Being an Introvert in the Performing Arts
When people think of the word introvert, performing arts is rarely the first thing that comes to mind. A performing artist is usually seen as an individual who radiates dynamic energy through performance. Introversion, on the other hand, is often and unjustly seen as weak.
However, what people don’t realize is that many people in the entertainment industry define themselves as an introvert, including popular names like Johnny Depp, Elton John, Michelle Pfeiffer, Vanessa Hudgens, and even Meryl Streep who is known for having the highest number of academy award nominations and regarded as one of the best actresses of all time.
I was involved in musical theatre from the age of eight to the age of eighteen. Now I’m not one to usually go by stereotypes, but most theatre people, especially musical theatre people act exactly like they are perceived: exceptionally hyper and always in character.
In short, they’re pretty much extreme forms of extroverts who surpass your everyday extroverts by one thousand. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these characteristics by any means, but when they’re used as a cover-up for judgmental, immature, and cliquey behavior, well - that’s what you call fake positivity.
I was the rarity in that jumble of obnoxiousness, and I was grateful to be able to find people in time who felt just like me.
Throughout my several years in acting schools to eventually becoming a part of the performing arts department at my high school, what I found was that the most difficult part of being an introvert in musical theatre was not overcoming stage fright. It was the fear of performing in front of my peers and the fear of certain directors and choreographers who pretty much saw introverts as some form of alien and would often throw out condescending comments while practicing extreme favoritism towards the opposite.
Another thing that made being an introvert in theatre such a struggle was the failure of others to recognize the strengths of being an introvert.
Maybe the quieter actor struggled a bit with projecting, but they could memorize and recite their lines and show up at every rehearsal right on time. While others would perhaps project well and be spot-on in their acting abilities, they would also forget their lines, not show up to class because they felt they didn’t have to, and thus, receive generous approval from the director. (I guess being able to shout and sing the loudest makes up for everything else that goes into being a successful actor, right?)
This isn’t to say that every extrovert in theatre is necessarily malicious or cruel by any means. There are some who are very friendly, genuine, and warm-hearted, which I acknowledge.
But often, at least many of the theatre people I’ve encountered, were more phony than genuine, conveniently leaving the more reserved people out of social gatherings because their personality didn’t quite match up to their standards.
Likewise, directors and choreographers would often talk down to the quiet one and say things to them that they would never dare say to a student who was more outgoing and seemingly self-assured.
The worst mistake you could possibly make, and I say this as a warning to any introvert in theatre, is trying to match your personality to a theatre kid.
Trust me, as an introvert, you could try all you want but you’ll most likely never fully reach that extreme level of extrovert and if you do it will be far from genuine.
Remember this, being reserved and mature is far more appealing than being obnoxious and immature. I know this because I attempted to slightly alter my personality like this during my first couple of years in high school in order to fit in with the other theatre kids. What I ultimately realized was that I was more unhappy having temporary, phony friends who I knew had no true connection to me in the slightest.
However, when I began meeting those rare, but few people like me in musical theatre who had a similar reserved personality and frequently heard the same comments I heard, but still had a devotion to theatre, I knew that it wasn’t such an abnormal thing to be an introvert in the performing arts.
Despite the isolation and low self-esteem from being an introvert in theatre, I couldn’t keep away from it.
I loved musical theatre and adored the euphoria I felt upon taking the final bow. Theatre allowed me to transform myself into a fantastical world and create a bond with people who I differed from through a mutual appreciation and love for the arts.
So I began majoring in theatre throughout my first three years in college. I chose to major in theatre studies over musical theatre because the program was much broader and I was more passionate about acting as opposed to singing and dancing. I also was under the impression that the people I’d be working with would be a little more tolerable.
I was wrong.
The theatre people did not mature in the slightest bit (if anything they were worse than before) and most theatre studies classes had students from the musical theatre major. While I was debating switching my major solely for them, I realized that judgmental, cliquey, and unaccepting people should not dictate the passion I had since I was a little girl.
However, at the same time, another passion that I hold equally, if not more than theatre is writing, which is something I’ve also been doing from a very young age.
I was conflicted between two options:
Would I rather study writing, something I love, never have to deal with these people again, but completely miss out on studying theatre, something I also love?
Or would I rather study theatre, remain miserable with these people, but not expand on something I love just as much, if not more?
I decided to have the best of both worlds.
I changed my major in the previous fall semester of my Junior year to a B.A in English with a minor in theatre.
During the spring semester of my Junior year, I changed my minor to film and media studies.
As much as I adored theatre, my passion had been growing for film and screenwriting and I felt that this was the better fit for me going forward.
Although theatre will always be something I hold near and dear to my heart, my college experience made me realize my true passions above anything else.
So the purpose of this isn’t to trash your stereotypical theatre person, but instead, I want this to speak to any introvert involved in the performing arts who feels isolated and down on one’s self for not matching up to other’s Type-A, bubbly personality and not receiving acknowledgment from teachers.
Remember the strengths of being an introvert like strong listening skills and attention to detail.
Recognize how those skills could work to your greatest advantage in class, on stage, on camera, or through whatever specific form of performing arts that you have a passion for.
If your goal is to become more outgoing and sociable, that’s great! But make sure that you are not doing this to please your peers or your teachers.
Do it for yourself.
Most importantly, do not EVER think that being an introvert means that you are less adequate as a performing arts student.
And if you ever start to doubt yourself, just think of Meryl Streep delivering her zillionth speech at the Oscars.