How to Balance Theatre and Coursework

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

October 3, 2016

All my friends know I’m a nerd — both for school and for theatre. For me, managing theatre and coursework was a no-brainer while I was in high school and college. For others? They’d ask me, “How do you do school and theatre? Isn’t that too much? AREN’T YOU TIRED? AREN’T YOU SLOWLY DYING ON THE INSIDE?” Yes, I was…and yes, a little. But I survived because I used the six basic rules of how to balance theatre and coursework.

Plan a homework schedule.

I know that some of you love the smell of Office Depot just as much as I do. Get your hands on some multi-colored pens, highlighters, and post-it notes so you can create an organized weekly planner filled with due-dates, deadlines, costume fittings, and rehearsals. Mark rehearsals in orange, homework in pink, and other obligations in green or blue. That way, you have a visual representation of how your day and your week will look. Also, if you plan on spending 3 hours on homework, STICK TO THAT 3 HOURS. Don’t sell yourself short. Push past your boredom or frustration to get the work done now instead of waiting until later. If you’ve got time between classes to get some work done, take advantage of that time — and treat yo’self to a chai latte.

Plan your sleep schedule.

Teenagers need on average 8.5-10 hours of sleep a night, and college students need on average 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night. Plan your day so that you’re able to rehearse and sleep in the same night. If you’re able to fit homework somewhere in there, make sure the task is small enough to fit in the window you’ve allotted yourself so that you don’t cut into your sleep time.

Stay organized!

When you turn your 8-page English essay on John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” into your theatre teacher and your research paper on Japanese Kabuki theatre into your English teacher…you’ve got a problem. Make sure you keep organized folders so you can keep track of your assignments and their respective destinations.

Be involved with your academics just as much as you’re involved with theatre.

I’m not talking about joining the Mathletes or the Chemistry Club — you can if you want — but I am talking about having continuous open conversations about your grades and class work with your teachers or professors. Ask for a monthly meeting with them where you can go over your progress in the course and see where you excel, where you maintain, and how you can do better. This will help you have a better awareness of where you stand in your studies.

Keep a notebook with you at all times.

I not only kept a planner for my day-to-day schedule, I also kept a notebook where I collected all my casual thoughts about classes, theatre, and other creative adventures. This helped me put my ideas on paper without having to wait until I was in the vicinity of a course notebook. That way, when it came time to study, I could pull notes from my notebook and put them in their appropriate place in binders and folders. Having a notebook also helps you increase creativity — a private space where you are free to explore thoughts and ideas that may further your understanding of academics and art.

Make time for social things.

Even though your theatre family are the people you might hang out with all the time, it’s important to plan to do other things besides the show with them. Plan a movie night or a night out at a restaurant. Stress is one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression, and these conditions can be difficult to deal with period, let alone while in school. Allow yourself a little bit of fun to decompress from the stress of academics and show troubles. It will give you something to look forward to during the week and something wonderful to think about while you’re studying for your AP Bio exam the week after.

Ashleigh Gardner received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College and her Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Masters Degree in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies from the University of Central Florida. She is a playwright and an actor.