Student Blog: Balancing School, Theatre, Work, and Having a Life

Learning to balance in a way that ensures both your health and success is not as difficult as it may seem.

By: Nov. 28, 2023

Student Blog: Balancing School, Theatre, Work, and Having a Life Think of the busiest high schooler you can: the one with the most full schedule, the most on their plate, and the most responsibility sitting on their shoulders. Unless you are one of my friends or family members reading this and I was the one that came to mind, I am probably busier than the one you thought of.

I have been performing since I was five years old: acting, singing, dancing, commercial and film, improv comedy, piano, saxophone, or whatever else I may be up to at any given time. In recent years, this has manifested itself essentially in the form of a full-time job. I work an average of 30-40 hours a week on my various theatrical endeavors in rehearsals, classes, lessons, and performances. This is laid on top of 35 hours of school (plus homework), and 15 hours of a legitimate part-time job as a sales associate for a local boutique. Needless to say, my time is not my own. My time has not been my own for a very long time. 

It is absolutely critical to all workers, but especially performers, to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and a balance between different niches of one’s professional realm. I have always lived with the mentality that my workload is not sustainable, and with an overbearing cognizance of the fact that I am not capable of giving each sector my all during any given week. I have an hour: I will either do that APUSH homework or memorize those lines. I have four: I will either miss my friend’s birthday party, or call out of work for the millionth time (how have I not gotten fired?). I am a nineteenth century plate spinner, with rods made out of persistence and Lexapro, and plates that look a whole lot like scripts, cash registers, and the AMSCO United States History textbook (Advanced Placement Edition). 

I have a few key tools that I have picked up over the years, both from role models and my own observations. First, identify the time at which you are most productive and take advantage of it. For me, this is the afternoon. I much prefer to do my homework when I get home from school, prior to rehearsal, than be up all night trying to combat fatigue and solve algebraic equations. If you were to ask me, “have you tried doing your homework in the morning before school?” I would probably laugh in your face. The morning is a sacred time for me to emotionally prepare myself for the stresses of the day, not to “be productive.” I also typically choose not to take my shoes off until I have completed my homework. This keeps my mind in “school mode” and helps me to keep my mental momentum.

While my next tool may seem obvious, identifying where exactly your priorities lie is of massive benefit. Some priorities are more up to individual discretion than others, such as which scene to memorize first in a show. Others, such as whether to do the homework due the next morning or analyze your character for a show whose rehearsal process has yet to begin… are perpetuated by external factors. My peers use to-do lists, journals, the Notes app, and a vast assortment of other platforms to gauge their priorities. I am always partial to a Google Calendar, as it allows me to outline the tasks I need to complete on any particular night while also comparing them to the events I have scheduled for that evening. Thus, I do not end up overbooking myself by planning to do laundry on a night upon which I have prior commitments or plans. 

As for balancing theatre commitments and a traditional job, transparency and communication are key. I told my employer at my interview exactly how unpredictable and limited my availability was, and they chose to hire me anyway. I have been able to establish a clear line of communication to establish my availability on a weekly basis, as well as coordinate with my co-workers when I need a last-minute cover. Communication also extends to your family and friends, so that they know how they can best support and encourage you. Sometimes, there are people ready and willing to assist you who just may not know what exactly you need.

Making time for one’s mental and physical health is also of the utmost importance when balancing responsibilities. No matter how busy I get, I always try my best to make my weekly therapy sessions a priority. I also enjoy physical fitness, but have accepted that I do not have time for working out during this season of my life, and that putting pressure on myself to make time for it is only going to cause me more stress. Also sleep! Sleep is so good for you! We love to sleep! At least seven hours! Maintaining a strong social life is tied to the aforementioned health. In times of stress, it can feel easier to focus on the various tasks facing you as opposed to spending time with friends and family. However, choosing to make time for those you love results in a plethora of rewards of its own, beyond what may be discernable in the immediate future.

Winter is, as always, a busy season for balancing various responsibilities. This extends well beyond the theatrical realm, but has been especially prevalent in my life. At school, I have finals coming up, which means not only tests, but also teachers cramming in any missing curriculum that they have yet to get around to teaching this semester. At work, the boutique has been transformed for the holidays and is busier than ever. I worked all of Thanksgiving weekend, including Black Friday. In a sales-based environment, I get to employ the charisma and ability to think on my feet that I have picked up from performing, which definitely both come in handy. 

Of course, I am as busy as ever with my theatrical commitments. I am competing at my school district’s Hamilton Theatre Competition on December 2nd, where I will be competing two Duo Musical events (“Therapy” from Tick…Tick…BOOM! with Sydney Gepson and “Best Kept Secret” from Bare with Austin Duran), a Monologue event (from Rhinoceros and The Rocky Horror Show), and a Solo Musical Event (“Beautiful City” from Godspell). In addition to those, I will be presenting a costume design for Jesus Christ Superstar through our tech program. Then, I will be singing with my choir at our concerts on December 5th and 7th, and performing with the Improv Troupe on December 6th. I also have the honor of getting to carol at an event for the City of Chandler through my school’s choir program on December 8th. I wrote and am now directing a one-act called Snowed In for my school’s Student-Directed One-Acts, which performs on December 9th. Our Company improv show is on December 15th, followed by my cabaret performance with an organization called Curtain Call, which raises money for local youth theatres, on December 22nd… and then it’s Christmas! I also have the Eastern Arizona Festival of Theatre on January 20th (which qualifies my events for the Thespys at International Thespian Festival) and auditions for our spring musical to worry about, but that leads me to my final piece of advice: take things one day at a time. Focus on the things you can control and the problems you can work towards solving now, not tomorrow, or the day after that, or even later today. Focus on what is facing you in the present, and just keep pushing. Balancing theatre with the rest of your life is a challenge, but learning to manage that challenge in a way that ensures both your health and success is not as difficult as it may seem.