I’ve been asked on many occasions if I’ve gone to Business School. I have not. I have a Masters degree in American Literature, which I almost never mention because really, who cares? Although, I do write a really beautiful e-mail if I do say so myself, and my texts are poetry – well, maybe not.
What I mention even less than my Masters degree is the fact that before I went to college I went to a professional Drama School. People often guess that I have a theater background because most trainers don’t typically infuse their training with accents and characters, but I say why not? If you’re going to learn how to make more money, there really is no good reason you can’t have a good time doing it.
The Drama school I attended was an English school that had a school in London and one in Berkeley. I attended the school in Berkeley prior to going to college. What I did not know was that drama school would become invaluable to my future business.
You may be thinking that drama school has served my speaking career and it has, but that’s really just a small piece. Drama school also taught me to be a good listener, a careful, conscientious listener because that’s what acting teaches you. And guess what? As it turns out selling requires you to listen intently. Just like you don’t want your sales people to sound as if they’re reading a script, great actors aren’t just memorizing lines, they are listening.
Improvisation also requires you to listen and teaches you how to say YES and not judge. One of the primary rules of improve is the rule of yes. If someone says, “we’re in China” you don’t say, “no we’re not, we’re in outer space.” Saying yes allows for something magical to occur, while saying no kills the possibility of anything to occur. This ability to say yes has made me more flexible and less fixed in my mindset. ‘Yes’ is expansive and rich with possibility while ‘no’ is a dead end.
Improvisation also teaches you cooperation. You build a scene together. You rely on the other actor to respond, risk and collaborate with you. The relationship requires trust and commitment. It demands presence and reciprocity.
Theatre is also not for the fragile. In my current business I tell people that criticism is a free education to excellence. The theatre is where I learned to receive criticism like a gift and use it to grow.
Theatre is it’s own culture and organism not unlike an organization. In theater everyone matters. You respect those people that no one sees, but make you look good: sound people, lighting people, tech people, producers and stage managers. There truly are no small roles in theatre. Everyone matters and good actors are gracious and extend their gratitude to those who support them because theatre is about making it all work even if you don’t like those you’re working with. There is not a sales person in the world who does not benefit from the support of an unseen staff.
Theatre demands that you show up and deliver. In theater you don’t always feel like performing, but you do. You bring your full self every single performance and every single rehearsal because that is what’s required and not a drop less.
In my current business I remind my students and clients that growth is born of discomfort. Theatre demands you to reach, make a fool of yourself, and feel vulnerable, silly, too big, too small and just uncomfortable which creates an incredible opening for all kinds of wild, exciting growth. Theatre doesn’t merely offer the possibility of being someone else, it allows you to be your greatest self.
The theatre has been my joy, my love, and my education. It has given me so much more than I could even begin to reciprocate. I have never regretted my drama school education. It was rigorous and demanding. It has made me a better sales person, a better businessperson and in many ways a better human. I learned compassion in theater because I had to find some part of myself in characters that I wanted to desperately believe were so far from me. It turns out that searching for sameness makes you more compassionate.
So what can YOU learn? You may never dare to take a theater class and dare you must if you want to study theatre, but I hope you learn that education comes in many forms. The next time you reach for a business book consider reaching beyond that book to something less expected. You might astonish yourself.