You don’t have to get into theatre to take up a full-time acting career to derive the benefits of it. You can stay in your day job and still squeeze out the benefits of being an actor.
Management trainer, Alina Dhamani, shares her career change story and how being part of theatre helped her find a career she likes (and drop one that she was formally trained in). Being a merit-lister in school and peer pressure pushed her into the Chartered Accountancy field. But she realised that it wasn’t her cup of tea and decided to do something about it.
How theatre acting helped my career & improved my day job
by Alina Dhamani
Chubby cheeks? Check.
Rosy lips? Check.
Teachers’ pet? Check.
Is that me? YES YES YES!!
These are some of the attributes which most of my school teachers have always used to describe me as a school going kid, even now after so many years, everytime I bump into them!
Academics and extra curricular activities, I had the best of BOTH worlds then. Stage fear, nervousness, anxiety were alien to me. To the young and vulnerable me (who was already too flamboyant, a loud thinker and an extrovert), having been selected for intra-school and inter-school elocution & extempore was too fascinating.
I was clearly very fond of the audience, the stage, the mike, the applause, the appreciation. Almost effortlessly I got into school plays during concerts, taking my fondness to the next level.
Securing a position in the MERIT list in SSC exams.
Being from a perpetual business-middle-class-family.
Excelling in academics throughout.
A gang of highly ambitious and studious friends.
Being the most obedient child in the family.
(Read never wanted to do anything against parents’ will)
I had all the factors working towards compelling me to decide a suitable career for myself at the age of 15! Lured by the shorter study span and high returns on investment, the 15 year old me chose Chartered Accountancy.
I set afoot in an extremely competitive (read stressful) professional journey at that young age, lead by high aspirations and an equal determination. This however required me to focus more on academics and professional life over my happy go lucky social life. (If you have an aspiring CA around you, you will surely understand what I mean)
So the once socially active girl was now compelled to put all the extra curricular activities on hold and focus on achieving her professional goals. After working for 4 years in the field of audit, taxation and finance, monotony struck! Monotony and I have been the best of friends since a coon’s age!
I tend to get bored of anything and everything too quick!
I finally realized that the decision I made a couple of years ago isn’t my cup of tea! I finally accepted that I needed to do what excites me and not do something half-heartedly or out of no interest.
Well, no one is to be blamed for this, “15 years” probably is not the age to conclude what you would enjoy doing for the rest of your lives.
But for a girl who has been so ambitious since quite a vulnerable age, it was frustrating to make a CHANGE in career. I quit my job, and started searching for a job which would excite me enough to take it up without giving a thought to the pay scale.
The much required break from work allowed me to explore & dig into my interests & resume all the activities I’d put on hold.
During all these years, I missed being on stage and my love for public speaking the most. I soon realized what I had been missing since the past 4 years- communication, people skills and public speaking of course. I was sick of spending long days in front of a computer screen, crunching numbers and preparing reports.
After returning from that residential program the first step I took was to get in touch with one of the most prominent theatre groups in my city. I had been watching their plays since I was a teen. I had always wished to be a part of each and every play I had seen.
In fact, having noticed my keen interest and performance in the school plays, one of my school teachers, who had directed a lot of my school plays, introduced me to the members of this theatre group right after I completed school.
Unfortunately because of my coaching classes for competitive exams I couldn’t take up theatre then.
Impulsively I sent a message through Facebook to the founder-director-actor-producer of the theatre group about my interest to get associated with his theatre group. And VOILA! Within the next few days I was already a part of the theatre group, preparing for my first play with them!
I hadn’t really done anything on the spur of the moment ever before, but I was thoroughly enjoying this. There wasn’t any formal audition, I just met and interacted with the founder and I landed up getting casted in the same meeting itself. What more could I ask for.
There sure were jitters before my first play, I was doing this after 7 long years. Also, this wasn’t any school drama, there is much more professionalism, sincerity, dedication, practice required when you are a part of an esteemed theatre group. (After all it ain’t no nukkad naatak!) The strong feeling of accomplishment & content after a good performance, the applause, the appreciation, I fell in love with everything all over again.
Breaking the shell and getting into serious theatre, provided me a lot of momentum for the path ahead. I started believing in myself more than before, it came as a re-assurance to me, that I could still try out something new and succeed, that it wasn’t TOO LATE for exploring and experimenting with a new job.
Having regained the confidence, I took up a new job, this time no excel sheets & no number crunching. A company hired me as a management trainer.
“Management Trainer” too vague? Well as a management trainer, I am working into direct marketing and human resource management. I finally was able to land up in a job which matched my character traits- communication & people skills.
I finally stopped struggling to balance life at work and outside work & started taking efforts to make the best out of both.
Although my new job demanded much more time and dedication than my previous job, I now looked forward to each day to begin early with office and to get into rehearsals for plays after office. I used to leave home by 7.30 am and call it a day by 8.00 pm, after theatre rehearsals, excited more than exhausted.
Let me give you an insight of what I do when with my theatre buddies. If there is a major theatre production coming up, the rehearsals begin well ahead in time, five to six weeks in advance. The initial days involve script readings and some fun exercises to help interact more effectively with the co-actors. Every play comes with its peculiar sense of excitement.
Starting from script readings during the early days, to character sketch analysis, to stage blocking, to learning lines, forgetting lines, imbibing the character sketch, giving inputs, accepting criticism, nervousness and butterflies in the stomach before the curtains raise- it is one hell of a roller coaster ride!
So far, I have been privileged to contribute to the excellent group as an actor and a compere.
My director rightly puts it:
Acting is all about reacting.
It is indeed about how you react to every situation. To be a good actor, you need to be extremely observant, too. I was astonished to learn how observant my director is. Even the minutest changes in the position of characters, stage properties, dialogues couldn’t go unnoticed by him.
The fun with the theatre group is not just restricted to the rehearsals, together we go for dinners, movies and picnics. When a few members of the group are to perform on stage, the others make it a point to encourage them by being a part of the audience.
“A good actor is a thinking actor”, said my director. This has helped so much at work too. Every action is followed by a thought process. It helps to avoid hasty and impulsive decisions.
Theatre has positively influenced my professional life to a great extent. First and foremost, it gave me a boost to take up a new job, which contrasted with my earlier job.
Interaction with new people, from various age groups, social and academic backgrounds has contributed immensely to my professional life. Communication skills being the most important pre requisite in the field of human resource and marketing management that I took up.
There is so much of emphasis on discipline in our theatre group. Obviously, when so many people are investing their time and efforts, the producer has put so much at stake, nobody would compromise on any front. Respecting each other’s dedication requires you to reciprocate the same. You HAVE to be on time, no matter what.
Punctuality now comes naturally to me. Whenever there is a professional meeting, I am the first one to arrive, ahead of the predetermined time. In fact, my boss did appreciatively mention about my punctuality during staff meetings 😀 Credits to the theatre disciplinary!
Patience is one quality I have always wished I had. During my earlier job, I was criticized for being impatient time and again. However, my new job demands a lot of patience. Dealing with idiots during recruitment drives and handling them during induction was never my cup of tea. But I slowly started learning to be patient.
How? When you are on stage with 10 other personalities, some new to theatre, some extremely matured professionals theatre artists, when the actor whose lines were before you forgets those and you lose the chance to say your longest and most favorite dialogue, you need patience! When you fight with your boss to leave office on time so that you aren’t late for the rehearsals & you reach the rehearsal spot only to find that majority of the cast is late, u need patience at your rescue!
I soon realized what went wrong during the earlier years in my career was that I did not take up anything that could cancel out the monotony of work. Now that I have something to do out of work which I love and I look forward to, I don’t feel the burden of work, though it’s hectic to balance both.
After having worked for 3 years under a boss who was extremely stone-hearted, blunt and merciless, participating in theatre brought back empathy to me. I am so thankful for this. Whether it’s me as an actor or me in the audience, theatre makes me empathize so much with the characters. It is effortless. Empathy makes you a better team member as well as a better leader at work.
At times I have also had to bear the brunt of criticism and rejection when I acted or sounded or looked dumb on stage. It took some time but I am now able to accept it and improvise.
It’s not that I was shy as a child, I had always stood out as a confident little girl. Theatre helped me use my confidence and portray it the right way.
There sure is a preferred set of skills for anyone to get into theatre. Unlike the pre conceived notion, having a great body and a beautiful face isn’t one of them. Theatre is not modeling. Its easier to be a part of theatre as an actor if you are confident, have a clear diction & a reasonably good memory (learning the lines is a tough job!).
There is so much more than acting when it comes to theatre- you could contribute as a script writer, script translator, stage designer, costume designer, choreographer, director, photographer or you could get into stage management, lights and sound.
We have so many people working in various areas and contributing to theatre, however only a few of them have taken those roles professionally as well. Most of the theatre members have a very contrasting career- some are engineers, architects, students, businessmen, professors, journalists, teachers, doctors, etc. I am happy to be a part of this contrariety.
I have always enjoyed doing distinct activities since schooldays. Too much of one thing invites monotony. I don’t seek to search for activities which overlap with my profession. If something interests me, I try and persuade it. It brings me happiness & content. In fact, in my opinion getting into two distinct fields at the same time helps you learn so much from each field and apply it to the other.
Taking up theatre brings a lot of improvement in self- personally as well as professionally. Improvements do not happen miraculously though; it takes time, subjective from one person to the other. I grasp and implement the good and the bad both very easily. So in my life the improvements became evident quite soon.
Theatre makes you a better social animal, boosts your confidence, makes you a better leader as well as a team member, teaches you patience, spontaneity & brings discipline to your life.
I’m so glad I decided to revive my relationship with my two favorites- the stage & the mike!
I am so far thrilled with the theatre experience, but as of now I don’t intend to take it up as a full time option. However, there are a few members of our group who are full-time actors, directors, writers.
If you are reading this, the purpose of sharing my story with you will be accomplished if you take up anything which you love or loved to do a few years ago, but couldn’t resume because of unavoidable reasons then, or some activity which is long pending to be checked off your bucket list.
I want you to remember this:
80% of the fuel in airplanes is consumed only during take offs. The rest of the journey requires merely 20% of the fuel.
My experience approves this, it does take a lot of courage to begin anything new, but the rest just follows effortlessly.
When is your flight of passion taking off?