Martz: What you can learn from theater

When I told my friends in high school that I was going to Case Western Reserve University, they were all a little confused. Why did I, a double humanities major, come to a highly ranked STEM school?

Well, first, I think we have to examine just why I would even be a theater major to begin with. There is no downside or disadvantage to being a theater major because you love theater. In fact, there are a lot of benefits to a theater curriculum that often have nothing to do with getting a job in the theater, and are hard to find in other majors at any school—but especially a STEM school like CWRU.

Whether you choose to focus on the acting side of theater, the technical side, the management side or the academic side, a theater curriculum can do a lot for you. It may seem silly, but learning how to act will give you a million tools in “the real world.” In almost every profession in the world, you’re going to need to communicate with people, and acting–and theater in general–will help you be much better.

Acting will give you more insight on how to listen to and collaborate with those around you. It gives you the ability to improvise, the ability to perform or present in front of a crowd. It teaches you to be confident in expressing yourself.

The technical side and the management side have more directly obvious correlations to other areas of life. Of course, the technical side of theater gives a person real-world knowledge of things like carpentry, circuitry and electric and sound units. The management side of theater gives you experience in the area of managing large projects and groups, as well as organizational and time management skills. If you chose to learn more about directing, you’ll learn how to teach, how to lead and how to organize.

But overall, an education in theater can hammer into you two things that are hard to find in quite the same way in any other educational setting: collaboration and realization. What I mean by realization is the art of taking an incredibly large and detailed idea in your head and making it a reality.

I’ve written before about theater being not only the most collaborative art form but probably the most collaborative process on the planet. And here’s the big difference: Whatever profession you enter, there will be huge projects with lots of moving parts and lots of cogs in the machine. But there is no curriculum that’s going to prepare you for it quite like theater. I’ve worked on shows with 100 people in a management position, and while yes, it’s crazy, it has also given me an incredible amount of experience at management and collaboration.

Similarly, there are lots of opportunities for you to realize your ideas, but there is no curriculum that is going to prepare you so broadly, extensively and on such a large scale as theater. Whether you’re an actor trying to get your character across, a designer hoping to realize the set, prop or item in your head into the real world or a director trying to realize every single little moment of a show, theater teaches you not only how to physically manifest these ideas, but helps you advance in the never-ending struggle to make those manifestations mean exactly what you meant them to mean.

There is no curriculum that prepares you for this quite like theater.

So why did I go to a STEM school to study theater? Well I think a better question is, why are you going to a STEM school and not studying theater?

No, you don’t have to become a theater major—though we’d love to have you—but the next time you’re signing up for classes and realize you need that required humanities credit, think about adding a theater class. Or think about talking to one of the clubs on campus about getting involved.

Paulina Martz is a second-year theater and psychology double major. She urges you to at least take a look at all the theater on campus, from Eldred Theater’s production of “Uncle Vanya” this very weekend to the many performance clubs’ performances. There are lots of opportunities to start learning.