Staging a career? Arts training develops key skills

Students perform in a production of “Oklahoma!” at Mesa State College. Actors often learn important communication and interpersonal skills that make them successful in the business world, (Photo courtesy Mesa State College)

So you have a degree in art, theater or dance. Now what?

As head of the theater department at Mesa State College, Tim Pinnow is used to hearing such questions. They can come from students worried about paying the bills while also pursuing a career they enjoy. They can come from parents worried about whether they’ll have to support would-be actors after they earn their diplomas. Moreover, they can come from businesses seeking employees proficient in math, science or customer service.

Those same businesses also provide an answer.

“I know multi-major national companies who look for theater majors,” said Pinnow, describing the feedback he receives from companies that attend trade shows.

Just as student athletes often learn leadership, persistence and other skills that are important for success after college, students who perform on stage can offer attributes that companies desire. Interpersonal communication, verbal skills and teamwork are all skills that can develop on stage that are necessary in the fields of customer service, human services or sales.

The skills can also be used while pursuing a career in the arts.

“I grew up here and fell in love with theater and music and dance,” said Connie Monroe, who’s strived to earn an income working in the arts.

Tim Pinnow

Like many successful ventures, it wasn’t easy. After earning a degree in modern dance at Brigham Young University, she moved to Philadelphia, earning a master’s degree in dance, choreography and performance at Temple University. Her next step was to work in the admissions department at Temple. She later moved back to Colorado, taking a position with the Colorado Council of the Arts in Denver. She worked with a music guild, assisting teachers in schools.

“It gives children an opportunity to express themselves in a new way,” Monroe said.

She’s co-promoting the Grand Valley Performing Arts Festival on the Mesa State campus Aug. 4 to 7 and has been hired to teach college classes in the fall semester.

“It’s great to see dance in the mainstream media,” said Monroe, alluding to such television programs as “Dancing With The Stars” that prove that attention to dance can result in large profits as well as artistic satisfaction.

Felicia Sabartinelli-Abeyta is a native of Delta, an aspiring actress who followed the lure of New York City. She lived in the Big Apple for awhile. Like Monroe, she ended up back in Western Colorado. She didn’t find much opportunity to act outside of plays at the college, so she looked to Denver. Now, she and her husband attend performances and look for acting jobs a couple of times each month.

“It’s a chance for me to build my résumé and to make connections in Denver,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sabartinelli-Abeyta works as the public art administrator for Art on the Corner, a project funded by the Downtown Development Authority. She sees an opportunity for more arts and cultural offerings in Grand Junction. She laments the closing of the Cabaret Dinner Theater downtown and thinks the town could support another similar business.

“The artists build it back up,” she said, alluding to how artists usually figure out opportunities the public will financially support.

“I think theater will come back,” said Kat Rhein, a member of the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture.

In fact, many performers relish the idea of becoming their own bosses. It’s not unusual for theater majors to form businesses with people with which they’ve worked on stage.

“Many have started their own theaters,” said Pinnow, adding the Grand Valley has seen several theaters spring up as actors sought ways to continue working in the field while also paying the bills.

And there’s always the stereotypical waiter or waitress job that can augment income while an aspiring actor or musician seeks a big break. While relatively few wait tables anymore, such an occupation can be more lucrative than many realize, said Pinnow. He said a friend in New York City works four hours a night at a restaurant and makes well above an average income when including tips.

Still others pursue the arts strictly as an adjunct venture, doing it for the love of the craft as much as for a few extra bucks.

David Durham, a full-time real estate agent, has expanded his work hours by playing guitar and singing for the King n Trio.

It’s literally a labor of love, as the group donates most of its proceeds to local charities.The group has donated an estimated $200,000 from playing at the Avalon Theater and other venues.

“Ten years ago, I was president of Rotary and I noticed there were several other folks in the club singing and playing guitar,” Durham said.

The rest is history, and Durham has simple advice to anyone looking for direction in life. “Find something you enjoy doing and do something good with it,” he said.

Such is the goal of many an aspiring artist, and Mesa County is filled with examples of people earning income while pursuing their passions.