04 Sep So You Do Theater
By Zach Salk
Or is it Theatre?
The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to spell the word. Theater, theatre. Potato, potahto. When it comes down to it, what matters isn’t the spelling or pronunciation, it’s the experience. I’ve been doing theater for the past 10 years, participating in all kinds of shows from laugh-out-loud, sometimes cringe-inducing comedies to dark, brooding dramas to glamorous musicals.
I’ve learned many things along the way, some practical, and others just odd (seriously, who needs to know how to properly present your calf in 16th-century Italy?!). And for those of you who are worried about the sustainability of a career in acting, I’m here to tell you that you might have a bright future in the PR world.
Don’t believe me? Read on to see how taking the stage translates to the public relations industry.
You’ve Got to Sell the Story
Like theater, PR is about telling stories. Also like theater, sometimes your audience doesn’t buy what you’re trying to sell. That doesn’t mean you stop trying. If a performance isn’t going well, you don’t walk off in the middle of a scene, throw up your hands and say “Done!” You keep going. You tough it out. Not every crowd is going to be great. You won’t always get a standing ovation. But when an audience starts out cold and unresponsive, you work even harder so that maybe by the end of the show they’ve changed their minds and warmed up to you a bit.
In PR, reporters are like your toughest critics. But at the end of the day, what they’re after is that killer story. If your initial pitch doesn’t hit the mark, try, try again. Test out different angles, put on your best smile, and work with them to make that story exactly what they’re looking for. And when your story does resonate with a reporter, it can feel like an audience full of people are standing up in their seats and applauding. That audience is called your coworkers.
Embrace the Art of Improvisation
For theater people, this is one of those skills you may not even realize you’ve learned. I never took an improv class and was never in an improv comedy group, but when you’re doing Shakespeare and your scene partner forgets their lines, you just figure out a way to make it work. As they say, “the show must go on!”
When it comes down to it, improv is really just the ability to think on your feet and adapt to new information quickly. In PR, you constantly receive new information, and your ability to adapt quickly will help keep you afloat. Example: you spend hours prepping for a really, really, really ridiculously important client, and then you finally get in the meeting and they ask you point-blank the one question you weren’t expecting. You have to react, and like improv, you find a way to answer, because the show must go on.
One of the first things you realize in any theatrical production is that open lines of communication are absolutely crucial. There are always exceptions, but when you’re dealing with massive egos (*ahem* actors), brilliant artistic vision (directors) and crew chiefs and designers who all have their own opinions on how things should be done, even the most composed stage manager in the world can get flustered.
Communication is the key to working through these inevitable issues. Whether it’s actor-actor, director-stage manager, lighting designer-director-actor-stagehand or anything in between, it is absolutely essential that you know how to communicate with the people you’re working with. And since there are often many, shall we say, large personalities occupying the same stage, communicating effectively can be quite the challenge.
PR is the same. Replace “cast” with “team” and the dynamics are remarkably similar. As a member of a team, you need to be able to talk with one another constructively, but also feel free to express an opposing opinion. You have to bounce ideas off each other without losing track of the ultimate goal, and then take those ideas and execute them to the best of your abilities. This becomes even more important when working with clients. In the end, it’s all about making an impact, maintaining positive relationships and getting things done. In the PR world, it doesn’t matter what kind of task you’re approaching, communication will assuredly be of paramount importance. If you do theater, chances are you’re already a pro.
There are countless other theatrical skills you can apply to PR. For me, discovering those applications has been one of the best parts about joining LaunchSquad. From storytelling to improvisation to communication (and much much more), there is a seemingly endless list of theater skills that come in handy in the PR world. But it’s not just the skills that are important, it’s the experience. Theater can be hectic, stressful, hilarious, infuriating and thrilling. It can be messy, it can be frustrating, it can be CRAZY. Often, it is all of those things at once. PR is much the same way. And yet, like theater, it is also exciting, educational, fulfilling work. Most of all, though, it is profoundly rewarding. And that is perhaps the most wonderful similarity of all.
Head this way to read more posts about the skills that made LaunchSquad employees a great fit for the industry.
What skills have you found invaluable for a career in PR? Tell us about it in the comments or send us a tweet @LaunchSquad.
Image c/o utexas.edu