de Wille

Nathan Behan

Matt Fiorillo

Phil Strumpf