How My Theatre Degree Prepared Me for a Marketing Career


When I go out for interviews, I often encounter a certain stigma when they get to the bottom of my résumé and see one short phrase:

B.A., Theatre.

It’s rarely said out loud, but the subtext is often there. Subtext, that’s one thing they teach us about in theatre school.

“You’ve got a theatre degree? I might as well hire an underwater basket weaver!” 

But what these hiring managers are missing is that a theatre major is actually the perfect person to manage the marketing for a modern organization. Perhaps even more so, dare I say, than a marketing major. 

I’ve taken a lot of classes since graduating that have taught me the nuts and bolts of marketing. But nothing has prepared me more for my career than the degree I got in theatre. Here’s why.


1.   It taught me about audiences

Theatre is about the performer on the stage, yes, but more importantly it’s about the audience in the seats. At its best, a great show will take into account the people watching it, and cater the performance to their needs. Where is your audience coming from? Is this another Friday night out for them, or the one big show they’ll wait all year for? Have they seen 1000 shows like this, or is yours their first? Do they empathize with your characters, or are they completely alienated from them? Knowing who your audience is can make or break the experience, because if you misjudge their level of engagement, their experience with your subject matter, or their excitement around what you’re offering, you’ll lose the chance to persuade them.

What makes theatre work – and what makes it really magical – is when the patrons are transformed from 500 separate individuals (or 5,000, or even just 5, as the case may be) into one cohesive whole. You’ve probably had this moment, maybe at a comedy show – when you realize that you’ve been laughing so much that your face starts to hurt. The last joke wasn’t even the funniest, but the person next to you is laughing so hard that you’re laughing too. 

This can actually be a fun phenomenon to play with. Next time you’re in a theatre, right around 8pm when everyone is expecting the curtain to rise, simply turn to your partner and very quietly shush them. The effect will spread like a wildfire, and within seconds the whole auditorium will be silent – even if the actors are still getting into costume. Once I did this, and right then the play began. I don’t know for certain if it was me who kicked it off, but who knows…

The principle is the same in marketing. Your audience is taking cues from your performance – your content, your ads, your visual identity – but they’re taking even more cues from each other. This is especially true in the days of social media, where your audience has a share of voice on your channels. If you post about your flagship offering, and one person comments asking about a new release, you’ll likely get another comment just like it. And then ten more. And then 100 more.

Take care of your audience, and they’ll take care of you. 


2.   It taught me about creativity

In my senior year of college, I took a new class that was something of an experiment between two departments. It was called “Cultivating the Creative Mind,” and it was a collaboration between the hippy-dippiest of the acting professors, the most put-together of the Stage Management professors, and a world-renowned neuroscientist from the psychology department.

The course sought to explore how and why people create, and what goes on in the brain that makes some people creative, and some not. Ultimately, I built my senior project in this class, working on a premise I called “dissociative creativity ­–” that is, the act of disavowing creative output by claiming it is the result of an outside force rather than one’s own work, thereby shielding the ego in case people think the work…sucks. For instance, Robert Louis Stevenson claimed that his best novels came from a cast of little actors inside his mind, and created a ritual for getting them to put on a show for him as he rested.  He would then transcribe what “they” dreamt up, and he would use that to finish writing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The biggest revelation from the class was this – creativity is a process, not a talent. The research shows that there’s no difference in the brain activity of so-called “creative” people and those who don’t claim to be creative, and there’s no evidence in their DNA either. Stevenson didn’t think he had an innate talent for creating stories, so he set up a course of action instead – which proved to be just as effective as being “born gifted.”

I saw this in my other classes, as well. In the classes where professors viewed acting talent as innate, the students didn’t seem to grow that much. But in the classes that focused on process – the Shakespeare class where we spent hours scanning pentameter, the dialects class that had us drill the International Phonetic Alphabet, the English High Comedy class that was basically just a lesson on posture – these were the classes where you could see everyone growing day by day, and feeling much more confident in their art.

In marketing, you’ll often have colleagues and clients who think that you’re there to be creative on their behalf. They might think that you’ll do all the frou-frou stuff like design and messaging, so they can focus on the product. Or worse, they might be hostile and think that you’re there to get in the way and ruin whatever their working on. But theatre has taught me how to gently guide these types of thinkers into realizing that they can participate in the creative process along with me – without having to do any trust falls. . This mindset has allowed me to get technically-minded brewers to feel comfortable expressing themselves on camera to a reporter, and to get cost-conscious budget managers to realize that spending money on making a video for a fake beer would be worth it.  


3.   It taught me about project management

At its core, a play is really just an event, and it requires all of the elements of any other event – and then some. At any given point during college, I was generally working on 3 or 4 productions at any given time – perhaps directing one, acting in another, and designing a third. Managing all of these productions requires an immense amount of organization – even more so when you’re working on a shoestring budget and you still have to manage to get butts in seats.

To be able to put on a show, you have to manage dozens of project timelines all at once. Hiring designers, casting, scheduling production meetings, going off-book, fitting costumes, selling tickets, running a tech – the list goes on and on. Life becomes one big Gantt chart, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If any of these assignments goes past deadline, you will be embarrassed in front of the entire audience. So you learn quickly to be on time.

All genres of marketing need some form of project management, but the parallels become especially clear when you’re running an event for a client. Through my training in the theatre, I learned how to delegate tasks so that every element got done at the right time. I learned how to stay calm in the moments where everything comes together all at once. And I learned that ultimately, the perspective of the guest had to be top of mind at all times.


4.   It taught me about rejection

There’s a saying in the theatre, that the job of the actor is not to act, but to audition. When I was auditioning for roles, I had the mindset that for every 50 auditions, I would land one gig.

This rule of thumb actually seemed to hold fairly true. For a while I kept track, and in three months of auditioning I went out on 42 calls and scored one job that worked for two days. But that job paid me $7500. If I had the perspective that I was earning $3750 a day, I might lose motivation for the three months in between each gig. Instead, I decided that I was earning about $175 per audition, which made it a hell of a lot easier to handle the rejection of most of them.

To be a successful marketer, you have to take solace in the fact that you’re going to be told “no” far more often than “yes.” How many pitches do you have to send out to get one journalist to write your story? How many versions of a brand strategy do you have to build to land on one that your client is happy with? How many product names will you come up with that no one will ever here?

The trick is understanding that every “no” brings you closer to “yes.” And it’s that sort of persistence that separates an effective marketer from an ineffective one.

With so many changes to what it means to be a marketer in the last decade, there’s no doubt that any formal education alone is not enough to succeed. But hopefully this blog post has shown you that having a student of theatre on your team can help you get a little closer to success.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *