Today on Yahoo there was an article on "Useless Degrees" one could earn. You can read the whole article here. Coming in at number three on the list, was a degree in theater. Following is the Theater section of the article.
Useless Degree #3 - Theater
Number of Students Awarded Degree in 2008-2009: 89,140
Typical coursework: Theater, acting, directing, design, playwriting, communications, dramatic literature
Here's the good news: Sign up for theater as a major and at least you'll be really good at acting like you have a job.
Here's the bad news: Actors endure long periods of unemployment and frequent rejection, says the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department goes on to say that because earnings are erratic for actors, producers, and directors, many hold second jobs. In other words, how do you feel about waiting tables?
Of course, says Shatkin, "People go into this with such a love for it you can't stop them."
Total Number of Actors/Producers/Directors in 2008: 155,100
Projected Change in Number of Jobs 2008-2018: +16,900
Percent Change: +11
My first question is, where did they get their facts? How can they come up with a number like 155,100 as being the total number of actors, producers, directors? Let's look at the actual facts.
SAG, the Screen Actor's Guild, has a combined membership with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) of 44,000 (source)
DGA, The Directors Guild of America, has approximately 14,500 members (source)
IATSE, the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (again, I am a member), has a membership of over 150,000 (source)
Just there are 257,500 members. Now, let's assume some of these members overlap, as I do. I'll be generous and say remove a third of that number. That leaves around 172,000 people who are members of a theatrical union. Now how many people out there are NOT a member of a union, and are working as a theater person? From my lay perspective (26 years in the industry), it is at LEAST 3 to 1. So there are an additional 500,000 non-union people in the US who work in theater , making our grand total come to 700,000 jobs, give or take a few. That seems like a pretty big job market.
The article also said that there are long periods of unemployment, erratic earning potential, and frequent rejection. So many have second jobs. As they put it, "How do you feel about waiting tables?" While there are theater people who have service jobs, several also have a multi-faceted career in the industry. Actors who are also stage managers, designers who are technicians, singers who are stitchers. But this can be said about many an industry. This is hardly something relegated only to those who have gotten a degree in theater.
While I do not think that a degree in theater is necessary, (I never went to college), I also do not think it is a useless degree. Like any other program, it is both the quality of the instruction and experience, as well as the effort one puts into their own education. A person can learn in a variety of ways, from a variety of sources. Myself, I learned by surrounding myself with people who knew more than I did, and were more experienced. I continue to do so on a daily basis. In fact, I just signed up for a class. I love to learn. It keeps me sharp, and relevant.
Mr. Terance Loose, who wrote this article, has a few errors to be held accountable for. He lists as the source of his article a story published by The Daily Beast.com, an online wing of Newsweek. (source) For whatever reason, he wanted to change the order from the original story. Here is how they broke it down.
TOP 20 USELESS DEGREES
1 - Journalism
2 - Horticulture
3 - Agriculture
4 - Advertising
5 - Fashion Design
6 - Child and Family Studies
7 - Music
8 - Mechanical Engineering Technology
9 - Chemistry
10 - Nutrition
11 - Human Resources
12 - Theater
13 - Art History
14 - Photography
15 - Literature
16 - Art
17 - Fine Arts
18 - Psychology
19 - English
20 - Animal Science
It would seem that the biggest waste of education dollars (According to the Daily Beast) would be IN HIS OWN FIELD - that of journalism. And yet he does not even include that in his story. Funny... truth in journalism is something he should have learned in school. Unless he didn't, in which case his degree is worthless, as they did not teach him the basics of fair reporting. Or he did not go to school, in which case he would have benefited from learning that lesson.
I do not believe that any education is ever useless. Perhaps you are not working in the area you studied. Maybe you are not working at all. However, everyone is better for having the opportunity to learn. And therefore, no degree is useless. Not even theater.