Keys To Success

What are essential attributes of a successful theatre student and professional – and do YOU have what it takes?

“If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns how to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know.” Thomas Wolfe, The Web and The Rock

American Theatre magazine has recently published a number of articles that indicate that there are a few key attributes essential for individuals who hope to achieve a successful career in the professional theatre. In reality, these attributes apply to most professional careers – and life situations.

The essential qualities of a successful theatre student and professional include:

Passion, Drive & Determination

The vast majority of successful theatre professionals and educators agree that a person’s passion, drive and determination to succeed is the single most crucial factor for success in the competitive world of theatre. A person can be born with amazing natural skills and talents, but if they fail to have the drive, determination, and opportunity to develop and foster these skills they will not be successful. Thousands of extremely talented potential theatre artists lack drive, determination, and focus – and simply do not “make it” in theatre. Thousands of others with perhaps less natural talent and abilities have succeeded beyond belief because they refuse to give up. They are driven to success and never lose sight of their goal of a career in the theatre. If you have the intense passion and tireless drive to do theatre above every other career option, go for it. If you’re unsure about your determination and commitment to succeed in a theatre career, we urge you to do something else. A career in the theatre is hard – yet extremely satisfying – work for those of us who can imagine doing nothing else.

Professional Attitude, Positive Spirit, & Dependability

A person with a professional attitude and positive spirit who is consistently dependable and reliable WILL get work and a great deal of respect in this profession – and in all aspects of life. In contrast, a person who is unprofessional, negative, pessimistic, cynical and unreliable will NOT be successful in the theatre for very long. Your goal should be to make a lasting positive impression on the people that you work with so that they want to hire you again in the future. Positive word of mouth about you in the theatre world is priceless. Sadly, a few bad stories about your poor attitude or work ethic can close many doors to you in the theatre industry.

Intelligence & Common Sense

It is exceedingly difficult to become a truly successful theatre professional if you lack a natural intelligence and common sense . The most successful theatre professionals are well-educated in all aspects of human knowledge; knowledge is power. In addition to knowing all that you can know about the various aspects of the theatrical art form, you need to understand the most important principles of communication, humanities, social and natural sciences, business, and marketing. In general, individuals with liberal arts degrees tend to have the best long-term success in the theatre because they better understand and appreciation the world that they are trying to recreate on the stage in productions. The more you know about life, the more you know about theatre. Learning to develop and apply techniques of common sense and logic are also absolutely essential for success in the theatre and in life in general. Intelligence without common sense will not get you far.

Natural Talent / Trainable Skills

While it may seem obvious that natural talent and trainability are essential for success in the professional theatre, all too often these factors are ignored by those who dream of careers in the theatre. Basically, some people “have it” – some people don’t. Some individuals appear to be born with natural artistic gifts, talents, and skills; some are born with moderate talents and skills but have an amazing drive and determination to succeed. Most professional theatre educators believe that talent and skill can be developed and enhanced in every individual – but only if they possess the drive and determination to succeed and given exceptional training opportunities. It is usually quite easy for any of us to spot “natural talent” and “artistic brilliance” within an individual. It is more difficult to determine if a person’s talent and skills are trainable. The key to successful training is drive and determination on the part of the student.

Professional Connections / Networking

Frequently in the theatre getting the job is about knowing the right people at the right time. The old adage that the world of theatre is very small is absolutely true. As a young theatre artist it is absolutely essential that you make connections with as many theatre professionals as possible and make a very positive impression on them. People remember people that they want to work with again in the future. At UW-Parkside we believe that it is essential that you do internships and apprenticeships at professional theatres before and after graduation so that you can become as “connected” as possible. Ideally, senior theatre majors should be spending a semester at the finest professional theatres – building a network of connections that will propel them into the professional theatre world after graduation.

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