The saying goes: “Jack of all trades, master of none”.
It sounds fairly negative out loud, with a general undercurrent of 'if you do a bit of everything, you’ll only ever be mediocre'. Over the years, its come to be a bit of an insult, implying that the Jack themselves can’t focus on one thing or make up your mind on a career path.
Originally, this saying was longer: “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.
This is the saying I live by with acting, and I honestly think its one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made. So I thought I’d get out my metaphorical scalpel and deconstruct my train of thought to give you guys some advice.
It’s What I Like
I was lucky enough to be in a very unique theatre course that - unfortunately - no longer runs.
It gave us a taste of everything! Acting, script writing, teaching, directing! You name it, there was a compulsory unit for it. I loved everything I tried, but I always went back to acting. It’s my true love, but I wouldn’t have been able to find that out without trying a bit of everything. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and nothing is more true when you get to see what you love doing from a different perspective.
A lot of my classmates also found their callings. Some found that teaching brought them more joys than the stresses of being on stage. Others could create infinite worlds out of a few lighting changes and have never looked back. Mastering in one thing, means you never get to find out if you’re meant for something different.
Employability and Reliabilty
The biggest benefit I’ve found so far is my employability in the industry. I can happily say on my resume that I have experience at a university level in acting, stage managing, directing, costume design and set building. Meaning I can apply to a bunch of different jobs and therefore pay my bills somewhat regularly.
It also means that even if I’m in a production in one capacity, I can take on another role should the need arise.
I’ve always tried to turn my hands to different skills when it comes to theatre making if you haven’t gotten that point yet.
I’ve flicked switches on a lighting board, I’ve pricked my fingers with needles making costumes and I’ve worn the stage manager headset as well. I now have an unwavering respect for what all those other roles do. It's also improved my patience, because I am aware that they’re just doing their job to the best of their ability. Because none of these jobs are easy, and I know that from personal experience.
Oftentimes, it means I become a sounding board and a bit of a shoulder to cry on in the dark times of production week when everyone feels like they need 8 pairs of hands.
Now, I know that not everyone has the benefit of this university experience. I know, actually, that no one will again - because they cut the course. But my point is: being an all-rounder will not only help your employability, it expands your skillset in each of those disciplines. An actor who knows directing is easier to direct. A lighting operator who knows acting understand cues better, can feel the rise and fall of a script. A stage manager who has done all of these things is better able to judge and respect what each of those disciplines can do - and can mesh them together better.
Your experience of theatre becomes more and more complete the more diverse your roles. And you may yet find something that you didn't know you enjoyed.
So, if you find yourself in a slump of acting, or teching, or otherwise, why not take a look at the other roles? Try a stage-manager role? Give the sound board a go! Do something new!
Push those boundaries!