Freshman Mason Duncan (left) and Caroline Hanks (right), theater majors with an emphasis in musical theater, participate in Margo Andrew's musical theater training program, voice and text class, working on a poetry reading exercise in the Fine Arts West Building on campus in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, March 29, 2018.

It’s no surprise to anyone that arts degrees have a bad reputation. They’re often thrown to the side as useless and trivial — degrees one pursues when there are no other options. This “last resort” degree is also painted as an easy cop-out, but that is simply not true.

Actors spend weeks memorizing scripts and blocking, and they must be able to recite monologue after monologue at a moment’s notice. Dancers dance until their feet literally bleed, their bones or muscles snap or until their routine is absolutely perfect — and then they dance some more. Visual artists spend hours in front of a canvas or screen meticulously deciding what colors, shapes, lines, textures and themes to incorporate into each masterpiece. Writers take black and white text and use it to create technicolor worlds with living, breathing characters.

The bottom line is that arts training is hard. Beyond hard. I was a theater major once and I couldn’t handle it. It takes its toll on you emotionally, physically and mentally. I left because acting wasn’t the right fit for me, but I don’t feel my time was wasted. Here are five lessons I learned in the two and a half years I spent as a theater major:

Show Up

This is exactly what it sounds like. Show up for your job, your significant other or life in general. You miss out on the best things life has to offer when you decide to sit one out. This doesn’t mean show up to every event you’re invited to, but it does mean that when you take the time to pursue something, you should always be present.

Take the Note Once

After each rehearsal for a show, the director gives notes to the actors on what they can do to improve their performance. This mantra means when given a correction, strive to not receive the same correction in the next round of notes. Warranted feedback helps you become a better person and it helps you avoid mistakes in the future. If someone you care about or respect offers their two cents about something, take it seriously.

Don’t Hide From Your Emotions

I know, I know, cue the sappy Hallmark movie music, but this is important. I once started crying in the middle of my acting class (side note: no worries, this was pretty normal) but my professor, Sarah Shippobotham, wouldn’t let me look away from her. She told me I could cry all I wanted to, but I couldn’t hide my face. I learned in that vulnerable moment I shouldn’t be embarrassed about my emotions, and even though this is a lesson I’m re-learning every day, I have Sarah Shippobotham to thank for helping me take the first step.

If You Pee Clear, You Sing Clear

This is one of professor David Schmidt’s many mantras of life. More simply stated: stay hydrated.

Practice How You Perform

Surprise, surprise: practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but at least better. This little saying, however, takes things a step further. Don’t phone it in when you’re studying for a test, practicing a monologue or learning something new. If you really want to be better at something, you have to practice it a lot, but practice it with all the effort you have.

While I may no longer be pursuing a degree in drama, I have learned many life lessons about how to be a better version of myself. I’m grateful to the people who work hard to bring the arts to life and for the professors who taught me valuable things. There are more lessons to be learned through art, but those are the ones you’ll have to learn for yourself.

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Haley Oliphant is the Editor-in-Chief for the Daily Utah Chronicle. When she's not studying English, she enjoys long walks on the beach, snarky commentary, and the oxford comma. @oliphant_haley [email protected]


  1. Thank you for posting this: as a double major in Theatre and Chemistry, I see a lot of dismissiveness and misundrestanding between the two groups, when they can learn so much from each other. one thing I have learned being on both sides of the coin is that no matter what path you take in life, just work hard and do your best at it. If I makes you feel fulfilled and happy then thats all you can really hope for.


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