When people first meet and get to know me, one of the first things they learn is that in terms of shyness, I rank right up there with Shy Guy.
My shyness is only matched by my social anxiety which can fluctuate between “I’m a little nervous talking” to “EVERYTHING I SAY IS STUPID AND THE WORLD HATES ME”.
Naturally upon learning this, the inevitable question is asked:
“So why are you an actor then?”
On the one hand, a small part of me is annoyed by this question. I’m asked it a LOT and my gut reaction in my brain has always been “Why CAN’T I be an actor?!”
But on the other hand, it’s an understandable question. Acting is a career that by nature requires you to put yourself out there, both on and off stage. It is a career that is associated with the bold and charismatic. You need to be fearless. And it is assumed that no shy person in their right mind would want to put themselves through the psychological torture of putting so many emotions so loudly on display and purposely appealing to people to look at you in your most vulnerable state and approve.
And yes, I will say that part can be tough. People who have worked with me know of the mental jumping jacks I have to go through to convince my brain that auditioning is a good idea, or that making a bold decision in rehearsal is okay, or that walking onto that stage opening night will not be the end of my life.
So why do I act then?
It’s a hard question to answer to be honest. I’m certainly not the only shy actor in the world. I can’t speak as to why ALL shy actors act. But I can explain why I went into acting.
Well, for one, I love stories and story telling. I loved playing imaginary games as a kid, especially fantasy storylines. Reading them simply wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be involved in them as well. But at one point I was considered far too old for imaginary games and by the time I was a teenager many of my peers had gone on to other things.
So acting became the legitimate way to continue to play those games. It still is, in fact.
But it could be argued, correctly so, that a shy person like me might be more suited to writing these stories instead of acting them out in front of, gulp, other people.
Well, here’s the thing. Yes, I am pretending to be other people, and that was the initial reason I started acting. But I learned something through my years of study. Up there, up on that stage, I am more myself than I ever am in real life. Every character I portray, no matter how odd or opposite they are from me, always has something from me in them. I am far more comfortable on the stage than anywhere else.
Again, it’s hard to explain. So I think I’ll tell a story.
This was basically me as a kid.
My parents were worried. Deeply worried. As shy as I am now, I was ten times worse as a kid. Most of this alas can be attributed to the bullying I experienced from Grades 5-8. When I was in Grade 7 (which still holds the record as the worst year of my life) it was getting to the point where I was too afraid to go to school. I rarely spoke, I holed myself away in my room, I avoided people at all costs.
In desperation, my mom suggested that I audition for a children’s theatre group in Sarnia called S.T.A.G.E. (Saturday Theatre Acting Group Experience). I didn’t have to do it alone either, she said. My sister’s friend Kelsey also wanted to audition. Maybe we could do a skit together.
The thing is, I had always WANTED to act. I had been to musicals in Sarnia and I desperately wanted to be involved. But of course I had been far too shy to ask. Like many decisions in my life, I simply needed a bit of a push.
And so I went to Kelsey’s house and wrote my first piece of writing ever at the age of 12. The audition wasn’t really an audition of course. They let everyone in. They just wanted to get to know the kids they’d be working with.
To say that S.T.A.G.E changed my life sounds clichéd, but it’s entirely true. Every Saturday we’d meet up for an hour in a decrepit building. It had a small decaying stage downstairs. We’d sit upstairs on old trunks and cushions and we would learn and play improv games. Everyone was welcoming, everyone made sure to include everyone else, and more importantly, everyone encouraged me to speak out.
It was exactly what I needed. I discovered that people would laugh at my jokes, that they didn’t care that I was making a fool of myself because they were too and it was far more fun that way. At the end of the year we wrote and performed our own show for our parents. I doubt any of it was actually funny. I did a mock cooking show in which I used a “live” austrailian frill lizard in a soup. I even gave it CPR.
That was how it started. I began acting simply because I loved to pretend and belonging to a community. I CONTINUED to act because, like any career path, I discovered there was so much more to it than simply pretending to be another person. I could never have fathomed just how deeply the study of acting could go, how many different methods there are and figuring out which one works best for you, how your own breath informs everything you do (biggest note I get: slow down and BREATHE!), just how important stories are to our society and why acting is a great way to tell them, how there is an energy between you and your co-stars, how the relationship between you and your audience is just as important between you and other actors, how that relationship is something that only happens in theatre and how special that is, how amazing comedy and how it sometimes does better teaching than the most serious dramas.
In short, I became addicted. Not just to the adventures I could have, but the feeling I got whenever I stepped onstage and the awareness I had of my entire body.
It helped me get over a lot of my shyness. Obviously, I am still working on it, but the amount of progress that’s been made is astounding if you’ve known me since I was a kid. A couple of years ago I went home for my parents anniversary party and my neighbours who hadn’t seen me in years could not quite believe I was the same person.
And of course the acting training also helped to mask a LOT of the anxiety that was broiling on the inside. Before Errol outed me as the socially anxious mess I am on his comic, people’s first impressions of me (especially when seeing me perform) was that I was a confident and social queen. It’s how I got people to work with me. Then of course they learn the truth but it’s too late by then. They’re stuck with me. MWAH!
Now something weird is happening though. I’ve stopped acting (at least, I’m not doing it nearly as much as I used to) and suddenly I’ve found myself reverting a bit to my old ways. A lot of my confidence, my identity, a lot of the way I dealt with my anxiety, was tied up in acting and now for most part that is gone and I am left to find other methods to deal with it.
In many ways, it’s scary. But in many more important ways, it’s very good. Acting was a superb way for me to come out of my shell. It’s still very important to me and is still insanely fun to do. But I’m starting to realize I was using it a bit too much as a crutch to gain confidence. I’ve been able to start to figure myself out through other characters. Now I have to do it by myself. How, I’m not sure yet, but it’s an adventure and who ever knows what will happen on an adventure!
So, in short, why do I, a shy person, act? Because it’s fun.