Listen to me now and listen to me well.
Your schoolwork comes first.
I am not only speaking as a parent and as a teacher, but sadly, as a performer who decided that preparing for my career was more important than doing my schoolwork. I have been paying for that mistake ever since, in one way or another. Call me sometime and I’ll tell you about it.
Think about it like this: You have the rest of your life to work on acting, music, and dance. There are classes upon classes upon classes for people your age and much older. There will be college, and graduate school if you so desire, and you can go there when you are 20 or 30 or 50, but you really only get one crack at high school. Four years to do it right. Don’t wait until the last one or even the last two. Start hard and aggressive so that by the time you are a senior and you’re burning out on the whole school thing, you have some leeway in your schedule to maybe do an outside show or college acting class. Even if you are a straight-A student, and I applaud you if you are, there are still only 24 hours in every day. Balancing theater and school can be a real trick, and I have only a few suggestions to offer. As you juggle, still keep that priority list in order. For the sake of everyone involved in your life, past, present, and future, and ESPECIALLY your own sake, schoolwork comes first.
Here is what I can tell you:
- Summer school is a great gig. If I had discovered it sooner, I would have graduated earlier. You do usually have to pay some money for it, but it’s worth the small amount. Check to see what’s available in your district, but usually you can take up to three of your core courses, in the mornings before your friends even wake up. You do this for 4 to six weeks, the work is usually really easy, and you can get up to a full year’s credit in these courses! It’s a great way to get some credits out of the way with good grades. It’s also an example to your parents of how much extra effort you are willing to put in to be able to do theater while keeping your schoolwork as a priority.
- Do your homework. Do it. Now. If you are not a good homework-doer, or just have trouble budgeting time, sometimes it helps to take it one day at a time. On Monday, say to yourself, “today at 4:00, I will do all of the homework that I have. On my research project, I will do ½ hour of work. The rest of my homework I will do completely.” At 4:00, whatever you are doing, stop and do the homework. If your friends ask you to go and do something, ask them to wait until 6 or 7 until you are done, or say “OK, but I’m going to have to leave at 3:45 so I can get started on my homework.” When you have said it out loud to other people, that can even make it more of a commitment that needs to be kept. Then on Tuesday, your schedule may be different. You may have to say on Tuesday, “today I will do 1 hour of my homework in study hall. ½ hour of that will be on my research project, and then I will write up the biology lab. At 6:00 tonight, after my ballet class, I will finish all these other assignments.” Then do it. Again, saying it out loud seems to solidify it. To your friends, a teacher, or the mirror. My advice is, don’t say it to your parents. Then it becomes a you-them thing, and you have enough of those already. This is for you, your career, and your future. You have the right and the responsibility to be very selfish about your homework time. If you are one of those people who tend to set large and grandiose goals (and most actors are), resist the urge to say, “I’m going to do all my schoolwork perfectly this year. Every day, every assignment, will be great.” Take it one day at a time.
- Get help. If you need to study with a friend in order to get it done, do that. If you are lost in a class, even if it is your own fault that you are behind, talk to your teacher and get some extra help. If you hate your teacher, talk to the guidance counselor. If the guidance counselor is a dizzy cow too, talk to anyone on the teaching staff who might be able to point you to some help. It’s yours for the taking, and sometimes you have to extract it like a molar, but the help IS available and it is not too late to try unless you are a senior. If you are a senior in trouble, read on.
- Seniors in academic trouble: Do Not Do a Show at School This Year. Even if you feel like your life depends on it. You may feel like this is the only thing you can do right in your whole life, and your sanity is hanging by a thread, your anxiety and depression only alleviated by the daily rehearsals. Or the show is the one you’ve been dreaming of doing forever and you’ll never get another chance at this part. Or the teacher/director is counting on you to do the show. Please, please spend the last few months of your high school time salvaging your education so that you can do some really great theater in college, or your community, or even on the screen. If you feel like your high school career is unsalvageable, or your are too ashamed and/or embarrassed to keep working on it there, go to your local community college and start making up the credits there while still going to school. You may have to get a weekend job to pay for it, or ask your parents or other family members to help. You may also have to quit a job in order to have time and energy to go. Do it. Do whatever it takes. The arts community needs you, but it needs you sane and educated.
That’s what I have. You are a creative person, though. You can probably think of lots of different ways to get yourself on solid academic ground and keep yourself there. Take the time and the brainpower to do it. It is crucial that you do so. Forget about your parents. This is your education, your life, your future, and it is worth your effort. Unless your lifelong dream is to work at a gas station or ice-cream parlor when you are 30, having been turned down for 3 jobs you are qualified for but don’t have the degree required, get selfish with your schoolwork.