Updated: Nov 23, 2021
This is part 1 in this blog series exploring the connection between the arts and veterinary medicine. Stay tuned for the remaining parts, set to be published over the next few months.
“Cue 1 ready; in 3-2-1, go.”
The stage cue described above was the opening sentence of my personal statement in my veterinary school application. Would you believe me if I said prior to deciding on pursuing veterinary medicine, I was going to pursue a career in theatrical stage production?
My involvement in theatre first began in high school, where I was in a performing arts program with a focus in Stage Production. Through the program, I gained hands-on experience in lighting and sound design, stage management, and event production. Any event that went through the Auditorium, whether it was a stage play/musical, club talent show, or even a school assembly, us students had the opportunity to run every aspect of the event. Out of all the events, my favorite ones were the stage plays and musicals. I loved the community, the entertainment, the stories and messages of the shows, and the work to bring a show to life.
I continued my involvement in theatre while attending undergrad at Penn State. I was a member of the Penn State Thespians, a completely student-run theatre organization, and also helped form the Performing Arts Council (PAC). PAC is an organization whose goal is to break down the walls between performing arts organizations and promote collaboration across the performing arts genres. It is through these organizations that I learned that the auditorium is a laboratory for life skills. How might you ask? Let’s explore some of those skills together with direct application.
To me, working together on a show is the definition of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are so many moving parts to put on a show. In the scope of a stage musical, there is the technical team working to design and build the set, gather the necessary props, design and cue the lights and sound, and sew the costumes. There is the Front of House team that is responsible for initiating the patron experience through excellent customer service, a welcoming attitude and inviting smile. There is the rehearsal team, a combination of both more technical people like the stage managers and stagehands, and artistic visionaries such as the director, choreographer and musical director. Finally, there is the cast of wonderfully talented actors and actresses, dancers and singers who bring the show to life. Truly a T.E.A.M, together everyone achieves more.
The role that I attribute to teaching me the most about teamwork is my time spent as stage manager. With the Penn State Thespians, the stage manager is responsible for coordinating all rehearsal scheduling, recording blocking (how the cast members are moving about on the stage), coordinating all on stage activities such as scene changes, and calling the lightning and sound cues as the show progresses through the script. The stage manager often acted as the bridge between the technical and rehearsal teams, which meant I had to work closely with many different teams and groups of people. It was through this experience that I learned how to work efficiently in a team full of different personalities, how to leverage and maximize an individual’s specific skill set and communicate effectively.
One of the most important components of a theatrical production is communication. I think about communication in theatre and how it has helped me in veterinary medicine in two ways: the first being the importance of communicating clearly, concisely, and efficiently. The second, becoming a master of storytelling. Let’s dive into each a little further.
As with any team-oriented process, clear communication is an important key to success. In the scope of a stage musical, every artistic decision has to be clearly communicated to the technical staff to allow for accurate representation on the stage. In my realm of stage management, the most important communication tool we practiced was closed loop communication. Whenever I shouted out a lighting cue, say “cue 31 ready,” the lighting operator would reply “cue 31 ready”, and I would proceed with the countdown to go to which the operator would confirm the action accordingly. Closed loop communication ensures that we are understanding what is being told and that we are ready to proceed. This type of communication style is very applicable in veterinary medicine, as I often practice repeating back what a clinician discussed with me regarding the treatment of a patient (i.e.: a medical dose, the treatment plan for today) to ensure that I am listening and understanding what they said. If there were any issues in understanding, that will be demonstrated in my attempt to repeat it back and we can then clarify the issue. These clarifications are extremely important in the realm of veterinary medicine and patient care, as the plan we are moving forward with often involves administered medications at specific doses. Any miscommunication may lead to an animal receiving an incorrect medication, dose, or route of administration of that medication, and can be detrimental to the overall health of a patient. This becomes even more critical during times of emergency, when CPR is performed on an animal and we need to administer resuscitative drugs at varying doses. Closed communication is a key practice in CPR, one that I have had the chance to practice in both model CPR simulations and real-life CPR situations.
One of the main goals of an artistic production or piece of work is to convey a story. Whether it is through song, acting, or dance, storytelling is at the heart of the action. Being able to utilize your skills to convey a thoughtful, provoking, and everlasting memory that allows the audience to feel what you're conveying is the ultimate goal of an art form. The same concept of storytelling can be applied to veterinary medicine. As a matter of fact, a mentor of mine once told me that a veterinarian has to “become a master storyteller.” While the mode of storytelling might not be the same in arts as it is in veterinary medicine, the foundation is still the same. In veterinary medicine, we strive to communicate a clear, concise and easily understood “story” about a medical condition that we might have just diagnosed or a review of all things puppy and kitten to a new pet owner. Becoming that master storyteller is a critical component to the success of a veterinarian’s ability to get across important messaging to clients. That story needs to be memorable, thoughtful and easily understood. After all, who doesn’t remember a great story?
Flexibility & Adaptability
The ability to be flexible and adaptable is a commonly desired trait across all working environments, but I cannot think of two more fields than the arts and veterinary medicine where the ability to be flexible and adaptable is extremely valuable and important. During my sophomore year of undergrad, I was stage manager for Penn State Thespian’s Production of Catch Me If You Can. The musical follows a kid who was a master of deception. He worked as a doctor, lawyer and pilot all before the age of 18, and brilliantly crafted fraudulent checks to the tune of over 2 million dollars. Part of our set design was a blue and white “Pan Am” fuselage that was mounted 10+ feet in the air. The piece was going to look exactly like a fuselage, down to the elliptical windows and the concave shape of the cabin. During load in, which is when the set is transported to the theatre and built on the stage 7 days ahead of opening night, we came across a big issue with the fuselage. While mounting it up, it was too top heavy and was at risk of collapsing. Certainly, it could not be left that way, and we had to quickly find a safe solution to the problem. We ended up removing the concave shape of the fuselage and going with a flat fuselage. Although this was not the original plan, it ended up looking great. This was a great lesson in being adaptable and flexible. When things didn’t go as planned, we adapted and adjusted.
These same skills can be applied in veterinary medicine. The ability to be flexible and adaptable has been known to be a valuable trait of veterinarians, as we often have to get creative to accomplish certain tasks. There are many times where we are missing a key tool to accomplish a specific task, or we’re stuck with a very difficult fracture repair and need to think outside the box in order to repair it. These situations call for some quick, on the fly thinking, some flexibility, and adaptability.
A theatrical production requires many people to work together to bring it to life. This large involvement creates opportunities to lead a team, from smaller leadership positions such as the head of the costume design team, to bigger positions such as the artistic director and show producer. I was always interested in becoming a team leader, as leading was something I enjoyed doing. I enjoy helping others grow and achieve more by providing some guidance or setting an example. I enjoy the big picture and visionary components a leadership position affords.
As I matriculated through undergrad, I had the opportunity to hold key leadership positions in Penn State Thespian productions, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The leadership experience I gained, starting as a Stage Manager and ending as a Producer, has been a crucial component to my growth as a veterinary professional. One of the most important responsibilities of the Producer was working with the Artistic and Technical Directors to interview and build out the remainder of the production team. Going through this process was the single greatest learning experience as a leader I could’ve possibly ever asked for. It taught me the importance of getting the right people together to accomplish a common goal. I distinctly remember giving some brief remarks to the production team on closing night on how amazing each member of the team was and how it was truly all of them that made it the best show I’ve ever worked. We had some of the best people working together on this show, and it showed in the final product. (Shoutout to Penn State Thespians production of Beauty and the Beast, Spring 2017). Reflecting back on this now, in the mindset of a future practice owner, it has become even more clear to me the importance of bringing in the right people. I can’t wait to apply the leadership skills I have learned in theatre as a veterinarian and future practice owner.
Thank you for joining me on this journey as we explore the connection between the arts and veterinary medicine. Our journey will continue with this series of blog posts, next up discussing how the arts can the pet care experience.