Degree in Self Confidence by
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I was determined to be a Theatre Major. I picked Brandeis because it had an excellent theatre department and plunged right in, auditioning and landing a small role in the first Main Stage show my freshman year. I took acting classes, speech classes, movement.

I also stage managed many plays throughout my four years at Brandeis, which required a great deal of organization, collaboration, sharp thinking, great note taking, as I would write every cue the director gave in the script (called the prompt book) and call all the cues during the run of the show.

The most complicated show I ever called was second semester of my senior year. It was Lenny (which was later an Academy Award-nomiated movie directed by Bob Fosse, starring Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce). It had over 200 called cues. The director didn’t get along with the costume designer and asked me to be the go-between. The female lead, Lenny’s wife, was a stripper. She walked around in heels and bikini for most of the show. The actress was not comfortable walking around in such an undressed state. At this point in my college career, I was fairly notorious for being comfortable in my own skin and modeling nude for art classes, so the director asked me to show her how to walk and look more at ease. In short, I did more than just call cues on that set. I am sure I was awarded departmental honors for my role in stage managing Lenny. I showed a lot of leadership in that production.

Though I had several good roles in plays, I also took all the requirements for my Massachusetts teaching certificate and student taught at Arlington High School first semester of my senior year, so I graduated from college prepared to be a high school English teacher. I knew I didn’t have what it took to go to New York and try to make it as an actor. Besides, I got married a month after graduation and Dan’s life was in Greater Boston.

We settled in the Boston area and I applied, unsuccessfully for teaching jobs. With my credentials, there were none to be had. Desegregation was in full swing in Boston; the Ku Klux Klan was marching (look up Louisa Day Hicks). I did not apply to the Boston school district. I applied to 12 suburban school districts and didn’t hear from any. I begged for, and landed a job at Dan’s company doing data input in the tech sector, as I described in https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/over-educated-under-qualified/. Though I was soon running the small data center, I knew that wasn’t my career objective. I listened attentively, as the man in the office next door, the salesman for the company, talked to clients all day. I knew I could do that.

I talked my way into a sales job selling training materials to the tech industry. They liked my education background. I jokingly said that I could laugh and cry on cue and would use that to my advantage if I didn’t get the sale. What I discovered was my background in front of a stage audience gave me a lot of confidence when I was doing sales presentations in front of executives. With confidence in my material, one is much like the other. I was good on my feet, could field questions, took copious notes, was always prepared, had great follow-through and was not afraid to ask hard questions and, most important of all, ask for the sale. Those skills came from all those years as stage manager.

I moved on to software sales. As my former colleagues will tell you, even to this day, I have never understood the inner workings of computers or software. But I know how to ask questions, have the right people by my side and get the job done. When I interviewed for my next job, the VP asked if I was competitive. I told him, “Not at something at which I have no chance to win, like tennis or golf. But I am competitive as hell at something I have a shot at. Think of me as the little terrier that bites your butt and won’t let go. I am tenacious”. He must have liked that answer, as I was hired. And, for some time, I was the top sales person at that company.

So this theatre major excelled at selling, using the communication skills, organization and follow-through that I learned on and behind the stage in my years at Spingold Theater at Brandeis University.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: Good speeches, teaching certificate, different career, Brandeis

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific story, Betsy. It makes so clear the seeming non-connection between your college major and your career — and how you excelled at both. Makes me wonder how many successful salespeople had previous experience — college major or otherwise — in theater. Indeed, as I think of it, the ruthless sales guys in Glengarry Glen Ross are nothing if not terrific actors as the head for “the close.”

  2. Marian says:

    Great story, Betsy, and I love the connection between gaining your poise in theatre and being able to sell. Interesting, I resisted calls for being a teacher and experienced something similar in the baby bust around the time we graduated. Ironic, isn’t it, that teaching was considered a “safe” job.

  3. Suzy says:

    You made me realize that a degree in Theatre is probably good training for almost any career, or at least those where you are dealing with people. I like your description of the skills you learned – communication, organization, and follow-through – which are important in most aspects of life, not just careers, now that I think about it.

    I also love the anecdote about teaching the female lead in Lenny how to walk around in a bikini. They really should have just given the role to you!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think you are right, Suzy. Being good with people, and having good follow-through and organizational skills would stand one in good stead no matter what the occupation.

      The lead in “Lenny” went to a good-looking blonde grad student (the role was played by Valerie Perrine in the movie). I had my hands full with all the other responsibilities I had on that show. I’m sure I didn’t even audition.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I think your story is highly instructive, Betsy. The qualities that made you successful in theater and as a stage manager were put to good use in your seemingly unrelated career. A person who is tenacious and driven to succeed can be successful in many different aspects of life. Good life lesson!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. Yes, I agree that I learned good life lessons that could be applied to many different arenas and have served me well professionally and beyond, now that I am in volunteer and Board work.

  5. A terrific story, Betsy. I can see that stage managing, as well as many other aspects of both on stage and off stage work, clearly develop the so-called “soft skills” that turn out to be the make or break tools for many different pursuits. Well done!

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