Don’t Underestimate Your Transferrable Skills
By Liam Klenk
Theater and show practitioners, performers and technicians alike, acquire an abundance of valuable skills over the years. These skills help us master difficult shows and creations. They help us think on our feet. They help us succeed on a daily basis in an ever-changing environment. Often, however, we underestimate how much we know. And, how transferrable and useful many of our skills are.
The other week, I interviewed Maggi Sietsma about her career. After the interview, we got to chatting about transferrable skills. About how they can help build your career.
We explored and discussed the subject mainly based on Maggi’s experiences, from the perspective of an artist and dancer.
However, this is again highly transferrable. It holds true for anyone who is working for shows and live entertainment.
Let’s take a closer look at a selection of core skills:
Developing your sense of curiosity and a desire to keep learning and growing are profoundly important.
This also goes towards being curious when someone offers you a job. You have never done it in this shape or form before? Be curious to find out more.
It is all about being open to face new challenges. Being confident in your already accumulated, abundant transferrable skills. Whilst at the same time being aware that you still have a lot to learn. Knowing that you will find people who will help you through this. And never being afraid to ask questions.
Adaptability and Flexibility
In live entertainment we all have to be incredibly flexible and adaptable.
Dancers, for example, work with different ideas, choreographers, different movement languages. They have to be flexible physically as well as emotionally and intellectually. If they are not able to be flexible, they won’t be able to show or give the choreographer what he or she wants.
Dancers have to be fluid.
Many are now also learning to do aerial acts, for example. That adaptability becomes something that is incredibly transferrable.
As artistic director, you have to be adaptable to the changing tastes of people, changing media, changing forms of expression. You have to adapt to new trends in creation and communication.
Keeping abreast of those trends and staying informed is a skill you again can take with you into a different job.
Working within the arts, creativity isn’t just a pursuit that is valuable for one person. Creativity is vital every day to achieve success in the work place.
Creative fluency is needed absolutely everywhere.
Being trained as a dancer and as an artist, you are trained in improvisation and quick responses. You learn to come up with creative solutions.
While working for a show, you see creative masters at work and learn from them every day. Set designers, choreographers, make up artists, costume designers, etc. Watching them work their magic, you absorb far more than you think.
Creativity is a language. Artists and performers learn it instinctively. Over the course of their career, they learn to communicate in creativity.
Being a choreographer, for example, is all about decision making and problem solving.
And problem solving in choreography is not unlike solving problems in everyday life.
For the process of artistic creation, it is crucial to the work making sense and fulfilling its objective. In life, it is crucial to surviving and thriving.
Obviously, challenges are always in front of us whatever job we do and wherever we go. Problem solving skills can help us understand and tackle them.
As a performer you are automatically a teacher, because you always end up transmitting information through your body, verbally, and through your excitement.
Without even realizing it, you constantly share skills and information with your peers. To support the artistic vision as much as to ensure safety and consistency throughout the team.
Dancers, acrobats, performers need to develop discipline. It sticks with them their entire lives and is incredibly important.
Performers are also taught to work in a collective environment. They are taught to approach everything with a can-do attitude. “I can do this!”
Then, as they are working with their colleagues in a team it becomes “We can do this!”
Everything becomes very much a collaborative effort.
This ingrained skill is an asset when you are called upon to become a leader. You learn to harness the team skills. You see what other people bring to the party.
As a choreographer, for example, you see things globally. You see the strengths in others. You push them to reach their goals.
True leaders see the best in people and teach them to harness their very strong personal skills and potential.
The only difference when you get to higher leadership levels is that you have to be willing to take ever more responsibility to make things happen.
Having good communication skills is a great plus, not just in live entertainment.
To be a team player is essential when you choreograph, for example, because you need to work with your performers, technicians, designers, musicians, stage management, etc.
You need to develop strong working relationships in which you all work towards one clear vision.
You work collaboratively all the time. As a director, choreographer, artist, stage manager, technician.
In the digital age, communications are being transformed enormously. But, even if you are using digital communications more than before, it doesn’t mean that you are foregoing what you have learned on a face-to-face level. At the end of the day it is just another medium to carry the communication.
To be proficient in communication is a must for a good manager. You need to have empathy. And, you need to be able to connect with people.
One important part of communication is to give feedback and be able to get to the bottom of things together. To find a way through problems, without laying blame.
You have to determine your priorities.
What is important to you and to what you are doing and creating? What is useful?
And what is less important or even unnecessary?
In the end, it is the only way you can create. By simplifying, focussing, prioritizing, de-cluttering, as you go.
Here again, we can use a choreographer, creative director analogy. The strength of your final piece depends on you being able to determine what is useful to what you want to express in your choreography, your story.
In other walks of life and work as well, being well versed in information management will help get you there. It is the selection of the most important aspects and needs for whatever it is you need to get the job done.
All of these skills we have talked about are soft skills. But they are just as important – if not more so – than many of the hard skills you will have to develop, too.
Then, thinking further, there is empathy, ethics, honesty, courage, risk-taking, fearlessness, humility, and every now and then the ability to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”
The list goes on and learning is a life-long journey.
More from Liam Klenk:
Join TheatreArtLife to access unlimited articles, our global career center, discussion forums, and professional development resource guide. Your investment will help us continue to ignite connections across the globe in live entertainment and build this community for industry professionals. Learn more about our subscription plans.
Love to write or have something to say? Become a contributor with TheatreArtLife. Join our community of industry leaders working in artistic, creative, and technical roles across the globe. Visit our CONTRIBUTE page to learn more or submit an article.