Bill Groener: A Career in Theatre is Not So Bad

By Bill Groener
10 years ago
 Bill Groener: A Career in Theatre is Not So Bad

Back in the seventies when I was attending UC Santa Barbara and majoring in Technical Theatre and Design, my mother would regularly ask me if I really thought that this “theatre stuff” was a good idea.  Like many mothers, I am sure that she really wanted her youngest son to pursue a career in a more stable, more lucrative and more legitimate field like medicine, architecture, engineering, finance or (dare I say it?) law (I’ll resist the temptation for some quick, cheap humor at the expense of lawyers).  I can almost picture a scene where others mothers were bragging about their sons the [pick one] doctor/lawyer/engineer and she had to avert her eyes and mumble something under her breath about her son the theatrical designer.


Aside from my mother, I believe that there were/are a lot of people who believe that the entertainment industry (theatre/film/television/live performances) is populated by flaky artistic types who work late, sleep even later, dress very casually and don’t appear to have a “real job”.


In the more than 40 years since I embarked on my career, I have worked in design and theatrical production, but I have also now worked in what I am positive my mother would have thought were real jobs – College Professor, Executive VP of a major manufacturing firm, President of an international trade association and General Manager of a national systems integration firm responsible for major construction projects.


In all of these roles, I have found that the best – I mean the very BEST – people I have employed or collaborated with were people who came from a theatre background.  Theatre (as I already knew and have since confirmed time and time again) is a tremendous training program for business.  Well-trained theatre people are great problem solvers, they know how to multi-task REALLY WELL, they know how to work within budgets, they know how to create “magic” with very few resources and they certainly know how to meet a deadline.  After all, as we know so well, the curtain goes up at 8pm and the show has to be ready – no excuses.


I have long believed that as liberal arts education should be required of all undergraduates to ensure that they have a well-rounded education.  Such a program teaches a person to think and use all of their talents.  It prepares them for a career and not merely a job.  Unfortunately, specialization too early can make a person shallow, narrow-minded and not particularly interesting.  If that liberal arts education includes a healthy dose of theatre and theatrical production – then so much the better for all of the reasons already mentioned.


My mother passed away in 1990.  I suspect that she would agree with my premise and would be pleased with what her youngest son has become and what he has accomplished with his degrees in design and technical theatre.



Bill Groener is the General Manager for the Systems and Design Group within 4Wall Entertainment Lighting.  He is also the Vice Chair of the PLASA Governing Body, the Vice Chair of PLASA operating in North America and a board member of the PLASA Foundation.

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