Let’s Talk About Day Jobs.
Let’s not just talk about day jobs. Let’s talk about succeeding in them.
And how you will succeed in your day job because of what you have learned as an artist.
And then let’s talk about how your day job will help you be a better artist.
There is no shortage of discussion of the importance of the arts and humanities in education, but there are few concrete examples of how the flexibility and problem-solving skills developed in the arts can lead to being an effective businessperson beyond them. Worse yet, there is a sense of shame around having a non-arts job that is all too prevalent among artists. We cannot both claim that the arts teach important lessons outside of their own sphere and shame those who find themselves earning a significant portion of their income elsewhere.
In light of the events and commentary last year regarding Geoffrey Owens (the former Cosby actor who was job-shamed in the press for working at Trader Joe’s, followed by a wonderful defense by fellow artists and a slew of offers), I’d like to discuss both parallel careers outside of the arts, as well as how many of the skills developed in theatre are directly transferable to business. In my case, I will specifically discuss real estate in New York City.
I can say without reservation that the skills I developed as a professional fight director contributed directly to my ability to succeed in New York City real estate.
Over the past several years, I’ve enjoyed some success as a Senior Associate at a prestigious New York City real estate brokerage. It’s a field that often serves as a parallel career for those in the arts, particularly in New York. Many of my colleagues at my firm have credits that include Broadway shows, leading roles in television series, art installations, and internationally released albums. Some of them move seamlessly between these worlds, filming a series one quarter and conducting sales the next, while others are currently concentrating on real estate with great success.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll be primarily discussing my experience as a fight director informing my success in real estate, though many of these elements are true about the intersections of skills between many of the arts and business (I recently had a friend who is a project manager at a major tech company tell me that the training received for his theatre degree is far more useful on a day to day basis than his computer science degree).
With that in mind, a list of transferable skills:
1) Interfacing With & Satisfying Multiple Parties With Different Perspectives
This is essentially Project Management.
As a fight director, one creates choreography with actors of differing levels of experience towards a director’s vision of production while on a stage manager’s schedule and within the structure created with the design team. All this while keeping in mind design elements and being familiar with the dramaturgical structure of the playwright’s work. And of course, there is a budget that one must adhere to.
As an effective real estate agent, one must be able to produce a positive outcome for the client for whom there is a fiduciary obligation, be they buyers, sellers, renters, or landlords. To do this, it is important to understand the needs and methodologies of all parties. Buyers interface with sellers and vice versa, while both work through management companies. The same is true of landlords and tenants, and while one might represent a tenant, it is difficult to produce a positive outcome for them without maintaining healthy relationships with landlords. Similarly, in the case of investors, a buyer may become a landlord at the conclusion of a transaction, leading to another transaction in an entirely different context as your former buyer is now requiring your services in finding tenants. Navigating such an ecosystem may sound daunting at first glance, but the project management learned as a theatre artist is amazing preparation for such tasks.
The ability to follow up on tasks that need doing so the larger project can succeed is also integral across fields; be it to make sure the swords have arrived in time for rehearsal or to make sure the deposit check is in the right hands, making sure all of the elements of a project are in place is essential.
Navigating the needs of production from a fight director’s perspective is both very similar and far more complex than navigating real estate deals. An actor who has never held a sword before working with a veteran Shakespeare director with specific expectations and a first time buyer dealing with the seller and management company in a new neighborhood may at first glance may at first appear to be very different scenarios, but the skills required to have everyone leave the circumstances with a positive experience are the same.
Another parallel is that in both cases the groups are constantly changing in both professions and an effective operator must adjust to these fluid circumstances as they happen.
2) Time Management
The workflow of a freelance artist and of a real estate professional are both dependent on being able to show up prepared at the appointed times and places. When several projects are in play at once, the ability to coordinate is a key element of success. The most productions I’ve ever had in rehearsal at once was eight I believe, and I regularly have well over two dozen clients in different stages of transactions (or considering transactions) that I am actively in contact with. A typical theatre student is in a constant state of balancing multiple projects, be they onstage or backstage. The importance of time management is learned early. (As a side note, I’ve often told students to do fewer projects but to do them well, as opposed to spread themselves too thin and create sub-par work).
Artists get shit done. And they do it when it is personal, when it is last-minute, and when emotions are high. If you can do it in the arts, you can do it in business.
3) Referral Management, Networking, and Following Up
I can say with confidence that the overwhelming bulk of my credits as a fight director (over 175 at current count) are by referral or repeat engagement. Sometimes the initial interest was shown long before the project took place, but most of my work was via what’s known as Inbound Marketing. These include engagements everywhere from LORT houses to fringe theatres to high schools to PBS.
I have the good fortune to say the same for many of the people I’ve worked within real estate. My clients have ranged from high-level software engineers and project managers at major tech companies to corporate lawyers and investment bankers to Broadway performers. Knowing how to both make sure your work is worth referring and how to get your name out there is a business skill that is indispensable in the arts and immediately transferable in the business world.
Do good work. Show up when and where you say you will. Make sure what you say and the truth has a one-to-one relationship. To be able to do so in the arts, where the field is competitive, resources are scarce, and compensation may not be what you are worth, is to be able to succeed anywhere.
4) Spatial Awareness
This one is much more applicable to real estate than other fields, and often comes as a surprise when I point it out. If you can instantly determine whether a performance or rehearsal space can accommodate a broadsword fight, you can also instantly determine if a bedroom can accommodate a queen-sized bed. Most people do not spend a whole lot of time in empty rooms and have difficulty orienting themselves in the space. Not so for theatre artists.
5) Negotiation Skills
A successful artist is often one who has been told that “this production is looking for a volunteer in this position” or “it’s great exposure!” and negotiated it into a paying gig. That is someone you want on your side.
Keep in mind as well that negotiation is not always about price. Fight Directors (and costumers, and choreographers, and dialect coaches) often have to work to get appropriate amounts of time with cast members and do so in the midst of several other professionals with different immediate priorities. Without the ability to successfully navigate the negotiations of those circumstances the work is impossible.
Likewise, in a business transaction, it is not always just about price. Time is negotiable, down-payments are negotiable, as are incentives, amenities, and other factors.
6) Guiding One’s Clients Through a Field Rife with Misinformation
Violence (staged or otherwise) is the subject of tremendous amounts of mythologizing and misunderstanding. As fight directors are creating work abstracted from violence, there is one more layer of potential misunderstanding.
A fight director must often teach actors techniques that are counter to the picture they’ve formed of violence in their minds (again, staged or otherwise), do so in a set amount of time, and collaborate with them to have a product that is safe, repeatable, and fits the needs of a production.
Real estate is subject to a whole other type of misunderstanding as people are physically on the real estate every second of every day (far more than they are encountering staged violence). Though they are interfacing with the properties themselves, most will only take part in transactions for their acquisition handful of times in their lives.
There is no shortage of “Reality TV” shows about NY real estate that are complete fictionalizations of the industry. I myself once watched about a dozen takes of a “spontaneous” decision and reaction for one of these shows being filmed in a park in NYC. While such shows do often present interesting views of high-end properties their portrayal of the arc and process of the transaction have little to do with the real thing. Likewise, the industry itself is flooded with misinformation as far as many client-facing websites are concerned. A good real estate agent, in educating their clients on how to navigate the market is often helping them unlearn and/or sift through much of the misinformation they’ve been presented with.
7) Public Speaking and Presentation Skills
This is often one of the first things people outside of the arts bring up as a transferable skill. I bring it up last because in creating this piece I realized that in the theatre we take it for granted. A routine part of our work is among the most common fears outside our world. Designers, directors, dramaturgs, and administrators have to present to groups on a routine basis.
Artists work among us, doing more than their art.
It’s often said that in an ideal world we would be able to survive entirely on the arts. That may be so, but the world outside the arts can also open up new experiences that can make us better artists, and our expertise and experience add tremendous value.
It is not enough to discuss how training in the arts can yield skills that are useful in other contexts. We need to embrace that artists work among us, having parallel careers that support, augment, or diversify their place in the world (as in this excellent post by Gwydion Suilebhan). Not only should there be no shame in doing something else, but we should also welcome the skills that artists bring to the table.
I advocate for training artists on how to translate their skills beyond the arts. Not so that they can “have something to fall back on,” but so that they can thrive in multiple areas.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.