You’re a fabulous actor and you will be swamped by offers the moment you graduate. At least you believe you will.
Your singing voice is incredible and, diploma in hand, you’re headed straight to standing ovations on Broadway. At least you believe you are.
Tap the brakes on those dreams. At least for now.
It’s a not-uncommon perception with truly talented theater students that fulfilling dreams is simply a matter of ability.
“‘I’m so talented. I’m so special. People are going to beg me to work,’” said Steve Ray, associate head of the Department of Performing Arts at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The real world probably doesn’t feel the same way about you. He said it might, though, if you know how to convince it.
“You’ve got to be able to be your own salesman. You have to treat yourself as your own business,” Ray said. “A lot of great actors don’t get work because they’re not a good salesman for themselves. They just think the world owes them.”
A collaboration between the Performing Arts department and the Gary W. Rollins College of Business will explain that reality to theater majors.
Starting in fall semester 2022, a new concentration—Theatre Entrepreneurship—will give students the concepts and tools to see themselves as a product to be sold. It may sound crass, but if you don’t believe in your value, who will?
Tom Lyons, professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship in the UTC College of Business, cited a saying from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “‘If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’ It’s a good thing Ralph kept his day job because he would’ve made a miserable entrepreneur.”
Theatre Entrepreneurship doesn’t focus only on students who want to stand in front of an audience, Ray said. It’s also for those seeking a career in behind-the-scenes work. Managing a theater, symphony, art gallery or museum. Handling set and costume design. Designing stage lighting. Knowing how to write grants, sell tickets, and negotiate contracts.
The UTC Department of Political Science and Public Service also is part of the concentration with courses on the legal and ethical responsibilities of nonprofit organizations—which theater companies often are—and navigating the ins and outs of theater and civic organizations.
“The concentration covers a wide range of options for students, but it really does prepare them for the real world,” Ray said.
Blake Harris graduated from UTC in 2011 with a minor in theater and later worked in the Los Angeles theater community. He said that lessons learned in the UTC Theatre Entrepreneurship concentration are more than valuable.
“I think they’re vital,” said Harris, one of the co-founders and now artistic director at Obvious Dad, a Chattanooga theatre company.
“If you know how to create a budget; if you know how to market; if you know how to navigate this system, that will set you apart from the people with just talent because talent alone will only get you so far.”
Harris said that leaving college and heading into a theater career is overwhelming because once you’re out there, you’ll probably find that you don’t know what you need to know.
“I was thrilled when I heard they were creating a Theatre Entrepreneurship concentration because you can’t know what it’s like until you do it,” he said
Lyons said that entrepreneurial concepts in the theater are the same as those in more traditional businesses.
“They have a vision for what they want to accomplish, and they make it happen,” he said. “They have people they want to serve as a market, they figure out what those people need and they refine their product or the service until it is exactly what those folks need.”
The ultimate goal of the Theater Entrepreneurship concentration is to show theater majors that succeeding in the industry goes well beyond pure talent.
As Ray said, you can’t just sit around “waiting to be discovered.”