by MOH staff writer, Joanna Mechaley
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Lean in, this is just between us…
Okay. Here we go…
I…am an introvert. Quite possibly the introvertiest introvert that ever introverted.
This revelation usually results in a variety of responses ranging from skepticism to eye rolls to outright arguments. After all, I’m an actress and performers are by their very nature spotlight-seeking, outgoing, inexplicably confident showboats, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
Now, don’t misunderstand–I can lead one heck of a historical tour, my phone voice is on point, public speaking is practically a hobby and I can rock a parent-teacher conference no matter how “talkative” my daughter was in class.
But it’s a
In truth, I’m awkward. Socially, as well as physically. If you catch me off guard, most of our conversation will consist of short, confused phrases, with me thoughtfully trailing off mid-sentence once I realize that I’m trying to relate to an actual living, breathing human.
I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. As a student, I couldn’t catch a ball but I could diagram the heck out of a sentence. My first kiss wasn’t the result of adolescent infatuation but, rather, the tail-end of a rehearsal with the director demanding we “do it again” until it looked “more natural.”
To be clear, I’m not shy. Introversion is not necessarily synonymous with being timid. It’s just that, for me, a successful social interaction requires an inordinate amount of energy so to recharge, I have to Garbo. (“I want to be let alone…” Watch a classic movie, for Pete’s sake.)
I discovered theater as a freshman in high school when some uncharacteristic surge of whimsy emboldened me to audition for the only team sport I might be qualified for–the fall play. It was, as they say, a game-changer.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by this menagerie of wonderful, exotic creatures. Drama kids. Oh, my heart! They were so confident, heedless of the stares of non-thespians. They spouted lines of dialogue in the hallway, the lunchroom, the parking lot. They channeled their characters, holding mock arguments on the way to class, snapping retorts like gunfire, emotions pinging off the locker doors. They burst into dandy English accents at the drop of a tophat. “Aye, gov’na! Ow’s ya mum?”
What could possess a group of teenagers, notably the most self-conscious of all living beings, to act with such blatant disregard for social judgment?
Theater, that’s what.
Theater is an exercise in relationships between characters, their conflicts and resolutions. It provides a safe place to encounter and express complex emotions. It builds empathy by requiring actors to portray people and situations very different from their own. And, all of this emoting and empathizing naturally results in a strong sense of community. Of belonging. And a fearless ability to be a little, well, extra together.
And the strangest thing? This immersion in social activity isn’t exhausting. It’s…invigorating. To this day, I am the most comfortable, the most relaxed, the most me in the theater. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about being told what to say and how to move, and having the freedom…no, the expectation to express emotions boldly.
Over the course of many years and countless performances, I’ve learned to feel comfortable in front of a crowd. Theater has taught me intentional movement and posture and vocal delivery. I’ve discovered ways to override my insecurities in order to channel confidence. And, most importantly, I’ve embraced my inner clod, learning to find humor in being human.
It’s not just for actors, either. I’ve had the privilege of watching passions develop for construction, textiles, graphic design, team management, and sound/lighting design. Science for special effects, history for research, no subject is safe from theatrical exploration.
That’s the thing about the arts–
They’re so much more than paintings and performances. They’re opportunities for empowerment. They unveil passions and talents. They inspire us to develop bonds while embracing the qualities that make us individuals. They encourage discovery and exploration so that when we push the boundaries of what is obvious, we reveal what is extraordinary.
When you engage in the arts, whether it’s by attending a performance, volunteering, or through financial support, you play a role in changing lives. You make our community stronger. You build leaders and visionaries. And sometimes, just sometimes, you give an introvert the energy to be sociable another day.