Theatre Arts programmes often get a bad rap. They can be seen as frivolous, reserved for the realm of extracurricular activities and in communities where budgets are tight, Arts programmes more broadly are usually the first disciplines to get cut. Not that Theatre Arts should be above Maths or Science, these subjects are crucial to a well-rounded learner, but one can argue that theatre-based classes are important for the soft, transferable skills they provide.
I recently graduated from business school, but I am originally a Theatre major and from childhood theatre has been in my life in some way, shape or form. As a result, I believe youth theatre education provides a unique environment for children to learn precious soft skills in a creative setting. As the founder of Musical Theatre for KIDS, I wanted to share five real-world skills that theatre has given me; skills that children can gain from taking part.
The first is discipline. There is an argument for natural talent, but natural talent can only take an individual half of the way. In our incredibly competitive and interconnected world, it takes a lot of practise to be good. To get in enough practise so that one is good also requires discipline. As a theatrical singer this is something I learnt very early on. Vocal cords are muscles, so in many ways I was an athlete that needed to consistently exercise, stretch and challenge my voice in order to get better at my craft. Knowing that this required practise, I was committed and would schedule in weekly warmup sessions even if I did not have an event. Later on when I went back to school, this discipline and commitment to practise benefited me greatly. I knew that if I had to give a presentation to my cohort or prepare for a test, that I had to schedule in time to prepare. I regularly called upon the discipline I learned in my youth, from theatre, to serve me as an adult in the classroom.
Discipline relates to the second skill, organisation. To practise means one must put time aside but, being able to put time aside requires organisation and time management. Further to this point, being part of a theatrical production involves a lot of moving parts including, a cast of a dozen or more performers, musicians, a 100-page script, vocal parts to learn, lines to review and weekly rehearsals. In order to bring all of these elements together, to be prepared and ready to deliver lines to your counterpart on stage, you have to be able to break down the deliverables into manageable goals and be organised. It is challenging, but learning this skill meant that when it came time during my master’s degree to juggle multiple projects, I could do it. I was able to organise my schedule in a way that allowed me to multitask effectively. This meant I could submit my deliverables on time and was a reliable teammate.
Organisation is a great segue into skill number three, teamwork. Working in the Arts has taught me how to work as part of a team. Unless you’re in a one-man show, there will always be someone that relies on you in order to make their impact. When one works on a show, they soon realise that they are part of a collective, one cog in a bigger wheel. This is both humbling and insightful. Again, this skill of teamwork that I learned as a child on the stage has translated to my work in business. As the co-founder of Musical Theatre for KIDS, managing a business is not a one man show. The work I do is dependent on my team’s input and my response affects them too; it is a circle. To do well in life and in the workplace, people need to work together; this skill is wonderfully taught on stage.
Fourth, theatre has taught me empathy. When you’re working with many different people and playing different parts it is inevitable that you will begin to see the other side of the situation. When you put yourself into someone else’s shoes, you can’t help but develop a sense of empathy. Again, in our interconnected world with cross-border teams and different cultures coming together to work on projects, having empathy is crucial to getting through, as Psychologist Bruce Tuckman suggests, “the storming, forming and norming” part of groupwork. And I believe like learning a language, the younger one begins to practise empathy the better they will be at it as they get older.
And finally the Arts has allowed me to develop an outlet for stress. After a long day on the computer, researching and reporting, who doesn’t love a little music and a dance. Having a positive outlet that I can turn to, to release frustrated energy, or merely unwind from a busy day, is so important for my mental health.
From personal experience I have found that my young exposure to the Theatre Arts has been a valuable gift to my professional, adult life. It has given me solid soft skills that I have been able to transfer across roles and situations. I hope this piece, though personal, has provided some insight into how by taking part in the Arts at an early age, children can gain a toolbox of soft skills which can be positively utilised as they move into the “grown-up” world.
Kristen Rossi is the co-founder of Musical Theatre for KIDS, a theatre education provider in Bangkok which operates out of The Hop in Silom. Born in NY she moved to Thailand at the age of 22 with a degree in theatre and two suitcases. She created arts brands which would lead to contracts with luxury hotels in Asia Pacific. Most recently she completed her MBA from Warwick Business School in the UK. She is passionate about the arts, education and sharing stories.