Theater Arts Degrees Take Another Punch

April 27, 2012

Just this week, Papermag, a New York City-based arts and business magazine focusing on cultural trends, listed the 13 most useless college majors on their website. I doubt you’ll be shocked upon hearing the arts were well represented on this ignominious roster. Indeed, Fine Arts, Drama, and Film and Video Arts took the top three spots. Ouch! That had to hurt. You, as an actor, are somehow included and connected to the top three dud college majors! The only thing that would top this is if you attended a party school to boot. And with student loan debt reaching one trillion dollars this year in the US, I’m sure this list is more than a bit daunting.

Well, be of good cheer because I have an opposing point of view. Conventional wisdom has always underestimated those who are imaginative, the thinkers, the insightful, the poets, the dreamers. But the truth is you can’t run your magazines, and Internet companies, and TV stations, sports broadcasts, and restaurants without artistic people in key positions. This is the great unspoken truth of modern business. A degree in Theatre not only trains you to be comfortable in front of a crowd, but it prepares you to write an intelligent email, to learn how to utilize limited resources, to think outside the box, and to glean wisdom from criticism. These are all useful skills an arty type like you can bring to a conventional career–in addition to a career in acting. And, by the way, don’t we have enough folks majoring in Business, Economics, Engineering, and Information Technology? I’m getting bored just listing these majors! Major yawn is more like it.

And while I’m rolling, how do you quantify useless? I’m sure there’s some fancy equation that has to do with employment, credit, bank balance, and equity; But what about happiness?! Surely, the measure of a life well lived should include pleasure and joy in its equation. I’m willing to bet people who majored in the arts have generally fond memories of their college experience. Can the same be said of Accounting or Molecular Chemistry? Maybe, but I doubt it. We in the arts have memories of Shakespearean productions that blew minds, of staying up all night working out sketch routines, of learning the value of silence, of being touched by brilliance. Really, if everyone took Papermag’s list to heart, Louis Armstrong’s lyrics to What a Wonderful World would need to be updated to What a Depressing World.

Being an actor, there will always be a reason to fail. The odds are stacked against you, you have a useless degree, and nobody ever really makes it; blah, blah, blah. But why not prove them wrong? Let the haters be your motivators. Papermag’s list, and all the similar lists that have come before it, are bogus. Seriously. Having a degree in the arts is one of the most noble, genuine, interesting, useful things you can do. It will enrich your life whether you become a working actor, or use these educational skills toward another career, and throughout your life. As the Scarecrow came to find, a degree is merely a piece of paper; but tripping down the yellow brick road is what it’s all about.

This all reminds me of Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk about how schools kill creativity, imagining 7-year-old Shakespeare being reprimanded to stop speaking like that. Over 10 million people have viewed Robinson’s talk–and for good reason. We all instinctually know there’s something huge at stake when the arts and creativity are downplayed. Refresh your passion for your art by listening to him speak by clicking here.