I am at Ryerson University, in Toronto, and I am working towards my Bachelor of Arts in Performance Production. Performance Production is all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in any type of performance arts – theatre, opera, dance, concerts, etc. Some of the stuff we learn could even be applied to movies and television. So I have to learn lighting, sound, costume, set design and construction, plus things like theory and theatre history. It’s a pretty cool program, and I’m really enjoying myself. Now here’s the down side – my schedule. In our first class, the director of the program warned us: “We own you now,” he said. And we laughed and thought “Oh, that is so dramatic. We’ll be fine.”
I have never been so wrong.
Ryerson’s theatre school has three programs: performance production, acting and dance. The school as a whole puts on a full season’s worth of shows every year, which the various departments collaborate together on. As production students in first year, we have to assist with any backstage work that is required. In later years we’ll get to be designers for the show, working on costumes and sets, seeing our work put up on the stage, but for now we must work under the older students, assisting them by any means necessary.
These “theatre calls” are mandatory – each semester we are assigned to one show, and we must work 100 hours per semester, helping out on shows. If you don’t finish your hours on the show you are assigned to, you must volunteer for other shows to fill those hours. Now, that doesn’t seem too bad. Two hundred hours spaced out over two semesters is not really that much if you break it down. But then add on 800 hours of class work per semester and things start getting a bit crowded.
But the real kicker, the thing that makes it impossible for me to have any sort of a social life, is all in the timing. When you’re on call for a show, you have to give them your class schedule. Then, any time you are not in class, you can be called in to work. And by any time, I mean ANY. One of my friends got called for a shift from midnight until four in the morning, and then again at eight in the morning that same day. This also makes finishing assignments on time hard, too, since a lot of your free time is taken up by calls.
Calls are posted at five o’clock the day before, which means that ANY plans I want to make for the next day – yeah – they all have to be made AFTER five o’clock. This means everything I want to do socially has to be pretty spur of the moment. I’m not even sure when I’ll be going home for Thanksgiving – I might have a call.
I’m not complaining, of course. My program is amazing, and theatre calls are really fun, but what I’m trying to point out here is the difficulty of balancing social life with work and school.
For everyone, it can be hard to find that perfect yin and yang. Not all programs are as demanding as mine, and I’m sure some are even worse. But the social aspects of college or university are every bit as important as the lectures you attend, or the time you spend in the theatre wardrobe stitching snaps onto a vest.
So here are some tips on how to maintain a good social-work-school zen.
1. Make a “To Do” list. It sounds cheesy and mom-ish, but since leaving home I’ve started using them a lot, to help me prioritize. And not just school work, but errands and social events too. For example, my “To Do” list today included doing research for my theatre architecture presentation, finishing this blog post, and meeting with some friends to go shopping. But first and foremost PRIORITIZE!! Make sure you’re doing the most important things FIRST – example: Your essay that is due tomorrow.
School doesn’t always have to come first, but it should always be higher up there. But if a project is due in two weeks, chances are you can risk going out for a drink with friends.
2. Plan to do things on Sundays. Most programs recognize Sunday as a day off, so it’s unlikely you’ll have any work to do that day. So sleep in in the morning, go out with friends in the afternoon, and then do schoolwork in the evening. Unless of course, you have an assignment due on Monday. Then you should PROBABLY be hitting the books until you finish.
3. Schedule down time. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but I wanted to make it a specific point as well, to emphasize its importance. If all you are doing is school and assignments and work and you never take a break and you’re constantly hitting the books and such, EVENTUALLY it WILL catch up with you, and your brain will explode. I promise, it will. So schedule some time each week, even if just an hour before bed each night or something – it WILL save you a very messy panic attack.
4. Start your work early. Honestly. Just do it. Start on that three-week essay when it first gets assigned, work on it in little spurts when you have free time and you WILL FINISH EARLY. Than you will have time to actually go out and DO stuff. I’ve already done this to myself twice, and trust me; all-nighters? They suck.
I know these tips seem corny – they’re the stuff that my teachers and parents have spewed at me all through high school. And I’d roll my eyes and do my own thing anyway. But Now, every time things come down to the wire, I’m rushing to get a project done and I’m missing out on the coolest party of the year, I look up into the air, remember my parents’ faces, and shake my fist at them.
If only they’d nagged me harder. Maybe I’d have it by now.