“What kind of skills should we acquire today so we would still be relevant, not just economically but also socially in thirty-forty years?
We don’t have any idea how the world would look like then, except that it would be completely different from today. So, any investment in a narrow skill, a particular skill is a dangerous bet. The best bet is to invest in emotional intelligence and in mental resilience. In the ability to face change, in the ability to change yourself and to constantly reinvent yourself because this is definitely going to be needed, more than in any previous time in history.
Of course the big question is how to learn something like that? It’s not something that you can read in a book or just hear in a lecture.”
— Yuval Noah Harari
Historian, philosopher and bestselling author
The answer to the above question of ‘how to learn something like that’ is theatre, also known as drama. One could also say art and different art forms, but nothing gives a subjective, objective, simple and simulated but complete real-life experience like theatre does.
The most extensively recognised definition of emotional intelligence (EI) is that given by Peter Salovey and John D Mayer and is defined as “the subset of social intelligence (SI) that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions (1990).” EI comprises the power to perceive accurately, evaluate and express emotions, and the ability to comprehend emotions, emotional knowledge and intellectual growth. It also is characterised by self-awareness, mood management, self-motivation, empathy and managing relationships.
Theatre is all about EI and SI. In fact, learning about fundamental human emotions is the first step towards becoming a theatre practitioner. And the deeper, longer one practices in theatre, the more is the complex behaviour of humans revealed in terms of choices, actions, reactions, perceptions and experiences of human beings who are characters of a story.
Democratic Values And Scientific Temper
Theatre nurtures our capability for listening to different sides of a conversation or argument and empathising with the struggles of our fellow human beings regardless of their views. It teaches us about various kind of conflicts in our lives, what happens when they don’t get resolved, and what when they do.
We develop the skill to imagine the outcomes of various choices we might make in our personal, professional, social and political lives. Modern theatre has always aligned itself with openness and freedom. It has a rich tradition of informing and empowering society and the individual against the tyranny of ignorance, convention, bias and authority.
Public Speaking And Communication
A huge part of theatre practice involves becoming better at reading, speaking, pronouncing, enunciating, projecting of voice, emoting, expressing, listening, interacting, imagining and improvising. All these practical skills are advantageous not only for business, but even for day-to-day life.
Stage or even small group performances not only build your confidence as a performer and orator, but also give a major boost to your self-belief and image.
Team Spirit And Cooperation
Making theatre requires a coordinated effort between the writers, actors, director, the light and design team, and many other artists. The process of creating and performing together involves a lot of games and exercises to bring all these people and their efforts in harmony. You learn to trust other human beings better — which is a key to becoming a good team player.
All business is basically storytelling; you not only sell products and services, but also sell stories to convince people to buy the product. That’s why we have the whole advertisement, PR and branding business in existence. Even in our daily lives, we are constantly telling stories to each other, about ourselves and different things in our lives, in order to make and maintain our relationships. We also tell stories to ourselves. What is a personality, if not a story? And theatre is the oldest form of storytelling.
Learnings From Great Literature
Theatre exposes you to writings of the brightest human beings ever. Take Shakespeare, for example. Such great works of art have the power to transform one’s personality.
So, above are few of the many inherent qualities of theatre that can benefit human beings in both their personal and professional lives if they participate in it as creators, performers and spectators. While doing everything it does, theatre is a medium of ‘playful learning’, where you hone your skills at a conscious and subconscious level while having fun with the process.
Forum And Street Theatre
These forms have been helping businesses, organisations and communities across the world to fine-tune their communication, ethics, values, social justice and more. I myself have been part of these forms of theatre in the capacity of an actor, to perform on both business campuses and streets.
Though Harari was speaking about the future in the next 3-4 decades when these skills will become imperative for survival, from my own experience over the past few decades, in which I have grown up in Ajmer, moved to Jaipur and now settled in Mumbai, constantly growing and doing what I love, theatre has been my cornerstone. It has helped me in all spheres of life, especially in my mental resilience and the ability to adapt and reinvent myself.
Let’s also not forget that the coronavirus pandemic has fast forwarded our world already. The future is uncertain, but it has definitely and drastically changed. We can already see the great need and importance of emotional and social Intelligence in this new world.
This a topic for another write-up, but I’ll leave you with something to get started.
Go watch plays in your city and find theatre groups (post lockdown). They are the most friendly people you’ll find. If there are none, then bring your friends together and make a theatre group. Simply start with reading plays, which you can find aplenty online, then graduate to dramatic readings where you can dress, speak and behave like the characters. Use your imagination, create the world around these characters using your human superpower of ‘make-believe’. Have fun playing!