Tag Archives: Creativity

Are you born to be a theatre artist?

An aspiring actress on the Fountain Theatre stage.

An aspiring actress on the Fountain Theatre stage.

by Scott T. Barsotti

Most of us who make theatre have found ourselves, at one point or another, in a conversation about why we do what we do. No matter the reason for one’s passion for theatre, a sentiment that is common among theatre artists is that theatre is what they were born to do. Believe it or not, there’s now data to back this up. Researchers at Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation began studying theatre artists in 2011 in an attempt to understand how this group differs from the average population in terms of aptitude.

Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, named for its founder, is a Boston-based nonprofit that studies differences in human abilities. Generally speaking, an individual is considered to possess an aptitude if they show ability that meets or exceeds the 70th percentile in their age-norm group. Among Johnson O’Connor’s twenty-two standard aptitude tests, results show long-term relative stability, meaning a person who has a particular aptitude at age fifteen will still have that same aptitude at age fifty-five regardless of his or her education, experience, or acquired skill. The suggestion is that talent—or at least talent of certain types—is natural rather than created.

Where a skill is something that is developed over time, built up by practice and refined in the foundries of repetition, an aptitude is something present in our mental framework, something inextricable from our natural selves that allows us to complete a task or learn something more quickly and easily than our peers can. O’Connor discovered through his research that professionals who possess aptitude for their chosen field are markedly more satisfied in their work.

One way in which the Foundation broadens its research is to conduct career validation studies, in which a group of professionals in a specific field or job are tested to see if there are similarities in how they score on aptitude tests. This is where theatre artists come in.

Scott T. Barsotti

Scott T. Barsotti

The Theatre Artist Study

I myself am a playwright. I had my first play produced professionally in 2003, and moved to Chicago to get my MFA and pursue a career in theatre. Like many artists, I’ve had to supplement my creative work with a stable job. I discovered Johnson O’Connor’s Chicago lab through a friend and found the company’s history and mission to be fascinating. The tests are standardized, so to give and interpret them one must simply learn how to give and interpret them. Once I completed my training, it didn’t take long for me to become curious about how my fellow theatre people might score on O’Connor’s tests. The Foundation had never researched theatre artists before, so my pitch for a new study was met with enthusiasm.

From 2011 to 2014, the Foundation collected data from theatre professionals—primarily Chicago-based artists—by having them complete an online survey about career goals and preferences, followed by the aptitude tests. Over one hundred and thirty participants ended up taking the full test battery. To qualify as a “professional,” for our purposes, a theatre artist was expected to be currently active in the field, as well as meet at least one other criterion, such as a degree in theatre arts or affiliation with a trade association/union. Acknowledging that many theatre artists wear multiple hats in the industry, a participating artist also had to self-identify his or her primary role in theatre. This was a forced choice and, for many, the most agonizing part of the testing. These categories were necessary so that we could not only see how theatre artists differ from the average person in a broader sense, but then also study how they differ from each other. Ultimately, we ended up with six groups: actors, directors, playwrights, designers, technicians (including stage managers, production managers, and technical directors), and then a sixth group which included all theatre professionals together in one sample.

Theatre and Divergent Thinking

One category of aptitudes that stands out for all theatre artists, regardless of primary role, were the abilities classified as divergent thinking. Briefly, divergent thinking refers to thought processes by which a person generates new ideas or considers many possible outcomes (as opposed to convergent thinking which follows logic and rules to arrive at a specific or correct solution). The Foundation administers two measures of divergent thinking, one called Ideaphoria (literally: flow of ideas) and another called Foresight.


Let’s start with Foresight, as it is the singular aptitude shared by all groups of theatre professionals we studied. Foresight is a name given to the talent for “seeing possibilities.” Those with an aptitude for Foresight may traditionally find outlets for it in entrepreneurial ventures, research and development, nonprofit work, and other areas that encourage a future-oriented approach to big picture questions and problems. High Foresight scorers are often viewed as dreamers, though they may think of themselves as visionaries, those people who are primarily concerned not with what’s happening today, but with what possibilities might exist or emerge down the road. Foresight is about creativity in concept.

Playwrights use Foresight in imagining characters, plot points, and themes. Directors use Foresight while exploring production and staging concepts in order to realize the world of the play, or in re-envisioning a classic text. Designers use Foresight in everything they do; theatre designers, like visual artists, have to take raw materials and imbue them with storytelling and expression. Actors use Foresight in testing various readings of a character, scene, or line, and in imagining backstory and situations outside the play that may inform their characters’ choices. And perhaps most interestingly are those in stage and production management, who also scored high in Foresight but for whom the ability likely factors in as less a creative ability per se, and more an ability to see a theatrical project as a long-term series of phases, problems, and competing deadlines.

Foresight tends to influence people in other ways, as well. High Foresight scorers are more likely to be motivated by long-term challenging goals; in some cases that may be a more nebulous goal with no distinct end date (like, for example, mastering one’s artistic craft). High Foresight scorers also tend toward a dogged persistence in their endeavors; once they have a goal in mind it can be difficult to knock them off that path. Sound familiar?

ideasAs mentioned, the other divergent thinking aptitude measured by Johnson O’Connor is called Ideaphoria, the aptitude for idea flow. Ideaphoria is useful for generating content and maintaining a fluency in communication; it’s commonly seen among journalists, schoolteachers, salespeople, and professionals in typical “creative” fields like marketing and public relations. All groups of theatre artists registered above average scores in Ideaphoria, but the statistical spike was most notable among directors and playwrights. While not as prominent in the sample as Foresight, Ideaphoria makes sense as an ability shared by directors and playwrights, as they are the artists most frequently in the position to have to communicate, or even sell, their ideas.

The theatre artist sample did not show significant scoring trends in numerical aptitude, clerical ability, inductive reasoning, or fine motor dexterity. There were, however, significant trends in:

Analytical Reasoning

Theatre artists as a group scored significantly above the Foundation mean in a type of convergent thinking called Analytical Reasoning, which is the ability to arrange ideas and concepts into a logical sequence or system. Often seen among editors, computer programmers, and urban planners, Analytical Reasoning was found to be highest among the playwrights we tested. Carlos Murillo, a playwright and the head of playwriting for The Theatre School at DePaul University, had this to say about his high score: “In a sense, at least in the way I work and teach, convergent thinking can’t really happen without divergent thinking,” he says. “When you make an ideaphoric mess it requires analytical [reasoning] to make heads or tails of it and shape it into something that has coherence.”

Spatial Thinking

The aptitude for Structural Visualization (the ability to visualize objects and structures in three-dimensional space and rotate them mentally) is an aptitude we commonly associate with most types of engineering, physical sciences, and architecture. In this area, theatre designers as well as technicians scored high. Spatial aptitude seems like a more obvious fit for technical directors as well as scenic, costume, and lighting design, but sound designers in the group also fit the trend. In music, structural visualization tends to be higher among composers than among performing musicians; perhaps sound designers use the ability in building cues, planning how sound interacts with the action of the play, and in composing original music.

Visual Aptitudes

Designers and technicians scored similarly to each other in another way: they both scored high in Memory for Design (the ability to retain and recall two-dimensional images and patterns) and Observation (the ability to recognize small visual details and remember their positions). These abilities are generally useful in artistic and design fields, but also have applications in certain scientific and medical roles. Considering the amount of diagrams, plots, and plans that any designer or technician has to keep track of, these aptitudes surely make the job easier. (It will delight stage managers to know that among all of the groups, Observation was lowest among directors.) Additionally, designers were found to score high in a third visual aptitude: Color Discrimination, the ability to recognize very fine differences in color.

Auditory Aptitudes

The Foundation measures three auditory abilities that are generally considered to be “music aptitudes,” and the theatre artists tended toward higher auditory scores across the board; however, actors scored higher than the other groups on the tests of Tonal Memory (tonal sequences and melody) as well as Rhythm Memory (timing patterns and cadence). Tonal Memory would find some clear uses in musical theatre or other plays with songs, while Rhythm Memory can also aid a performer in dance, movement and fight choreography, and comedic timing. Additionally, auditory aptitudes may help actors during the process of memorization or in picking up a new dialect.

Personality and Work Approach

masksIn the Johnson O’Connor test battery there is one solitary personality test, which takes the form of a Word Association exercise. An examinee is prompted with a series of words, and is asked to respond with the first word that comes to mind. Responses on this test help to categorize examinees into two broad groups: those with an “Objective” work approach, and those with a “Subjective” work approach. Those with an Objective approach tend to favor generalist roles in which they find success working through others (e.g., managers, executives), whereas those with a Subjective approach tend to prefer operating as a specialist and finding success through individual effort (e.g., surgeons, artists). Group contact and variety tend to be extremely important to Objective personalities; expertise and autonomy tend to be the desires of the Subjective scorers. Most people who are tested by the Foundation fall into one of these two broad categories, although there is a segment of the population that scores “Intermediate,” or right on the border. Intermediate scorers may find aspects of both approaches to be relatable and not need to strongly honor one over the other.

Accepting that, we anticipated more Objective scores from the theatre artists, in particular among groups like directors and stage managers, who must always find success by coordinating the efforts of other people. In fact, directors did trend toward somewhat more Objective scores, but not to the extent anticipated. Theatre artists in general scored much more Subjective than expected.

“It affirms the idea that none of us can go it alone; teamwork is essential,”

“It affirms the idea that none of us can go it alone; teamwork is essential,”

Dorothy Milne, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, has some insight: “My own aptitudes are sharply demarcated between what comes effortlessly to me and what is near impossible,” she remarked, citing a common experience with aptitude testing. “It affirms the idea that none of us can go it alone; teamwork is essential,” Milne said. “I bring my area of expertise to every theatrical enterprise—but I also count on mining each team member’s areas of specialty.” When considering the production of a play, each artist has a unique role to fill. So while collaboration is vital to the successful creation of a piece of theatre, perhaps it is a specific type of collaboration—not group-work as we often think of it, but rather the sum total of like-minded experts.

Objective theatre artists were less likely than Subjective scorers to report that they were currently satisfied by their theatre careers. That could suggest that theatre as an industry does not provide as many fulfilling opportunities for generalists. Or it could be that Objective theatre artists need to be very careful about what kinds of projects they seek out; for example, it would stand to reason that Objective artists may find devised, large ensemble, or community-centric work to be more gratifying than other modes of playmaking.

So what does all of this mean? For one thing, it tells us that artists who gravitate toward certain specialties are often driven by more than just creative ambition and personal interest. In many cases, they may be following a path that’s more biological than it is deliberate. This is not to say that we are predestined to be one kind of artist and only that.

Take my aptitude pattern, for example: I score much more like a designer than I do like a playwright. Does this influence how I write plays? Without a doubt. When I write, I have a strong sense of how the play will look in motion; I like to invite bold design choices, often including physical hindrances and complicated mechanics in my plays, but I always have an idea of how these elements might be realistically achieved. I also like to layer and weave dialogue in a quasi-spatial way, almost like composing a song. Since I’m wired to think more visually and spatially, that seeks outlets in my approach to writing, and my awareness of this is extremely beneficial. I don’t have the Ideaphoria aptitude like many other playwrights, so the pages aren’t just going to flow out of me like water from a open hydrant; I don’t have an aptitude for Analytical Reasoning either, so it behooves me to be open to structural feedback from directors and dramaturges.

In theatre, our roles are often fluid and we have room to explore and discover as well as magnificently fail. Especially in university drama programs across the country, young artists have opportunities to challenge their perceptions of themselves and their abilities as they search for their theatrical niche. Murillo remarked that what he learned from his test results has helped him in his thinking, not only about his own writing, but also about how he structures his playwriting courses. “I have incorporated [Ideaphoria and Foresight] into my teaching vocabulary,” he said, “[I encourage my students] to say yes to all ideas good and bad, let free associations flow, embrace the multiple possible directions any given idea might lead you.”

The mission of Johnson O’Connor is to unlock human potential. It’s a lofty mission that is, in various ways, shared by many practitioners of the theatre. What does it mean to be human? How can we better understand ourselves? Our partners? Our fellow citizens? Why do we behave the way we do? What are the difficulties we face? There are myriad factors at play that make up who we are as people, as artists, and as a community. This study provides empirical evidence that while we are all individuals, there is a certain sameness among those of us who make theatre, common curious energies that seek to find expression in this most limitless of art forms. What do we do with those energies—indeed, those gifts?

We see possibilities. We make worlds.

Scott T. Barsotti is a playwright and performer originally from Pittsburgh, PA. This post originally appeared in Howlround

Making Theater is a Spiritual Endeavor

Caridad Svich

Caridad Svich

Writing is a part of you. Like breathing. It is essential to your life. And you can’t imagine life without it. 

by Caridad Svich 


The charge of the new underlines each act of writing for the theater. The ghosts of the past hover over the signs struck on the intangible pages on the screen. Strike. Strike. The fingers tap into the keyboard the breath of a new theater about to be born. Indebted to nothing but itself and the ghosts of the past that call upon the writer’s duty to bear witness.

In the act of writing, the political body of the text imagines itself in a room with the bodies of the public that will make possible the exchange of life that a theater piece demands: the exchange of a performance unbartered and given over to the ineffable presence of the moment.

Words are mere signs in a theater space. They dart and dance and wound the air with their weight, meaning and sound. Text is carved upon the invisible spaces of the theater, the spaces rendered body by actors and elements of design. The kinesthetic beauty of theater making allows for a rare intimacy of engagement with the public—one that pushes past comfort and into a suspended state of transformation.

Writ upon the theater walls are the ghost signs of past words, utterings, and inhalations of breath by former text builders and theatermakers. Each ghost sign is part of the present moment. Each moment performed is thus haunted. Spectral acts mark the spectral space that knows no boundaries beyond that of the imagination. Writing for the theater is an act of resistance. It is also an act of folly, daring, and one that asks of its makers and emancipated spectators alike to consider potentialities of being beyond the quotidian and sometimes, yes, beyond nation and state. Making theater is a spiritual endeavor. Its religion is not organized, but rather assembled from kinships with theater tribes across time.

One of my best friends in theater is named Euripides. Another is named García Lorca. And yet another is named Calderón de la Barca. These makers from the past are as much kin to me in the art of writing as are my peers in the field and those with whom I share an aesthetic lean. I distinguish them of course one from the other, but when I write, I feel as if they are all with me, depending on the play being made, and with me too are conversations about writing and of facing the curious challenges of writing a play—of making something that you know will always be unfinished, that will always be tested in front of an audience, and only serve as a rough score for performance.

In making a play, the writer obsesses over every detail, every line, and every action that the play puts in motion. Yet, the score is never exact. We know this when we write. The paradox of making theater, in building text, is that you are always somehow at its mercy, and yet judged by its merits. How does a writer become? Continue reading

Top Ten Reasons Why Theatre Still Matters

Letterman top tenby Kevin Brown

In the spirit of retiring “Late Show” host David Letterman’s famous “Top Ten” lists, I submit the following reasons why theatre is still important today:

#10 Human Beings
The performance of theatre is a universal cultural phenomenon that exists in every society around the world. Human beings are the only animal species that creates theatre. Understanding theatre helps us understand what it means to be human.

#9 Self-Expression
Theatre teaches us how to express ourselves more effectively. It develops our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, improving our relationships and improving the world around us.

#8 Self-Knowledge
Theatre teaches us about ourselves. It helps us understand how our minds and the minds of others work. It helps us to see how the environments in which we live affect who we are and who we will become.

#7 History
Theatre is a great way to lean about history. Rather than learning history from reading it in a dusty textbook, theatre makes history come alive right before our eyes. Theatre makes learning about history fun.

#6 The Body
Theatre reminds us that, even in this ever-changing digital age, there is a human body at the center of every digital transaction. Accounting for the body in the design of the future will help us make technology that works for us rather than us working for technology.

#5 Globalization
Theatre helps us understand people from cultures other than our own. We can learn a lot about people from cultures all around the world by studying their performance traditions. In doing so, we can learn to be less ethnocentric, and more accepting of others.

#4 Self-Empowerment
Performance permeates every aspect of our everyday lives. Power relationships are constructed through performances. Understanding how performances unfold around us can help us to recognize and take control of the power dynamics that affect us.

#3 Social Change
Theatre is a cultural space where society examines itself in a mirror. Theatre has long been looked at as a laboratory in which we can study the problems that confront society and attempt to solve those problems.

#2 Education
Theatre is a great way to learn. Going to the theatre teaches us about people, places, and ideas to which we would not otherwise be exposed. Learning in a theatrical setting makes learning fun.

#1 Creativity
Theatre helps us to develop our creativity. As our education system increasingly puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, we cannot forget the importance of art. Let’s put the “STE(A)M” back in “STEM!”

Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown

Dr. Kevin Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He has published in Theatre Journal,International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital MediaPopular Entertainment StudiesJournal of Religion and TheatreJournal of Popular Music Studies, Puppetry International, and Kajian Malaysia.

This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive| Thrive} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.

Six Ways the Arts Help Prepare Kids to Succeed in Life

An aspiring actress on the Fountain Theatre stage.

An aspiring actress on the Fountain Theatre stage.

By Lisa Phillips

There are many things I don’t know about life and how the world works, but there are two things I know for certain. The first is that many young people are less prepared for the working world than they were 20 years ago. The second is that there is something we can do about it!

Don’t get me wrong, young people today are energetic, caring about the environment and passionate about social justice. However, when it comes to the skills they need to conquer the competitive nature of the working world, there is some work to be done. Success skills such as effective communication, accountability, finding solutions to challenges, and adaptability are just some of the areas that many members of the current generation are lacking.

So where can they learn them?

In those “nice to have, but not need to have” programs that our school boards seem to be cutting like they were last year’s fashions…THE ARTS!

If parents, educators and policy makers would just LOOK and see what I see, they would recognize an untapped opportunity to catapult 21st century students toward achieving their goals in life. I would like to offer six reasons why the arts offer excellent opportunities to develop these vital success skills.

1.     The Arts Don’t Focus on Right & Wrong

The simple fact is, if we learn mainly in an environment in which we pump out answers that are either right or wrong, with no middle ground or room for creativity, we will begin to see the whole world as black and white. We will expect every problem to have aright answer. Participation in the arts opens up our mind to the possibility that the world is full of color and there is more than one way to achieve a goal. When the pressure of needing to find the right answer is removed, it becomes easier to take a risk and try – and trying is the only way to succeed.

painting smile

2.     The Arts are Inherently Creative

The desire to employ creative people is not unique to Apple. The most successful companies assemble teams of people who are able to see the big picture, to make connections and to predict market trends. Even in a fiercely competitive job market, these skills will always be in demand. Unfortunately, our traditional systems of education are not designed to produce people with these skills. In arts education children are constantly being asked to try new things and think of alternatives. This kind of thinking goes a long way toward developing the essential success skill of creativity.
choir rehearsal

3.     The Emphasis on Practice

In the arts, it is understood that you will not be able to learn an instrument or be an incredible dancer over night. Developing these skills takes effort and hours and hours of practice. The arts environment encourages persistence through challenges towards mastery, a skill very much needed to thrive in the 21st century. When children participate in the arts, they will not shy away from learning things in their adult lives that are challenging, or take lots of time and effort. They would have already experienced the benefit of that level of practice through their arts training.

4.     The Focus on Feedback & Critique

Feedback is a constant part of the learning process in the arts. This helps children understand that feedback should not be taken personally, but that it is meant to challenge them to push beyond what they think they are capable of achieving. A good arts teacher’s critique is specific; it tells the student what works, what does not, and what they can do to improve. If we are used to seeing feedback as fuel for improvement, our natural reaction when receiving feedback will not be to make excuses, but to ask for more feedback about how we can improve our performance.

curtain call

5.     The Moment of Success

Each discipline within the arts has its own method of performance or presentation – an art exhibit, a play, a dance show etc. This gives children a sense of accomplishment after all of their effort and practice. This acknowledgement translates into a strong boost of confidence and enhances their drive to continue learning and improving. They have experienced a moment of success and when that happens they are typically motivated to seek even more success.

 StressedOutTeen-300x2006.     The Coping Mechanisms for Handling Stress

Mental health is a growing concern in our society and often people can become overwhelmed with stress. It is important to find ways to calm ourselves during those moments. Dancing, painting or playing the piano can be a great stress reliever. These activities help us let out our frustrations, and express ourselves without needing to use words. If children develop these skills early, then as adults they will naturally gravitate toward these and will have a way to deal with stresses that come up in their lives.

The world is changing so rapidly and the rules in the job market are requiring a different set of skills in order to find success. Long gone are the days when a university degree was enough to guarantee a great career. We need to wake up to the realization that the arts have a critical role to play in the development of the skills young people need to not only survive, but to thrive in the 21st century.

 Lisa Philips is the author of  “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World”. 

Actor as Entrepreneur? The Business of Actor, Inc.


by Bryce Pinkham

Bryce Pinkham

Bryce Pinkham

If you’re anything like me, you probably found yourself down at the theatre in college in large part because you wanted nothing to do with the business school. You felt drawn to expressing yourself creatively in an environment that allowed for, even praised, your uniqueness, your eccentricities and your lack of desire to do high-level math. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t fully comprehend business terms like “overhead” and “distribution outlet.”

If you’re anything like me, you went to graduate school because you wanted to be able to do anything onstage, you wanted to stretch and challenge yourself not only as a performer but as an artist. If you’re anything like me, you probably left graduate school feeling like you could do anything and that “the business” didn’t know what was about to hit it.

If you’re a professional actor and you’re anything like me, you’re probably figuring out how to pay your rent, your loans and remain connected to the joy you once felt offstage left.

I take a stab at self-revelation: “I view my acting career as my own start-up business. It’s something I ‘go to work’ to do. Every day, I attempt to promote, expand and grow Bryce Pinkham, Inc.”

actor businessIn theory, and aside from the terribly uninventive name, it sounds smart: I am building my own business and that business is “me.” I know I’m not the first actor to attempt to use this model; in fact, I’m sure I stole it from somebody else. And yet, as I’m describing this approach out loud, it seems somewhat absurd: How can I claim to run a business when I don’t know the first thing about business? I’ve never even taken a business class. While college roommates were throwing around words like “capitalization” and “accrued interest,” I was geeking out about iambic pentameter and Uta Hagen.

One of the handicaps actors who train in the theatre face is that we enter “the market” believing we can do anything. It’s not our fault; it’s part of our training. But from a business standpoint, “I do everything” might not be the wisest approach. Imagine an entrepreneur who goes to school to be a computer programmer and then shows up at his first tech fair selling iPhone apps (software), a new smartphone (hardware) and cases (accessories). Not only is this entrepreneur going to lose valuable time and energy running back and forth among three different booths at the fair, he is going to confuse potential costumers as to what his brand actually sells.

Three People at Casting Call

Imagine a different programmer showing up with just his best product: an iPhone app to compete with Apple Maps. He happens to program apps particularly well and he’s found a demand in the market (I mean, have you tried using the new Apple Maps?). His app sells like hotcakes. After selling apps for five years, he goes on to sell things no one would necessarily expect from him: phones, accessories, games, a whole search engine—he’s the Marlon Brando of the geek elite, but only because he started small.

I know comparing actors to computer programmers is more than a stretch, but the point that Marcia DeBonis has helped me realize is that an entrepreneur does not try to conquer the market all at once by saying he can do everything. Initially, he seeks to enter the market in any way possible. Marcia believes it’s the same for young actors: It may be true that we do many things really well, but at first, maybe we should just focus on what we have that will sell, and conversely, what we have that won’t.

creativity_cartoon“Don’t give them any more reasons to say no to you,” Marcia beseeches. “If you have bad legs, don’t come into an audition wearing a miniskirt just because miniskirts are in style.” She explains that many actors, in their desire to say “yes” to everything, end up misrepresenting themselves: “If you’re a character actress, don’t describe yourself as a young Meg Ryan. Don’t say, ‘Yes, I’m funny,’ unless you mean it; it’s really easy to find out that you’re not.” These warnings may be tough to swallow after three or more years of teachers encouraging a young actor to stretch himself, to say “yes” to every opportunity and challenge, but they are business lessons that may be crucial for survival. By the end of my interview with Marcia, one thing is abundantly clear: Too many young actors are entering our field without sufficient focus.

thinking-manBut there’s the rub: Maybe one reason business is so hard for actors is because we do take everything personally. We’re supposed to: We train our brains to take imaginary circumstances personally. So how can we be expected not to take the same approach to every interaction in our real lives? In fact, our “business” is so closely tied to who we are and what we look like, it’s almost impossible not to have our feelings hurt when someone doesn’t want to buy our product. We’re artists because we didn’t want to be salesmen.

It’s hard to improvise with strangers at commercial auditions when we trained in ensembles to perform the words of Shakespeare and Chekhov for hundreds of live audience members. It’s hard to pick up the phone and complain to an agent we worked so hard to get, or to turn down an acting job because it doesn’t pay more than unemployment. It’s hard to shamelessly promote ourselves on Twitter and Facebook when our acting idols are monuments to humility. It’s easier for us to dream about the future than it is for us to get down to the nitty-gritty of the present.

But at the end of the day, we are the only ones responsible for the success of our business. It’s not up to a casting director or an agent or a director. It’s not all luck—it’s business, and whether it feels good or not, it’s how entrepreneurs survive.

Remember, if you’ve made it far enough that you consider acting your profession, you probably have a natural sense of purpose and the backbone to shoulder more than the average José. If your skin crawls at the idea of trying to sell anything, let alone yourself, try approaching the challenge as you would approach a role. As former talent agent Phil Carlson suggested to me, think about it as “the acting you have to do in order to get to do any acting.”

It may seem unnatural at first, but after some practice, you’ll make people believe it’s real. After all, though you probably weren’t calling it “entrepreneurship” back then, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been hustling your product ever since you stumbled onto that first homemade stage—you know, the one with the raggedy old sheets you pinned up for curtains and the priority seating for stuffed animals—and bellowed with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, “Hey, guys! Look at me!”

Bryce Pinkham is an actor and contributing editor to The Actors Center Journal.

10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts


By Lisa Phillips

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

child problem solving3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.
4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

child dance class6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

Children-Arts 1

8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.

Lisa Phillips

Lisa Phillips

Lisa Philips is the author of The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World.

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How to Feel Miserable as an Artist

Actors and the Power of Vulnerability

By Daniel Lehman

Does an ability to “get into character” and portray other people help actors resolve their own internal conflicts offstage? Or will the pursuit of a career that values emotional vulnerability, but at the same time involves frequent rejection, inevitably lead to poor mental health and instability?

Dr. Paula Thomson and Dr. S. Victoria Jaque of California State University, Northridge, endeavored to answer these questions in “Holding a Mirror Up to Nature: Psychological Vulnerability in Actors,” a study published this month in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Over the course of several years, the researchers surveyed a sample of 41 professional actors in Los Angeles; Toronto, Ontario; and Cape Town, South Africa. The actors’ answers were compared with those of a control group of 41 non-actors.

“This study demonstrated that the actor group had greater fantasy proneness and a greater distribution of psychological security as compared with the nonartist control group,” Thomson and Jaque write. “Despite no group differences in type and frequency of trauma and loss, the actor group had more unresolved mourning and elevated dissociation.”

All of the actors surveyed had at least three years of conservatory training, all of which Thomson said was rooted in Stanislavsky’s method. They also had the common link of at least a few months of experience creating and performing “testimonial theater,” an autobiographical medium that is used most often to heal individuals and communities that have undergone major trauma. Subjects were evaluated through a 60- to 90-minute interview session.

“I think in performing artists, there’s an incredible tolerance to accept emotional abuse from people,” Thomson told Back Stage. A former dancer, she is fascinated with the psychology of actors and performing artists. “I was very struck by how aware they were about people’s emotions and how sensitive they were,” she said, “and then how unpredictable they could be.”

Thomson and Jaque speculated that experience embodying different characters in order to act out dramatized conflicts would indirectly give actors greater resolution for their own past experiences. Yet the researchers found that while actors tend to be more emotionally self-aware and secure, they are no better at getting over unresolved trauma or loss than their counterparts in the control group. In fact, the actor group was more likely to respond with confusion, silence, or halting speech when asked about past traumatic events, and they displayed “greater vulnerability for psychological distress.”

Thomson and Jaque could not determine whether an actor’s career choice was determined by his or her mental state or vice versa. The researchers are analyzing the results of a related physiological study — in which actors wore what they call a “life shirt” during interviews, stress tests, and rehearsals and onstage performances — to evaluate whether their physiology shows the same vulnerability as their psychology.

Daniel Lehman writes for Backstage

10 Reasons to Support the Arts

Randy Cohen

Almost one year ago, I posted The Top Ten Reasons to Support the Arts in response to a business leader who wanted to make a compelling case for government and corporate contributions to the arts.

Being a busy guy, he didn’t want a lot to read: “Keep it to one page, please.”

With the arts advocacy season once again upon us … (who am I kidding, it’s always upon us!) Here is my updated list for 2012.

10 Reasons to Support the Arts

1. True prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

2. Improved academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service—benefits reaped by students regardless of socioeconomic status. Students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.

3. Arts are an industry. Arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers, and consumers. Nonprofit arts organizations generate $166 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 5.7 million jobs and generating nearly $30 billion in government revenue. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, and advances our creativity-based economy.

4. Arts are good for local merchants. The typical arts attendee spends $27.79 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Non-local arts audiences (who live outside the county) spend nearly twice as much as local arts attendees ($40.19 vs. $19.53)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

5. Arts are the cornerstone of tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased five of the past seven years (13 to 17 percent since 2003).

6. Arts are an export industry. U.S. exports of arts goods (everything from movies to paintings to jewelry) grew to $64 billion in 2010. With U.S. imports at just $23 billion, the arts achieved a $41 billion trade surplus in 2010.

7. Building the 21st century workforce. Reports by The Conference Board show creativity is among the top-five applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their Ready to Innovate report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.”

8. Healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.

9. Stronger communities. University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.

10. Creative Industries. The Creative Industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and advertising companies. An analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 904,581 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 3.3 million people—representing 4.25 percent of all businesses and 2.15 percent of all employees, respectively.

11. What is your #11? Share with us in the comments below…

Keep up the great work!

Randy Cohen is vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, the nation’s advocacy organization for the arts.