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The 6 Best Movies for Performing Arts Majors

Check out these 6 best movies for performing arts majors to get some great insight into what a career in theater actually entails.

A photo showing a stage production in a theater

Studying theater in college opens the doors to a variety of career options. From costume design to theater lighting to the creation of the scenery that sets the perfect stage, theater and performing arts majors help playgoers have a more realistic – and sometimes life-changing – experience.

While movies are a completely different viewing medium than plays and other stage-based productions, there are a few films that are a must-see for theater or performing arts majors. Here are a few to consider.

The Producers (1967)

Directed by Mel Brooks, this film is about a producer named Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) who winds up seducing older women in an attempt to finance his once-successful Broadway shows. After Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder)—the accountant who is charged with auditing Max’s books—makes a flippant comment, stating that producers can make more money with a one-show flop than a successful show that can be viewed multiple times, the two decide to prove that theory right by producing a film together that is sure to fail. While deeply entertaining, this film is also a great example of what not to do if you want a successful career in theater or performing arts in general.

Cradle Will Rock (1999)

Cradle Will Rock is a true story about theater in the 1930s, when film director Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) worked incredibly hard to bring a musical into fruition via the Federal Theater Program, despite meeting conflict at every turn. That said, this movie also contains many subplots, reinforcing how complex theater can become when the rest of the world is facing a certain level of unease. If you do decide to watch this one, prepare to never view performing arts, politics, or unions the same again.

Being Julia (2004)

Released in 2004, Being Julia is set in London in 1938 and features Annette Benning as Julia Lambert. Julia runs a theater with her husband Michael Gosselyn, played by Jeremy Irons, after the death of their mentor. But over time, she becomes unhappy and wants to close the theater. Michael is reluctant and doesn’t agree. What follows next is a trail of infidelities that spark within Julia a deep desire to claim the theater as hers once and for all, even if it requires getting sweet revenge. This movie highlights the fact that, while theater is characterized by occurring on the stage, sometimes there is just as much drama behind the curtains, ultimately impacting what career-related decisions you make.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Just because you start out in one position in theater doesn’t mean that you must stay in that role forever. In Birdman, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) highlights this fact because he wants to be recognized as the artist he is versus a has-been superhero actor from long ago. So, he decides to write, direct, produce, and star in a new show. Of course, he faces many challenges along the way, the biggest being the internal struggles he faces about who he is and what he is capable of in his performing arts career. Does Riggan ultimately find the confidence (and fame) that he seeks? You have to watch the movie to find out.

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

Improv is another side of theater. Don’t Think Twice is a look into not only how much of a struggle it can sometimes be to think and act off the cuff, but also what happens when members of your theater family advance in their careers while others fall short. In this case, Jack (Keegan Michael Key) and his girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) have dreams of performing on a weekly television show, but find it difficult to come to terms with their own desires versus those of their theater brothers and sisters. This movie will make you think about your own theater or performing arts career and how the relationships you create along the way can make achieving your goals either easier or more difficult.

La La Land (2016)

Also released in 2016, this movie is about Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), a Jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, who must find the balance between fanning the flames of their new love and reaching their professional goals. Both are incredibly passionate about each other and their careers, which makes their lives better in some ways but somewhat problematic in others. Do you have to compromise to reach your goals in the entertainment industry? La La Land may just help you answer that question.

Love the Performing Arts? Consider Saint Leo University’s Theater Program

In the fall of 2019, Saint Leo University launched a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. This small, hands-on undergraduate degree program is perfect for anyone considering a performing arts career.

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