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BWW Blog: Using Unstructured Time to Grow in Productive and Creative Ways

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BWW Blog: Using Unstructured Time to Grow in Productive and Creative Ways

I had originally planned to spend this summer studying musical theatre in Italy. When that was canceled due to COVID, I looked into US theater training programs with the hope that some things would still continue normally. Those programs eventually went virtual or got canceled. As a result, my summer is definitely emptier than is ideal, which is the case for many students and artists right now. But that doesn't mean our summers can't be worthwhile and productive. I think a lot of us get caught up in the "scheduling" of our lives. At least I do! But, sometimes it is equally as important to have unstructured time to fill with both reflection and all the things we never have time to do. That's the beauty of quarantine!

Here are some of the things I have devoted my quarantine time to that have really inspired me and helped me grow as a student and artist:

1. Watching and reading as much theater as possible

You are probably missing theater as much as I am, but guess what!? There is a ton of theater to absorb right now. Not only are theaters and artists creating really interesting virtual shows, but a lot of theaters are showing videos of past productions for a limited time. A great way to find these shows is by looking at BroadwayWorld's streaming calendar. You can also go to some of your favorite theaters' websites and check out what they are currently giving their audiences access to. Watching other artists' work has been incredibly inspiring to me.

If you are not a huge fan of watching theater on a screen, then this is also a great time to read a lot of plays. So many mentors of mine consistently say that one of the best things you can do as a young theatermaker is read as many plays as you can. In addition, it is important to take the time to read lesser-known plays, especially those written by BIPOC playwrights. I highly recommend looking at Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Suzan-Lori Parks' work.

2. Learning new skills (both related to the arts and not)

This one may seem obvious since I feel like everyone is using quarantine to pick up the guitar or bake a lot, but picking up new skills is so valuable. These new skills don't need to be major. Some of the skills that I am working on this summer include practicing my French, making pickles, and practicing the piano. It is also a great time to practice key career skills. For example, I am taking this time to learn about and train in voiceover work. Also, take advantage of the accessibility of training classes. So many dance classes, film acting classes, and Q&A sessions work really well on Zoom and are significantly less expensive than they would usually be. I have found some great classes on and through dance studios like Steps or Broadway Dance Center.

3. Making something with my hands

We are constantly on our computers and phones and now that those pieces of technology are one of our only means of access to social interaction and the outside world, this is even more true. That is why I find it is more important than ever to take a step away from technology and create something with my hands. This is probably why baking and banana bread making has become so popular during quarantine. Stirring a bowl of batter is especially soothing when the rest of your day is spent on Zoom calls. But there are many other ways to create with your hands. I have been spending a lot of time doing watercolor and getting back into visual art. I also recommend gardening, learning basic carpentry skills, or trying sewing, embroidery, or knitting.

4. Keeping track of videos, articles, books, and movies to read and watch

There are so many interesting things to absorb right now. I have found it incredibly helpful to have a place to jot things down when someone sends me an article to read or recommends a new movie to watch. I do this tracking in many different ways. For books, I love using GoodReads because I can make lists and look at recommendations the site has for me based on my reading history. For articles in newspapers and on websites, I have either just been copying and pasting links in my notes or using the app Articles to keep them sorted. Lastly, I think Youtube is such an amazing resource during this time. I have been making a lot of playlists filled with interviews and theater clips I want to watch. I have been especially wanting to watch the Classic Stage Company's recent interviews with actors like Judy Kuhn and Steven Pasquale. You can watch those interviews on their YouTube channel.

5. Getting Organized Digitally

A lot of people are using this time to do deep cleans of their closets or bedrooms, but this is also a great time to get organized digitally. A great place to start is by sorting through computer files and your desktop. Or, like me, you can dedicate a whole day to sorting and deleting emails that have been sitting in your inbox for five years. Another organizational idea is to make a spreadsheet of all the contacts you have in the theater and film world. This was an idea a former teacher gave me. Note their name, where and when you know them from, and their contact info. Keeping track of all of the directors, teachers, and artists you have worked with could be really helpful down the road. Connections are everything in this business!

6. Grabbing virtual coffee with someone

Speaking of that list, this is a great time to reach out to one of those artists and grab some Zoom coffee with them! Contact a past collaborator to catch up or connect with someone new that you have always looked up to. With everyone staying at home, right now is the best time to take a chance and be bold. Make connections, ask questions, and learn from the experienced artists who come before you.

7. Staying curious about the world

Loving learning is a lifelong skill to practice and embrace as an artist. Quarantine is a great time to take a class or a workshop on something completely out of your comfort zone. I am currently taking an online entrepreneurship class because it is an area of interest that I haven't been able to explore while at Princeton. I highly recommend looking at websites like edX and Coursera for free and flexible courses to take during your free time. In addition, if you want your learning to be even more unstructured, just spend a day doing some research on a topic that interests you. I personally love finding interesting documentaries about science, religion, and health to watch.

Staying curious is a great one to end on because I think curiosity is essential for any artist. Ideas for the kind of art I want to make or write most often come when watching a documentary, reading an article, or while sitting in one of my history classes at Princeton. Curiosity is how we can step out of our own life experience and thus create more complex and empathetic theater.

I hope this list was helpful! Stay safe and wear a mask!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Kate Semmens