How to answer condescending questions about your program

Look, let’s face it: If you’re in a program that’s not commonly associated with financial success, like Theatre, you’re going to get a lot of unsolicited comments and questions from people – most of them condescending, a lot of them downright passive-aggressive. Actually, I think this applies to nearly everyone in university, unless you’re in Accounting or Engineering or something.

Here are some examples, and some potential responses to consider. (This is from the perspective of theatre, because that’s what I know best.)

THEA - costumes

“What are you going to do with your degree?”

Ugh. This one. It’s like the umbrella question of non-threatening judgement. Vague enough to seem like they’re just interested and not attacking you, but what they’re really saying is “your degree is going to be useless and you have no idea what you’re doing with your life, do you?”

I mean, no. I am nineteen. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my whole life. In fact, going to university at all is the most constructive and ambitious thing I’ve done so far. What are you going to do with your life in 3 years with a huge rack of debt? Who knows. You’re not better than me. Stop being smug.

“Do you even write essays and have tests in Theatre?”

Uh, YES? I’m still in university, not a communist feel-good cult.

Set construction

Set construction

“What kind of classes do you have in Theatre?”

Various theatre history classes, acting classes, directing classes, production classes and theatre design classes. You know, classes about theatre.

“Oh yeah, my friend from [insert random hometown] likes acting.”

Ok? Good for them?

“I bet Fine Arts gets you really in touch with your emotions.”

Sure. Also, I’m gaining valuable skills and knowledge in the field I’m passionate about and want to work in.

“Why Theatre?”

Really? Really? Why History? Why Sciences? Why anything? Next question.

Set design

Set design

“You know, it’s really hard to make a living in the arts.”

Wow. I have not heard about this before. Please, tell me more.

“Actors deal with a lot of rejection.”

Your MOM deals with… I’m sorry. Your mom has nothing to do with this. I bet she’s a very nice and considerate person, unlike you.

“Well, you can always at least do community theatre.”

Yes. Thank you. I am spending thousands of dollars and 4+ years on my education so I can barely use it at some cowtown’s dinner theatre. Finally, someone who understands.

Set construction

Set construction

“I’m glad you’re heading into theatre design rather than acting. It just strikes me as more versatile, like you can adapt it to other things.” “Like what?” “You know, like interior design.” (That’s a direct paraphrase.)

…I don’t even know what to say to this. I’m pretty sure I just didn’t reply when this was said to me. It’s the kind of thing that just makes me want to pinch the bridge of my nose and count to 300.

I like theatre design not because of the aesthetic design part, but because of its ability to contribute to and enhance a production, a story, an experience. In the words “theatre design” the part I care about is theatre, and design is just the aspect of it that I’m interested in and good at.

If I wanted to do something like interior design, why would I not study interior design? If I wanted to do something other than theatre, I would not be in theatre.

“Have you been in any plays recently?”

No. I have school and homework and there’s not that many plays to be in all the time. Also, I’m not exclusively (or even primarily) an actor.

“That must be so much fun.”

Look, I work hard. There’s a lot to learn and theatre is really stressful most of the time, for various reasons.

But yes: I’m having tons of fun. I wouldn’t change it for the world.


Photo credits: Faculty of Fine Arts

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7 Responses

  1. Justin H. says:

    For someone who is submitting an article based on how to answer condescending, passive aggressive questions about your major, every single response comes off as passive aggressive.

    Ever think that people are just interested in why you chose your program? Or are genuinely curious about what your post-grad plans are?

    But the topper is this one:

    “Oh yeah, my friend from [insert random hometown] likes acting.”
    Ok? Good for them?

    Someone is genuinely trying to make an attachment with you by finding things in common. Instead of being a jerk, why don’t you try to make friends.

  2. uvic2016 says:

    Still a useless field…I hate it when arts people get all offended and say, “you need us too!” Not really…most actresses/actors didn’t study acting, and you don’t need to have a college degree in literature to write a play or a script. You know what the world needs? Doctors. Study pre-med, then you’ll have something real to complain about, like, you know, coursework.

    • Kathleen says:

      I’m not normally the type to indulge in cyber bullying or online dialogue like this but I really feel the need to respond to your comment. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time in pre-med (if that’s what you’re studying). I sincerely hope you don’t turn out like all the other useless doctors out there who don’t know how to actually ‘treat’ people. However, judging by the sheer ignorance of your comment, I worry. If you’re not in med school or law school or anything else you think is deemed ‘worthy’ by our education system, then maybe you should be. You’re right, doctors are desperately needed. But please, do it because you care and not because it makes you feel better than others.
      Also, art keeps people alive, just as doctors do. Whether someone has a degree in it or not is besides the point. It is sad that someone so proud of their intelligence can sound so crass and uneducated. Smarten up and show some respect for yourself and others.

  3. Michelle says:

    You’re funny and I like you.
    I hear the same questions regarding my BA psychology degree.

  4. April says:

    Great blog – it’s lighthearted and I think many arts students could relate to how questions around your degree can feel (no matter the possible varying intentions). I think that the world needs the arts (including set designers or actors) as much as any other field. I always thought that the “what are you doing to do with that degree” question could be answered by a simple “great question – I’ll get back to you on that!”

  5. Juliette says:

    Dear Amelia, I liked your article !
    I find it surprising that other comments say your answers are agressive. Telling someone that her field of study is “useless” and “not needed” is judging, why be so rude with a young student ? o_O

    I can understand why people ask the questions you are mentioning : of course, it’s not easy to find immediately a dream job when you get your degree in a field like Theater. It requires a lot of autonomy, you have to “build” your own professional network and accept that you won’t have the financial comfort others can get. Everything depends on what you expect and want to do. I personnaly graduated in Art History and even if it’s not easy, I find work as a heritage interpreter and I like it. Of course I have to seek a new job every 6 months and I’m not rich, sometimes I have to do a bit of “side job” between two works … but as you say I wouldn’t change it for the world !

    The only problem you can have, to my mind (as a French graduate), is that you have to pay back your student loan. That makes things difficult and I must say that given my field of study, I’m glad university fees are really low in France … :/

  6. Cathie says:

    I love this quote from UVic President Jamie Cassels: “My philosophy degree – perhaps not surprisingly – did not land me a job as CEO of a multi-national philosophy company. But it did introduce me to the world of ideas, teach me skills of disciplined analysis and judgment, and how to engage with and learn from the wisdom of others.”