11 Life Lessons of Theater

Shakespeare and goth man.If “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players,” then there’s no better place to prepare for life than in the theater. I made this list of 11 theater lessons as a reminder of how much performance art can help the development of our young people. This post, like my 31 Life Lessons of Sports post, is designed to help booster club leaders articulate the value of extracurriculars. Sometimes we forget why we toil to support programs. Even when we do, it’s hard to articulate an answer to the question “Why do you do this?” Well, here are a few things our young people learn from theater.

  1. Trust your troupe—If you don’t put trust in your scene mates, you’re just a high school kid standing on a raised platform. Trust directors too. In every aspect of life, you have to learn to take direction from people who know more.
  2. Execution is everything—Great scripts fail miserably with a poor interpretation, and even a bad one can get pushed into greatness by eager entertainers.
  3. 80 percent of life is showing up—This old Woody Allen quote comes from the wisdom of a collaborative performer. Showing up for rehearsals, from full-dress to the simplest practices with a scene partner make or break a show.
  4. Improvising—From flubbed lines to missing props, theater teaches you how to improvise and quickly conquer unexpected challenges.
  5. Learn from your audience—When do they laugh, when do they gasp? What makes them tick? The audience is an instant metric of a performance, and their feedback can be brought to the the next show.
  6. You need the people behind the curtain count—That understanding will extend in every career, from dishwashers to IT support, theater breeds respect for less visible cast members.
  7. Everyone has an opinion—In theater you learn when to listen, when to give constructive criticism, and when to keep quiet.
  8. Empathy—By investigating the drivers of human emotion, thespians learn what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes. It not only sparks understanding of other people, but also empowers students to persuade them.
  9. Confidence— In high school theater, stage fright can hurt. Once vanquished, however, students gain a level of confidence that bolsters every public speaking experience for the rest of their lives.
  10. Life is hard—Sometimes you’re not the right person for the part, and sometimes you are, but you get passed up. Move on and work harder.
  11. Life is really, really, hard—Something you can only truly learn as an understudy. Understudies do all the work, and sometimes don’t get on stage. Not even for rehearsals. But do something that dull with a smile on your face, and you’ll get hired for something more glamorous in the future.

The items in this post are just a start. If you have more life lessons and anecdotes from studying theater, please send them my way via the contact page or below in the comments. Together, I hope we can make these Life Lessons posts into repositories of experience and inspiration.


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