getting lost in your work
Every student has gotten caught up in their work to the point where it consumed their daily life. We often feel as though we are on autopilot, hurling ourselves through assignment after assignment, experiencing the ever-repetitive weeks with the exception of the monthly midterm. Although I have definitely had my moments where my schoolwork has taken over my life, the most memorable time this happened to me it didn’t relate to my academic responsibilities at all. It was because of my passion: theatre.
Don’t get me wrong, acting is no burden for me. I could sit here and write about the countless ways theatre and drama have helped me adjust to moving schools and living in the U.S. or how they taught me what it means to be truly passionate about something. All that is true, but there’s a side to acting that isn’t standing ovations and bouquets of flowers.
My drama class my sophomore year of high school was centered entirely on one goal: to teach students to live in the moment. By making us actively listen to each other for over four hours a week, our teachers believed we would be the few but lucky ones of our generation who still understood the gravity of genuine human interactions. They hoped to instill in us the importance of seeking out valuable conversations that aren’t in the form of little grey and blue messages on a screen.
In this same year I learned the acting technique of substitution.
Invented by German-American actress and theatre practitioner Uta Hagen, substitution is a technique that actors use to understand how a character should react to certain circumstances by connecting the script to memories from the actor's own life. This should result in the actor giving the most genuine performance possible. If a character is grief-stricken, ecstatic, or anything in between, the actor chooses a time in their life in which they felt the same way and inserts it in the scene.
In one of my scenes that year I played a fifteen-year-old girl in a fight with her cousin. While preparing and rehearsing, I often recalled a time I fought with my best friend. I pushed myself to remember as much as I could about how I felt and acted during that fight, and then proceeded to substitute that into my emotional and physical response onstage.
I was shocked at how well it worked.
I became just as confused and angry and sad in the spotlight as I had been during that moment in my life over two years ago. It was like I relived that moment all over again, and after I realized the power of the substitution technique, I constantly craved that recreation.
I found myself using substitutions for every performance after that one. Every play, musical, or stand-alone scene I was in left me scavenging through the endless file cabinet of memories that my mind had become. During my junior year of high school, I found myself obsessively hyper-focused during every basic life experience I was having. I took note of my emotions, body language, and surroundings, all with the hopes of someday being able to use these memories in a production. Conversations, parties, shouting matches, movie dialogues, and competitions are just some of the countless experiences I had sorted away in the back of my mind, ready to be recalled at a moment’s notice.
Realizing that I had fallen into this obsessive pattern didn’t hit me for a while. I lost sight of the authenticity of the present moment in an attempt to later recreate that very same authenticity onstage. I lost the feeling I was trying to capture. My life had become a database for my passion.
I think when we get caught up in our work we often don’t even realize it until it smacks us in the face. I had lost the very genuineness my sophomore year drama class had stressed we should find, and I was stuck in this endless search to capture more memories - like a washing machine on a high spin cycle.
Although I was able to break this habit four years ago, I am still learning how to balance my life and am in no way, shape, or form perfect. But, I will admit that I have gotten better at recognizing when I fall into my old habits and halting the cycle. By prioritizing moderation in my life I can treasure the joy acting brings me and live in the moment by enjoying the relationships I have with the people around me. The monotony of school being online this semester has caused me to almost re-enter that state in which I let work dominate my headspace, but I don’t let it consume me. My work doesn’t force me to lose sight of the genuine emotions I experience every day. Instead, I get to escape the real world through my passion, and step back from my passion to experience the real world.