What do you do with an MFA in Theatre?

WVU Theatre Department - Lighting Design - Julie Booth 1995

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – WVU Theatre Department – Lighting Design – Julie Booth 1997

Yeah — I”ve got an “M” and an “A” but an “F” not a “B”…. (F=Fine Arts ; “B” = Business) Whenever I interview for a gig as a Business Analyst, Strategist, Usability Specialist or Web Analytics Geek, the interviewer ALWAYS asks me some version of this question : “how did you get from theatre to <insert job title here> ?”. — their inner monologue really is something like: “how the hell did some drama major grow up to be a consultant who works with Business — and, most important, should I trust her?

I Say, “Yup!”   Earning an MFA in theatrical design and production taught me how to understand and focus on an objective, and to communicate with an audience, and to create experiences. When I get a blank look,  I ramble into how I”ve been “classically trained” to create an “environment for the agent of the action” as a student of Aristotelian philosophy.  And then I talk about the bazillions of script and character analysis that I was forced to do as an undergrad .. and how understanding the character”s desire, motivations, tasks and wishes grow out of observation and research. LOTS of research.  To describe this I talk about how Tom Hanks stayed in character for six days in boot camp for “Saving Private Ryan.” — an extreme example of contextual inquiry. Blah Blah…..

I am usually sweating now. If the person is nodding, they are usually understanding the relationship between theatre, design, and user research / experience. But Business Strategy? Process?

Here is the important part; a successful career in theatre, requires that one can successfully create, innovate, and deliver an outstanding product in a high-stress, collaborative, often chaotic environment — given extreme deadlines and make money for the producers.

Can’t do this? FAIL. ( See Mel Brooks” 1968 Movie “The Producers”) I”ve taken what I”ve learned as a Drama Major – and focused on optimizing user experience for business success…. Some of the things I can help you do:

  • Gather the user measures needed to understand potential and existing customers better
  • Improve the user experience of an existing product or web site
  • Help to develop the process and the skills needed to create excellent products that people like to use
  • Use research and usability evaluation techniques to help your customers do what they need to do for you to benefit your business
  • Use measurement and analytics to report on the success of your Web sites and applications


  1. I did. Mary. Both of those email addresses will work. thanks.


  2. Interesting description of your resume. You must have learned a lot about entrepreneurship & teamwork with your backround in theater. One of the arguments for keeping the arts in schools is that students develop their own standards of excellence, but theater is all about collaboration. I would think that would be extremely valuable & unique set of skills you bring in working with your clients. IT folks aren’t often known for their “people skills.”


  3. Hey… Great to find your website! I’m also a theatre guy turned UX designer – good to know I’m not the only one who took that path! I also saw the parallels you discussed… so great article and another good possibility for all those theatre majors out there looking for an idea for jobs.

    I only got a BA in Theatre though, and now I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth it to pursue a Masters in HCI/UX. I have a pretty good/secure job right now that doesn’t really value the degree – but will pay for it if I want it. I’m kind of wondering whether it’ll be worth the time and labor for 3 years to do it. What do you think?


    1. Hey…Thanks for responding. Always good to know Theatre ex-pats who are doing other things. Please pass on this link to anyone you think might be interested. I’ve been thinking of putting together a tour of people to visit college theatre depts …. “things to convince your parents that a theatre major isn’t a complete waste of their valuable tuition dollars…”

      Anyhow. For what it is worth, I think desk time is more valuable at this point. I briefly thought about getting a degree and was rebuked by my spouse 🙂 …. If your company pays for it … you might go for it. I love school!

      Here is something that might be of interest… HFI: Human Factors International. They have a Certified Usability Analyst program. I got my CUA this Spring — and if I ever get to blog again, will write about it. Check them out here: http://www.humanfactors.com/certification/CUA.asp

      I will check out your blog later today. I got to run to a standup with the Scrum team. Keep in touch 🙂


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