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What career(s) would allow me to combine my love for physics and theater?

So long story short: I love physics, but I also have an intense passion for theater technology, stage management, and set building. What career can I pursue in order to allow me to combine my two passions? And what should I study in college? I was thinking of double-majoring in Physics and Theater Tech, but is that wise? #physics #theater #career-choice #career #theater-technology

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Katie’s Answer

Hi Madison!

Your double major sounds like a fantastic idea. Both fields compliment each other nicely.

If you love the artistic and storytelling side of theater, definitely look into the entertainment industry careers. I've listed couple of options below:

Take a look at a Technical Direction career in the theme park industry. It's a great mix of technical theater knowledge with really complex building and design challenges. Theme parks are always inventing new technologies, coming up with new ways to make magic come to life!

Another option is Special Effects Designer for entertainment (film, tv, theater, theme parks, etc). If you're someone who loves working with their hands and taking an idea and physicalizing it, special effects is a great career. The Mythbusters are all special effects designers by trade who have a great and complex understanding of physics.

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JoLynda’s Answer

I would also suggest checking mechanical/structural engineering since there are many structural engineering components to tech. theater. Several of my civil engineering friends have either totally changed careers and/or switched to mechanical engineering as they grew bored or unable to find the type of jobs they wanted. (I know 6 people who focused on civil engineering and only one is still actively working in that field. Several received master's in civil engineering and two went back and got a master's in mechanical.)

If you're good at & enjoy music, I'd also consider studying acoustical engineering. I know government contractors are often used to work on submarine sonar acoustics and sonic/ultrasonic weapons. I have a friend who did something with the Navy along these lines and he LOVED it. Similar training can be applied to developing acoustics for sound booths in recording studios, working with building engineers in developing concert hall and theater acoustics, and can also be applied to sound production in theatrical plays. I'd suggest at least minoring in theater with whichever science focus as your major so you'll be taken seriously in the science field. Again, I've had friends who've had minors in science and math and they find it more difficult to get jobs in their fields as they're considered less experienced than those who majored in a specific subject.

As always, complete an internship in both fields. If one isn't available at the company or with the department you're interested in working with, write a solid introduction and request letter to a supervisor or manager. Yes, this may require some research and footwork, but it will be well worth it. If they don't have a program for you, they can at least help point you in the right direction.

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Sandra’s Answer

You might want to consider doing a degree in Civil Engineering. It usually includes quite a few physics classes and is universal enough that you can absolutely pursue a career in theatre production with it if you wanted to afterwards. However, you cannot do the opposite. If you pursue engineering/physics ALL of the doors are open to you including a career in theatre production but unfortunately, you most likely will not be able to pursue a physics or engineering career or even have an input in the physical aspect of theatre production if you study theatre technology alone. Doing both is completely possible but personally I would rather be great at one thing then spread my efforts and academics in physics or engineering is very demanding.

Thank you for the feedback! I'll definitely look into Civil Engineering! Madison C.

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Luke’s Answer

Hey Madison!

I was in the exact same boat when I went to college, passionate about both technical theater and physics: I ended up earning dual degrees in Theater and Electrical Engineering. It was a lot of work and there were certainly some semesters I had to step away from the theater side to give more focus to my engineering degree (which was significantly more demanding), but I learned a lot from both departments and gained lots of valuable skills and experiences.

My current role is as a Ride Control Engineer with Walt Disney World, and that has been a wonderful blend of my passions. It is certainly more engineering than theatrical, but the culture celebrates creativity and I love finding opportunities to tell stories with my work. Theme parks will employ predominantly Mechanical, Electrical, and Software engineers to design and maintain their attractions. But there are certainly roles for Computer Scientists and Structural/Materials engineers as well.

There are few roles that land right in the middle of those two disciplines, but some might be with large scale theatrical production companies like Tait Towers, Production Resource Group, or Hudson Scenic.

On the theater side of the spectrum, you're probably looking at Technical Direction. I've found the role of technical directors to vary based on the scale of the organization, but in general they're responsible for ensuring the theatrical environment is built safely and effectively for everyone involved. You'll find technical directors in professional/ameture/educational theaters, but also touring shows, cruise ships, and, yes, theme parks.

Looking towards what to study in college, it depends a little on what kind of physics you enjoy.

The first choice to make is between Physics and Engineering. Engineering is really just applied physics, so if you want to work with the physics that you've already learned (or, the physics that's already been discovered), then Engineering is probably where you want to go. If you want to discover new things about physics or teach it to the next generation, then a Physics degree might make more sense. It's worth noting that there's not a lot of research being done in Newtonian physics these days, so if you went the research route, you'd probably be working in the very big (Astro-physics) or the very small (particle physics).

If you decide Engineering is what you're interested in, there are several disciplines you can choose from and there are lots of ways to find out about the differences between them (including a freshman level class at most colleges). But here's a general description as well as how they might apply to a theatrical career:

Mechanical Engineering: Things that you can see that move (cars, conveyors, robots, etc.). This is probably the most common discipline with the most applications. Theatrically, this could be helpful in scenic/prop design, as well as large scale automation.

Civil Engineering: Large Structures that don't move (bridges, buildings, dams, etc.). This will include lots of work with materials (wood, concrete, metal,etc.), and building techniques to make sure things are sturdy. It'd prepare you well for a role in scenic construction.

Electrical/Computer Engineering: This one's pretty self-explanatory, it deals with electricity and computers. These are sometimes combined degrees at some schools, but in general, computer engineering will be more software focused while electrical engineering is more hardware focused. The applications are endless for this one as well from small scale PCB design for appliances to large scale power systems for cities. Theatrically speaking, this would prepare you for a role in theatrical automation, prop design, or some lighting/effects applications.

The other major ones that I'm aware of are Chemical Engineering and Aerospace engineering, which are wonderful fields to enter, but less applicable to the theater (at least for now, but who knows where the theater is moving!)

Hope this helps! Whatever you choose, make sure you find ways to keep both passions alive! If you're a full time thespian, find hobbies that let you scratch your technical itch by building stuff in your basement, and if you take the fully STEM route, there will always be community theaters who would love your help!