What do PhD students and soap opera actors have in common? Read my rambling thoughts to find out…
I know this might seem like a stretch, but bear with me.
On Monday, I was part of the Histories and New Directions: Soap Opera/Serial Narrative Research Symposium presented by the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York (big shout out to Kristyn Gorton and Ahmet Atay for organising such an invigorating day!).
While I could tell you all about how my presentation went, and how I probably should have cut down a third of my talk, and how I probably should have worn a different shirt because the room was so warm I felt I was going to pass out while talking (advice from here on out: always wear layers when presenting at a conference!), I am instead going to tell you about the first two sessions I attended.
First, Tom Cantrell from the University of York gave a talk entitled “Acting in Soap Opera: Narrative Flux and Character Development,” which is part of a larger project conducted with Christopher Hogg for their upcoming book Acting in British Television. Tom reflected on the work experience of soap opera actors who are often in character for several hours per week, so much so that they often interact with the other cast members while they are all still in character for longer than they actually interact with their own families. Does that ring a bell for anyone?
That’s not even the main connection I was trying to make! Because soap operas run for years and years, actors may have a hard time dealing with their characters being removed from the storyline. It is an actual sense of loss they have to go through when they stop playing a character they have invested so much of their time, energy and life-experience in. I have yet to finish my PhD, but I have many friends who now call themselves Drs, and others who are waiting for their Vivas or to hear back from the thesis examiners who can probably relate to this sentiment. Many of them have told me that they really didn’t know what to do with themselves when the PhD writing process was over and their every day was not mandated by a research-plan. It seems like there is also a sense of loss and self-discovery that each PhD candidate needs to go through once they are done “rehearsing their lines” and it is time to “find the next script.”
Meanwhile, James A. Zborowski from the University of Hull addressed the following: “What Distinguishes British Soap Opera from Other Forms of British Television Drama? Notes Towards a Social Poetics of Television.” James proposed that soap opera actors have four characteristics that connect them to other broadcasting figures: they spend a lot of time in one project, they have to pre-plan their interactions, their preparation needs to be diligent and they need to have a well-defined persona. When I was writing these four entries down, I felt that I wasn’t taking notes for my PhD thesis on telenovelas, but instead I was writing my new postgraduate mantras.
It seems that soap opera actors could teach us a thing or two about transitioning from project to project, and about sustaining a project over an extended period of time. In any case, I think I will always prefer to relate my PhD experience to soap opera actors rather than to soap opera characters themselves.
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