“It is all about striking a balance.”
Oh, the glamorous life of an actor. Bright lights, the on-set environment and admiration from all. Creativity at its finest and high production quality. Trailers filled with textbooks and study notes and classroom desks full of scripts. Wait, what?
Whenever I hear of student actors who divide their time between acting and university, I’m in awe of their time management skills. And like watching 17-year-olds win gold medals at the Olympics, I tend to wonder what I’m even doing with my life. While I can’t wait to get on the set of a real-life production, my aspirations are to end up behind the camera, not in front of it.
This week I asked around the Ryerson University campus and talked to some student actors to see how they manage this work-life balance. As a largely arts-based institution, I wondered if Ryerson teachers are understanding of students occasionally missing classes or turning in assignments late due to the demanding nature of their profession.
Are teachers understanding?
According to first-year Creative Industries student, Jeni Ross: “It completely depends on the prof.” She believes that communication is key. “I’ve had instances, especially near the beginning of semesters, where I am unable to attend class or office hours to start the conversation.” Although she wants the business background and education to back up her performing arts career, she has considered dropping out. “Continuing acting was never a question. The debate was whether or not to go to school.”
Although it’s been a busy period of her acting career, she likes being able to learn about different perspective of the industry. Giving notice to teachers and planning around assignments is tough “especially when I am given less than 24 hours warning before I’m needed on set. My mindset is that no matter what, you will find a solution to every problem, everything has eventually worked itself out.”
Another Ryerson student and actor, Alyssa Baker, who started acting at the age of seven, says school has always been important to her. “When I graduate, I know I will be happy that I pursued an education and developed valuable skills related to my industry. At the same time, I would not want to miss out on any career furthering opportunities because of school.”
In Baker’s experience, her teachers have been incredibly understanding and accommodating. “I think that is the benefit of being in an artistic program; the professors understand the importance and fleeting nature of creative opportunities.” But even with understanding profs, Baker also decided to limit the strain on herself with a lighter course load. “It is all about striking a balance.”
What makes it worth it?
Ross says: “Acting is definitely my passion, where I've met a ton of friends and it pays my tuition. I’d rather be scrambling to write an essay on set instead of sitting at home waiting for my next audition to pop up.” She plans to continue acting but would like to move into producing and eventually take on more responsibility creatively in projects.
Baker wants to develop the business skills and industry knowledge to self-advocate later in life. She also loves singing and theatre and plans to pursue the performing arts as a career after she graduates.
Third-year student and actor, Lauren Saarimaki believes in two reasons that make acting and getting a degree worth it. She says, “Studying something other than acting has allowed me to gain a new set of skills that I otherwise would not have had. More specifically, business has opened a lot of doors for me on the other side of the camera. Now I am not just an actor, but also a production coordinator.” Like Ross, Saarimaki wishes to pursue opportunities on the other end of the camera lens in addition to acting.
The other reason Saarimaki is pursuing a degree is for the experiences: “I personally believe that the more a person experiences the richer their work becomes.”
Are more actors getting degrees?
Back in the day, many actors didn’t feel the need to go to college or university unless they were specifically studying performing arts. Just watch Ellen’s 2014 Oscars opening speech where she jokes that the entire theatre full of Hollywood’s finest has made over 1,400 films, but only attended a total of six years of college. It seems that today, more and more actors are pursuing degrees for themselves. While they love being behind the camera and performing, they look for opportunities beyond that to take on more responsibility and grow. Actors pursuing a degree must maintain this delicate balance of chasing their dreams while also making the decision to be more educated and work hard for wherever they end up in life.