Theater Degrees and Their Many Practical Applications

Ok, the title of this post is a joke. While I’m sure there are practical applications for theater degrees, that’s not what I want to talk about today. After working with 3 theater companies and 4 startups, I’ve noticed some crazy similarities between the two.

I didn’t always know I’d want to work with startups. Hell, before I started working with startups, I barely followed them. As a kid, I had no idea that regular everyday people started their own tech companies. But I did know how much I loved theater. So, long story short, I was a theater major in college, worked on and designed sets, costumes, and lighting, and thought that would be my future. That is, until I realized it made me miserable, and I moved on with my first startup.

Not many people believe this, but theater was actually the much more stressful of the two tech worlds. While bootstrapped startups can have you working around the clock for no pay, theater offers you all the same fun, minus the potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (AKA stock options), and with the increased likelihood of picking up a smoking habit.

Think about it:

Theater Startups

A lot of striking similarities, but I was actually getting more sleep while working with bootstrapped startups than I ever did while working in theater. While early-stage startups are notorious for long hours, theater has them pre-scheduled, whether or not you need them. Each also has an unhealthy reliance on energy drinks and takeout, to support the long hours.

Tech and theater have the visionaries who want to see their dream realized, whether on the stage or in lines of code. But only in theater do you have to tear it all down again soon after launching opening, and start over. In startups, you may have to pivot, but you can always go back to the original product if you need to.

Both are serious creative outlets. I haven’t experienced every industry out there, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick two careers that require more determination and flexibility than arts and startups. In both, you fall in love with what you’re doing, then fail again and again before getting anywhere –  if you get anywhere at all. The people who survive are warriors for the thing they love: building something out of nothing.

These two are also incredibly team-dependent. Everyone has to communicate and share a game plan in order to build something that works, whether you’re working with a director or a team of engineers and designers. Pieces have to fit together into something that does something.

Oh, and while both theater and startup employees have a higher than average chance of drug usage, theater seemed to be more on the nicotine side. Many of my coworkers in the first startup were smoking, erm, other things that were not yet legal at the time, and enjoying the occasional weekend off with psychedelics. Can’t say whether that’s true everywhere, though. #NotAllStartups.

Neither is always as glamorous as we’re supposed to believe, but while theater wasn’t for me, I have a lot of respect for the people who stick with it – those pale, hardworking smokers in black. Whenever I hear a coworker complaining about how hard it is to be in #DatStartupGrind, I think back to the long hours of sawdust, paint fumes, and metal splinters, and am happy that the team and software we’re building is going to outlast any production I’d worked on. The (shorter) long hours can be worth it, when done correctly, whether or not those stock options are ever worth anything.

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