Accounting, Banking, Consulting, and … Conservatory Acting?

When I say that I am double majoring in Business and Theater, my words are usually met with confusion and a number of questions. Namely, “Why?”, “How?”, or even “Really?” Realistically, I’m not surprised. This unlikely duo seems, on the surface, to be wildly unrelated. It is true, that Business and Theater have a number of striking differences ( I don’t need to tell you that), but it is also true that there are a number of ways in which these two subjects connect.

Studying at Haas and at Ireland’s National Theater School, the Gaiety School of Acting, has allowed me to recognize how these vastly different realms collide. Here are a few ways in which my studies in Theater have helped me develop skills for the business world.

Reading people

The success of any business endeavor relies heavily on team dynamics. Consider Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks or Henry Ford and Clarence Avery. These teams were successful largely because of the way their members connected. On a smaller scale, think about group projects in UGBA 100. You make your first choices about success or failure when you pick your group. On a larger scale, think about starting your own business. Your initial success will be highly dependent on the way in which you and your co-founders work.  As such, reading people is a skill that I have learned is vital in business. Being able to distinguish sincerity from insincerity or flattery from honesty is integral to picking partners. As existential as it may sound, studying conservatory theater has taught me new ways to read people. By studying film acting, I have learned to identify how and when people lie. By participating in movement classes, I can recognize the importance of breath patterns as they relate to emotion. Moreover, by practicing improvisation, I have learned to analyze eye contact in order to determine intentions. Yes, right now, I am using my skills to better inform my characters and my acting style, but these skills are applicable in every situation in which it is integral to read people.

Targeting your audience

In my first week of drama school, my ensemble and I studied theater of clown. “The Clown” as we know it is meant to entertain. But the clown also does much more. The clown is meant to represent all facets of a human being:  good, bad, stunning, and ugly. On stage, the clown receives signals and energy from the audience to inform his or her performance. As such, the clown must constantly be in tune with the audience’s reaction to their performance. If the audience seems disconnected or uninterested, it is up to the clown to edit their approach in order to engage the audience. The same goes for any investment pitch, job interview, or group presentation. If your audience (teacher, class, or investor) is disconnected, it is your job to recognize, reset, and retry.

Being Creative

Want to be an entrepreneur? One of the keys to success is creativity. Haas encourages us as students to challenge standards because we aspire to improve our creative and entrepreneurial brains. When I came to drama school, my brain was challenged in a completely different way. In one class called “Manifesto” where students are encouraged to create their own art, we were given an assignment. It wasn’t the usual problem set or product pitch but rather, the prompt read “Make me feel something.” Pause. What? I could use any art form I desired (dance, singing, or poetry) and my art installation had to operate for 15 minutes. That was all. This work was something that stretched my mind in emotional, artistic, and generally unusual ways. I know that I can incorporate these aspects into my business education. From marketing to how I pitch ideas, these activities in creativity will positively inform business experience.

So I know that you as a reader may not study conservatory acting or even anything in that realm. But, I do believe that there are ways in which your interests outside of business can influence your Haas experience. I hope this post brings your attention to the connection between these two seemingly unconnected areas and encourages you to explore these three basic skills in the way that best suits you.

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