1. “What are you going to do with that degree?”
Ah the skepticism that emerges from friends and family when they find out a loved one is majoring in theatre. This comment may have good intentions somewhere deep down, but it comes off as snarky and just plain rude. There’s no magic coursework that makes one major better or more superior than another. Furthermore, the arts are important, and if we’re going to keep them going, we need future generations to continue learning.
What you can say instead: “What would be your ideal job?”
2. “So do you ever have to write any papers?”
Yes. Yes we do. In fact, we write papers on books such as The Empty Space by Peter Brook – a book that non-thespians would probably find bizarre and confusing. This is, of course, on top of 30+ hours of rehearsals a week, most of which don’t end until 11pm. Yawn.
What you can say instead: “What sort of classes do you take?”
3. “But you don’t have to take finals right? You just act out stuff in class?”
Wrong. Our finals are usually analytical questions about the plays we’ve read. We have to respond to essay-based questions about Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, and other equally challenging pieces of dramatic literature. This is in addition to performing scenework in front of our peers and professors, after which we get critiqued (aka ripped to shreds.)
What you can say instead: “What do you have going on for finals week?”
4. “You’re lucky you don’t have to do math.”
Hah! That’s funny. Because when we have to fulfill our technical theatre requirements (or if we’re majoring in technical theatre), there’s actually a lot of math involved. “Measure twice, cut once” is a motto for a reason. There are certain classes that expect us to design a full production, which requires the knowledge of specs. We often have to dig into our recessed memories of high school math in order to make sure things are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also safe.
What you can say instead: “Are you taking that required calc class?”
5. “At least you can always teach theatre.”
This is true, but there’s actually a lot of work that goes into getting a theatre education degree. We don’t just graduate with our BA and automatically get to walk into a middle or high school teaching job. If we decide that we want to pursue education in a public school system, we’ll have to follow the appropriate steps towards getting our teaching license. This often includes a masters degree (hello, grad school student loans), standardized tests, practicum internships, and a lot of paperwork.
What you can say instead: “Do you ever think you’ll want to teach theatre?”
6. “So you’ll basically be a waiter/bartender/hostess/receptionist for the rest of your life.”
Not necessarily (and p.s. thanks for the vote of confidence.) There’s actually a lot of different “day jobs” that working actors can acquire. The skills that we are developing as theatre majors can be applied to many different career paths. Think about it: we’re well-versed in literature, we can build things, we’re creative, we are great at thinking on our feet, we’re well-spoken, and we’re great problem-solvers. That sounds an awful lot like a list of qualifications in a job description, doesn’t it?
What you can say instead: “What are your friends doing who have graduated?”
7. “What’s your back-up plan?”
This is well-intentioned, but it’s hard to hear and difficult to answer. For most of us, when we’re still in college, we don’t want to think about our back-up plans. We want to believe that we’re going to make it to Broadway, or a successful regional theatre, or wherever our ideal job would take us. If we don’t at least try, we’ll forever be kicking ourselves with regret. Logically and realistically, we’ll work on our back-up plans as we get closer to senior year, but for now, we’re pouring all of our energy into this major, and we’re damned if we don’t believe there’s at least a chance that we can make it.
What you can say instead: “What’s your dream show/role?”