My Experience Combining a Law Degree With Performing Arts

Taking different electives from your majors could enrich your university experience. Law student, Brenda Lee, shares her experience.

What comes to mind when you think of law students? Honestly, there are various misconceptions surrounding law students — from being nerdy to not being sporty to being serious all the time. However, there’s a common misconception which is law students being academically focused and not very hands-on. 

But, I beg to differ. As a law student, I’ve chosen to go a slightly different pathway from what people perceive and head into the field of performing arts (for my elective at least)

Here’s my experience of why I choose the path less taken and what I think about it:

How My Interest in Performing Arts Led Me to Take Up an Elective

As a child, I was first exposed to the world of theatre in primary school. I was frequently chosen by my art and drama teacher to be involved in plays for school performances. At that time, I wondered what she saw in me. But that opportunity really opened up a whole new world for me. I started to enjoy performing on stage and wanted to know more about the art of acting. 

Unfortunately, said teacher moved overseas shortly after and there wasn’t any proper platform or opportunity for me to really explore the area, especially with the lack of exposure to performing arts in my hometown Sabah. And with that, that growing interest seemed to die out and I felt like I’ve lost this creative side of me as I placed more emphasis on my studies along the way.

Two young children dancing together on stage.
Are you passionate in turning your interest in performing arts into a career? Find out how you can get started here.

How Taylor’s University Reignited My Passion for Performing Arts

It was when I enrolled in Taylor’s University in 2019 that I first heard of the Bachelor of Performing Arts Programme. The degree programme was established in the same year by the founders of The Actor’s Studio, Mr Joe Hasham and Mrs Faridah Merican, in collaboration with Taylor’s.

By the time I came to know about this, I’d already enrolled in Bachelor of Laws as my core degree. However, because I wanted to reignite and rediscover my interest in performing arts, I took the leap and enrolled in the Introduction to Acting module as an elective, through the free elective pathway — a road less taken by fellow law students. 

Even though it’s been a lonely path (with the lack of law students), it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I met people with great creative minds, and they taught me how to let go and have fun in the present moment.

A Law Degree With a Performing Arts Elective

Choosing Between Free Elective Pathway vs Extension Pathway at Taylor’s University

You may be wondering, law and performing arts? How does one even get to that path?

In the Taylor’s Complementary Studies option, I opted for the free elective pathway instead of the extension pathway that most of my classmates have taken.

The free elective pathway allows you to choose from a variety of different modules from different faculties such as economics, psychology, design, mass communication, culinary arts, business, creative media and others. On the flipside, the extension pathway consists of two separate categories of specialised areas of law, namely international private law and corporate law.

See why I choose the free elective pathway? When else can you take up a course that’s almost completely different from your major! Through this, I could explore other modules that I was interested in. Though law is intellectually stimulating in itself, I had other interests I wanted to pursue. 

A group of theater performers rehearsing on stage

Among the electives I’ve taken, my top pick was the Introduction to Acting module under the Bachelor of Performing Arts Programme or TUTAS, Taylor’s University and The Actor’s Studio Conservatory Degree.

Embracing the Uniqueness and Differences of a Performing Arts Module as a Law Student

The module was a completely different experience for me as a law student, but it was one which I looked forward to throughout my final semester. As the study of law is heavily academic, consisting of writing legal assignments and sitting for final exams, the study of acting is very practical and hands-on, requiring lesser focus on written assignments and exams. A much needed break if you ask me!

What’s the difference between a law and an acting classroom? Well, for starters, our acting module is conducted in the experimental theatre studio which isn’t like your normal average classroom. The place has awesome sound acoustics which highly amplifies your voice when you speak — something that’s absolutely crucial in our lessons. 

For most of our classes, we’d start with physical and vocal warmups to release tension and stress from our bodies after a long week as well as to train ourselves to project our voices clearly which is essential in performance. This has been helpful for me as I got to take a step back, just relax, and be myself. I didn’t have to put on the impression of knowing it all. I could just come as I was. 

Now, you may be wondering, how would these warmups and performances help in an everyday setting? Well, having a clear and loud voice projection is crucial especially in public speaking or presentation in a business context which has definitely been rewarding as it’d greatly help me in my future career as a lawyer. Lawyers need to speak clearly and coherently in court too!

Wondering which pathway is the right one for you? Enquire about your best fit here.

Unleashing Creativity Together

Another thing that’s different about the module is the hands-on creativity each student would need to bring into every lesson. Now, law lessons may be creative in its own way but it’s nothing like the hands-on approach the module exposed me to. With the activities creatively designed to get our minds working and be ever ready as actors and performers, you can expect to be surprised by what’s in-store for each lesson.

We’d also play theatre games where we’d walk around the theatre and ‘be’ whatever our lecturer tells us to be. We didn’t have to think too hard too because the aim is to unleash our creativity and imagination however we liked! For instance, if our lecturer tells us to ‘walk like a 5-year-old in a park’ or ‘imagine that your house is on fire and you’re trapped inside’, we could interpret that in our own way and act it out while walking around the theatre.

I remember going through a segment called Tableau where we’re placed in groups, and each group had to enact a still scene provided by our lecturer in just a few minutes. Some of the scenarios included an ‘accident scene’, a ‘cheerleading performance scene’, and even a ‘teen party scene’. It’s amazing to see how each group would creatively enact them in different ways together and you’d really see how everyone was cooperative, sporting, and imaginative in completing the task.

Truthfully, the element of creativity isn’t quite emphasised in a law degree, and that most of the time as law students, there are several strict criteria to be followed completely in our assignments — having attention to detail being one of them. Once I enrolled in this elective, I was forced to harness creativity in my own way in an artistic sense. 

It’s been challenging as I’d to constantly shift my way of thinking between my law module and my performing arts elective, but eventually I learned that creativity is a much needed aspect in all careers as it helps individuals and organisations find innovative solutions in overcoming problems. Not to mention, my classmates have proven that no one is never creative at all. It just takes a little bit of encouragement for one to open up and show what they’re capable of!

A girl performing solo on a theater stage.

How Individual Assignments AKA Monologue Works

Similar to its lessons, there aren't many written assignments for this module compared to what I’m familiar with in my major. Among the assignments for this module, I found two of them particularly engaging: the monologue performance and the group performance!

For the monologue performance assignment, we’d to choose a scene from a movie or play and subsequently monologue as a character of our choice. The catch? We couldn’t make it look like we’re having a conversation with someone else as our character is essentially speaking their thoughts out loud! I found this exciting as you could see different characters from a range of genres being brought to life in class by my classmates.

I chose to be Jo March from 2019’s Little Women as the movie was the first one that crossed my mind and I loved the story (Fun fact: I was given the novel as a gift by a teacher when I was 12).  I felt that Jo’s personality was different from mine as she’s a strongly opinionated, independent, and witty individual with a bright ambition to be an author. I, on the other hand, am moderately opinionated and more accommodating. Due to this difference between our personalities, I was intrigued by the idea of playing someone who’s completely different from me. 

Because Jo’s character couldn’t be any more different from my personality, the aspect of getting into character for the monologue was definitely challenging as I not only had to remember her lines, but I also had to creatively adapt her character to suit my own way of delivering them. It was truly a fun and rewarding moment to really examine her to ensure a good monologue.

How Group Assignments AKA Group Performance Works

Like all modules, we also have group assignments AKA group performances. For our group performance assignment, we were paired up in groups of 6-7 people and had to enact an original 10-minute play based on a current world issue. 

Our group’s play was based on young people conforming to parental pressure and expectations as well as their struggle to carve their own path for the future. We felt that this was a prevalent issue especially in the Asian context as parents want the best for their children. Though, a lot of the time, it may not be expressed appropriately or it may come across as being dismissive of their children’s own wishes.

The weeks of forming the script, coming up with the direction for the scenes, and multiple rehearsals, was definitely a tiring yet fruitful journey of working and bonding together with my group. 

There were times where I felt stressed and anxious that our play wouldn't turn out to be what we envisioned as we'd to rewrite the script and improvise our scenes after getting feedback from our lecturer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the process of working on our play, we formed great team chemistry and synergy , which was essential in making our play a great one to watch and follow along.

A group of performers performing together on a theater stage.

From these assignments, I realised that taking a hands-on approach to solving problems is a very engaging and dynamic way of doing things. In law, it’s  about engaging mental power. Performing arts is a dynamic and hands-on learning which involves the whole body, voice, and imagination. Yep, they’re completely opposite of each other, yet totally complementary!

All in all, having chosen a module from performing arts did ignite my love for it again. I enjoy performing even though it forces me out of my comfort zone. But what’s the future like for me as a law student? Will I go into theatre? I don’t know. But I do know for certain that, at the end of the day, taking this as an elective has provided interesting twists and turns and opportunities for what the future could hold. 

If you are contemplating whether to venture into other areas of study, or if there are other personal interests you’d like to pursue apart from your core degree, I’d highly encourage you to do so because you never know what valuable knowledge or life lessons you can gain from them. The memorable part will be the opportunity to meet unique people from different walks of life. It is also important to keep an open mind and a positive spirit when choosing to explore an elective that is completely different from your core degree as it helps you to think outside the box in whatever you’re doing.

Still wondering if a Degree in Performing Arts is for you? Click the image below to find out more!

Brenda Rachel Lee is in her final semester of Bachelor of Laws (LLB) (Hons) at Taylor's University. She is also the Director of Academic Relations of Gagasan Mahasiswa Undang-Undang Sabah (GUNS) and a member of Taylor’s Performing Arts Society and Taylor’s Catholic Society. She’s passionate about raising legal awareness to the public and an advocate for causes that serve justice and equality.