My mother had no qualms about me taking Biology. My love for plants, animals and all forms of microorganisms has been around longer than I can remember (back during the time I actually considered gardening as a profession). She was confident I could do well if I put in the hard work. However, her brows furrowed when she saw my choice for my contrasting subject.
I was planning to take Theatre Studies and Drama (TSD).
Being a triple science student who took Geography in secondary school, TSD was new ground. Other than it being a more time-demanding subject than most other subjects, taking it with Biology was an unusual combination. Despite the uncertainty of my grades, believing in my passion for theatre, I felt that I would rather take a combination I am interested in than suffer through 2 years with subjects I may not like. Currently, I am the only BCMT student in this school, as nobody in the J1 batch takes the same combination as me. I did have 2 seniors before me who did though. They were nice, telling me many useful tricks and giving me encouragements to survive this weird and crazy combination.
Being the only BCMT student is fairly interesting. While most of the subjects I take are situated in classrooms and lecture theatres, I spend my time learning TSD in the Drama Studios at the E block. We don’t sit on chairs, unless we are acting or doing written work. We learn mainly by actually performing our set text pieces or by watching videos, taking note of the things we do or the way the stages are set up. Our notes come in the form of thick stacks of paper, where we spend our time meticulously sieving out relevant information with a highlighter, and the brief nuggets of knowledge hastily penned down into our notebooks, scattered about by our teacher’s never-ending lectures. The timetable is adjusted to fit all the combinations found in my class (we have Art and CSE students too), as well as the other TSD students from other classes, so the places I have to shift to are rather tiring and hilarious at times. One moment I might be mixing test tubes containing silver nitrate and hydrochloric acid in the Chemistry Lab, next moment I’m rolling around on the ground and laughing like a maniac in the Drama Studio.
It is quite a challenge to balance something as memory-intensive as Biology with something as imagination-driven as Theatre. Unlike Biology, where you can do pretty okay by memorising all the keywords in every chapter and putting them into your answers, Theatre requires you to visualise the stage as you write. You will have to answer in terms of the actor’s character, objectives, voice, movement, and so on. I had a culture shock when I sat for the Mid-Year paper last year, having never done an examination paper that requires so much creativity and thought in a span of 3 hours. Most of us also have to act for our individual and group skills, and to write a 2500 word research paper which we handed up this May. These required time and effort to perfect, which I usually spend cooped up in my bedroom, reciting (and shouting) my lines, and hoping the neighbours don’t come down and complain about the noise.
Have I ever regretted taking BCMT? Sometimes, especially when I’m struggling to manage rehearsal timings with revision. I am someone who has rather poor time management skills. In J1, I spent so much time rehearsing my acting that I did not do any revision for the other subjects, thinking that I was still going to ace them as they were subjects I was highly familiar with. In the end, I saw my grades take a drastic plunge during my Mid Years, even getting a U for my H2 math. It was shocking, since I had never failed a math examination paper before. Within theatre, I was struggling as well. I was not as great an actress I thought I would be, and I realised that I was lacking tremendously compared to the other TSD students. It made me worried about my ability to excel in TSD, and I wondered if I should have taken another combination where my grades were much more predictable.
There were also many sacrifices I have to make being in BCMT. Having Theatre made me pressed for time, so difficult priority choices were a given. Sometimes, I had to forgo outings with my friends, and instead spend the time at home or in the Esplanade library writing my research paper for TSD. I was also separated a lot from my classmates during normal school hours, which definitely affected our chemistry (no pun intended) with each other. I joined Drama Club to help me with my acting skills, as well as to be with other Victorians who may love acting but didn’t choose to do TSD. Although I have loved Choir since secondary school, it was too time-consuming to continue in VJ. There were a handful of moments where I wonder if I should have joined that instead. However, there were many things I would not have done in VJ if I had taken another route, and these events were really special and precious. I love everything I did in Drama Club, and perhaps, if I didn’t take TSD, I may not have met such a wonderful bunch of people in my life. If there is one thing I learned through this experience, I learned to be grateful in all circumstances, and to find the good in every choice that you make.
Being in BCMT had its other benefits. Taking TSD and Biology together was helpful in building both my character and academic values. With TSD, I became more confident on stage and in front of a crowd. I learned to express myself beyond words, letting my actions and my voice play a vital role as well. I learned how to articulate my words clearly and to project my voice to the end of the room. These are really helpful life skills, especially during my PW days where OP was a crucial component of my grade. Biology, on the other hand, taught me to be analytical. It taught me how to deduce and correct situations within organisms. It taught me to hold a high level of precision in my answers and have a great deal of knowledge of the subject. With Biology, I learned to be efficient and quick in solving problems.
Another interesting thing that has happened is my greater appreciation for the complexity of the human being. This might sound really deep but it’s true! Biology reveals how complicated a single eukaryotic cell is, much less an entire organism made out of billions of many different cells. Every single part of our body is detailed and finely tuned in such a specific way that if one part was missing, an entire organ or being may not be able to function! It’s both mysterious and beautiful.
The same goes for TSD. Rather than looking from a scientific view, I admire the humane side of people, that we are all emotional, complicated beings. Humans don’t just show a single emotion at a time. We can smile while hiding tears. We can suppress our anger or hatred to another in the realms of being polite. We can fantasise about strange and wonderful places while dulling the pain in our lives. As I studied theatre, I grew more fascinated with the people around me, watching their tone and expression, and even the slightest of gestures that may reveal what they might actually feel inside. It’s fascinating, how strong we humans can be even in if our world is falling apart, and how easily we can break with a simple sentence.
I don’t regret taking this combination as a whole. I can’t see myself doing any other. Sure, it’s tiring, strange and difficult at times, but it’s also fun, exciting, and wonderful. I get the best of both worlds, and in my own hell, I found my own little slice of heaven.
Jolene Cheong, 15S34
This is an entry received as part of our 2016 writing contest. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Victorian Press.