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Shining Without a Spotlight

A column for our alumni series by Sarah Jooste

One day in primary school my teacher waltzed into the classroom and announced with great gusto that our school was hosting a concert and that, because we were in grade 5 now, we had a chance to audition for a lead role within our grade's big performance! I knew nothing about drama or performing but I got the role of Grumpy Elephant who ruled the vast grasslands and I was ecstatic! I rehearsed my lines everyday:

“Move out of my way, move out of my way! I'm the biggest of them all!!”

...and by the time that Grumpy Elephant stepped foot on stage for our opening night it was actually Sarah who never wanted to leave again!

A Sarah in her natural habitat!

Drama is such a multifaceted subject and it has this unique way of transforming us as individuals through the journey it takes us on. I had some tough years in my early high school career and became a person who wasn’t very sure of herself, lacking the self confidence that mini grade 5 me exuded on a daily basis. Towards the end of my grade 9 year, I met Lauren – formally known as Miss Jones! Lauren had such a magical way with her students, she challenged us daily on our thinking and she pushed us to achieve the best of our own unique capabilities. She ignited a fire within me that had been doused for a long time and I fell in love with the arts again. In fact, I fell so in love with everything that drama encompassed that I ended up carrying drama through to Matric despite being told that triple science was the only way to get into university to study a “meaningful” degree. They were so wrong! I had the absolute privilege of starring as the witty and sarcastic Zara who was sucked into a video game with her friends in Quantum Leap. Later I was able to explore the magic and enchantment of the fountain of fair fortune with my two sisters in Arabian Nights (the original!) The biggest lesson that the performing arts taught me during this time was to consciously learn to stop doubting myself, to be confident in my abilities by pushing through my comfort zone. I think back to how I was never a very good dancer but how I would dedicate time and effort to learning our routines and performing them with enthusiasm on stage! Lauren also pushed us to not blindly accept the information that was given to us; we asked “why?” all the time and I believe this has led me to think more open-mindedly in my own life even now. The arts also taught me some hard lessons. I have never done well with receiving criticism and often became despondent with negative feedback... but performing taught me to rely on the wisdom and insight of those around me to support me. Not everyone is there to tear you down. Sometimes it's actually about helping you achieve your greatest success!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sarah shares the stage with her onstage sisters, Savannah and Suné, in the original version of my adaptation of 'Arabian Nights' - it's always so wonderful to be reminded of the younger years of the powerhouse females I was fortunate enough to teach for a few years back in the day. I spy a Rox and an Onke here too!

After Matric, I was accepted into university to study a degree in physiotherapy and the lessons I had learnt through drama became invaluable to me. Lecturers would often comment on how it was so natural for me to present work in front of an audience and hold their attention. I was able to approach my patients with such conviction when assessing or treating them because I was so sure of who I was and I was also confident in my abilities. This all led me to do extremely well clinically. Hard work is also something that young artists are no stranger to. You cannot expect to just read a monologue once and be exceptional at it – it takes hours and hours of effort to perfect your piece, and this ethos of consistent and drawn out effort puts many of us miles ahead in so many facets of life. I knew there was a lot of hard work that I needed to put into achieving my degree but I also had first-hand knowledge of how rewarding the end result would be too.

I graduated from university Cum Laude and I am now a full-time government employee working in a hospital in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Often, the impression people have of physiotherapists is that we massage people and we only really work within the sports industry but physiotherapy is so much more than it seems. We work with critically ill patients in the ICU setting, we rehabilitate people who have sustained spinal cord injuries to the point where they can function individually again, and we treat pain through exercise. My work is extremely demanding, both physically and mentally - especially now during the COVID- 19 pandemic. We signed an oath dedicating our professional lives to serving and helping people and, within the blink of an eye, I found myself dressed in full PPE, actively treating positive COVID-19 patients.

Sarah dons a different kind of a costume these days. Here she is wearing full PPE and just about to go into the COVID ward to treat her patients.

It is an extremely daunting process but thanks to my drama education, I know it's about taking a moment to remember who you are and what you are capable of... and then take that leap of faith onto the stage of life! The skills that academic and extracurricular drama equipped me with are intertwined in every, single one of my days and I am realising more and more what an empathetic person this education has shaped me to be. Instead of labelling a patient who doesn’t want to partake in therapy as “lazy” or “grumpy” I am able to ponder on that all-important "why?" and acknowledge the inner turmoil the patient is going through. After all, I also wouldn’t want to do anything if I had been in hospital for 100 days without my loved ones or after being informed that I have a life-threatening illness. Approaching people with empathy is so important as we never really know what lies ahead for us. Working in a hospital highlights just how quickly our circumstances can change.

If I could go back, I would choose drama over and over and over again even though I never pursued it as a career. Drama taught me so many life lessons about discipline, how failing is okay as long as you don't give up, and about how important it is to truly back yourself. These are lessons I would have never found inside a textbook. If you can find a way to shine on a stage without a spotlight, then you can shine off stage too.


© Sarah Jooste for Collab Company | 2021


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