A single performance in theatre requires many diverse skillsets from many diverse people. There’s simply so much young actors and artists have to learn about the craft itself just to get through auditions that spending time on learning things that aren’t immediately connected to performing skills can seem like a waste. However, it’s precisely because shows require such diversity that learning everything you can about nearly every subject you can will always be of an actor’s benefit. If you’re ready to take your theatrical training beyond the basics, try moving away from acting, singing, and dancing for a bit and looking to these adjacent areas of knowledge instead!
1. Human Anatomy
I recommend every performer learn as much about anatomy as possible. As a performer, your entire body is your instrument. Your entire body must be engaged to sing, dance, and act. No matter where you plan to work in the theatre, your understanding of your own body will always be of benefit to you. Learning about anatomy gives you a better sense of how your body functions, helping you use your body efficiently and to its full capacity, while also preventing injury.
For singers and musical theatre performers, I especially recommend looking into vocal anatomy. Understanding precisely how the voice functions is a powerful thing! You can effectively learn how to “hack” the underlying structure of your voice and use it to your full advantage. It can also explain and make concrete some of the weird tips from your voice teachers you’ve never fully understood. For example, many voice teachers will talk about proper breathing. Once you understand the action of the lungs and the movement of the ribs to accommodate them, you can get a better sense of how proper breathing looks and feels.
As a small bonus point, I highly recommend learning a bit about body mapping— this will help you translate your anatomical knowledge to concrete behaviors!
Directors, writers, and actors alike can all find use for training in psychology. Similar to learning anatomy, learning about psychology will help you understand how and why people work, but on a mental level. When it comes to analyzing characters and developing blocking, your understanding of psychology can create more realistic characterizations.
A large part of acting is stepping into another person’s shoes. Some basic psychology knowledge can help you do this more effectively, and move beyond the realm of feelings and emotions to scientific human behavior. One isn’t necessarily better than the other! However, if you find your acting feels overly charged or superficial, psychology might be able to help you.
Understanding psychology can also be of benefit to actors offstage. Psychology can help you understand the best practices for learning and memorizing lines, or impressing casting agents in the audition room. Understanding how your brain works and how others’ brains work is truly of benefit to anyone!
3. Speech Pathology and Linguistics
Though these are two different fields, I am lumping them together in this article because they will serve us similar purposes. Just as understanding how the singing voice works benefits singers, understanding how your speaking voice works benefits anyone who speaks. Actors do a lot of speaking. By understanding the structures that produce sound and the best practices for manipulating these structures to get desired results, you can improve your vocal stamina and volume with reduced risk of injury. Say goodbye to strained throats caused by long rehearsals!
Both of these subject areas will touch upon the anatomy of the vocal tract and how our mouths shape sounds. Speech pathology is as a discipline focussed on the correct production of speech and fixing problems therein, whereas linguistics is about language and sound as it relates to language. These are slight shades of difference to the untrained eye. A beginner’s understanding of either field can prove beneficial for anyone who uses their voice on the regular.
4. Marketing and Networking
As an actor, part of your job is to effectively “sell” yourself in an audition. How well you manage to perfect this process can have a big impact on your acting career! Therefore, becoming well-versed in how to market yourself is of dire importance for every actor.
Learning to perfect “the art of the pitch” will benefit you no matter what role you occupy in the theater. Actors pitch themselves and their characterizations to directors in auditions. Directors must pitch show choices and interpretations to artistic boards or their casts. Writers must pitch their own shows to producers. Designers must pitch their art to directors and creators. In school theatre, teachers must work to pitch the entire program to their administration and community to prove their importance! No matter where you work in theatre, you’ll find some knowledge of how to market your ideas useful. Otherwise, someone else better at it will eclipse you!
Nowadays online marketing is relatively easy, which means you have to work extra hard to stand out. Familiarizing yourself with social media algorithms and content crafting is important for anyone seeking to be seen online. Whether you are looking to expand your school program, advertise your new theatre company, or build a personal website to go with your acting resume, marketing knowledge is your ticket!
Acting is notoriously about who you know rather than what you know. Master the arts of networking with the right people and marketing yourself to them accordingly, and you may find lucrative returns.
5. Wellness, nutrition, and personal health
Basically, “how to take care of yourself.”
When your body is your instrument and you submit a photo of your face with every resume, your physical and emotional wellbeing is important. Your physical fitness will effect your stamina on stage and impact the kind of dancing and blocking you can keep up with. If you don’t exercise regularly in some form, you are handicapping yourself on stage. There is plenty to be said about the superficial beauty-queen side of acting, but leave all that aside for a moment– It is important that you are at your very best so you can be at your very best. This means eating well, getting proper rest and hydration, taking care of yourself when ill, and finding a physical activity that speaks to you.
You also need to be able to take care of your emotions and mental health. Acting means accepting a constant stream of rejection and criticism. You won’t be able to handle the work if you can’t handle this. Familiarize yourself with coping mechanisms or seek help to do so!
Acting is a notoriously lean profession. It doesn’t necessarily have to be! Keeping track of personal finances is a skill absolutely every actor should become intimately familiar with. I’m certainly no expert, so I have relatively little advice to offer here, except that this is absolutely crucial if you plan on attempting to make a living from theatre. Find good resources to learn from and spend wisely!
There is always more to learn! Because performing requires so many miscellaneous skills and benefits from the performer experiencing many things in life, actors shouldn’t discount the opportunity to learn about anything. All learning can be of benefit, even if indirectly. Take the time to learn something new every day!