Does Dramatic Performance Cure Shyness
I was a Shy Child
If you have a hard time with public speaking or have a very shy child, I have a suggestion. Try dramatic performance. I know this sounds totally absurd for a person already afraid of the public to be thrust into the spotlight but it does work. Here is my story.
In my grammar school and high school years, I was incredibly shy. I would rather eat dirt than raise my hand in class even if I knew the answer. I’d rather suffer kidney failure than ask to go the bathroom. I’m an artist. We love to be alone working on art in our own little world. When friends suggested that I would make a good teacher, I shut them down. That could never happen. It would mean standing in front of a room with as many as 60 eyes on me. To me that would be a fate worse than death. Giving an oral book report was sheer terror and in college I would rather fail the class than give a speech.
All of this is to say that when I was introduced to drama the effects were more surprising than you can imagine. I had been through a rather messy divorce, which didn’t do much for my self-confidence. As therapy, I voluteered my time and talents to a church drama group, designing and sewing their costumes as well as painting backdrops.
That fateful day came when I was in the back of the sanctuary altering costumes. The group was rehersing and the performance date was only days away for the big Easter production. I could hear the discussion from the director and the core members of the cast becoming heated. Apparently some key member was not going to be present for the performance because of a serious illness in the family. She had one line. They were discussing who could take the pace of the absent cast member. But because of costume changes and songs in the performance, no one else could do it. That’s when someone pointed at me behind my sewing machine and said, “What about her?” The drug me to the front of the church, kicking and screaming, “NO.”
Be Someone Else
The director wanted to know why I didn’t want to do it and I explained that I just can’t talk in front of people. I would ruin their performace and embarrass everyone. “You don’t understand,” I told him. “I’m incredibly shy Denise!” But he wasn’t at all impressed or discouraged. He said that was okay because I wasn’t going to be incredibly shy Denise. He had my attention with that. “What?” “No,” he explained. “You are going to be someone else. Someone else who isn’t shy and can talk in front of people. That’s what acting is all about.” I really had no argument for that. I never heard of that before. The implications were intriguing. I could be someone else! The truth is that I always wanted to be someone else. Now was my opportunity.
I did it!
I was in that performance. I ran onstage, said my line, “Oh yeah!” and ran off. That’s all there was to it and I was hooked. For a few seconds I was someone else. I began performing with them regularly. We did musicals, dramas, comedies. I was never a leading person but I didn’t care. I was someone else.
Teaching is Drama
A middle school teacher friend of mine approached me to give an art demonstration for her class. She thought my art was beautiful and was sure I could capture her student’s attention. “But you don’t understand. I’m incredibly shy! I can’t talk in front of people.” She wasn’t taking that for an answer. She said, “You get in front of people and do dramas, what’s the difference?” “They write me a script for one thing, and I have to be someone else,” I told her. “So write a script,” she answered. I’m sure she didn’t know what I meant by being someone else. It was a thought, I hadn’t thought of. Maybe I could teach. So I went home, wrote and memorized a script.
I was so nervous when I arrived at her class, I felt sick. I went to the bathroom but wasn’t sure which way to face the throne.
Do you have trouble speaking in public?
I'm the teacher in red.
Don't Raise Your Hand!
After she introduced me I got up and began spouting my script. I had art to show and they seemed to be liking it. Then the unthinkable happened. A boy in the front row raised his hand. I remember thinking, “What do I do? That’s not in the script.” So I ignored him. I kept on with my memorized monologue until I couldn’t stand the sight of him stuggling to hold his hand up any longer. I found a place I was sure I would remember to break off my monologue and looked at him and said, “WHAT?” But he very calmly asked me a question about how I got into art, I answered and went back to my monologue and art lesson. At the end I felt like I swam the English Channel but in a good way.
I CAN teach after all.
After this I felt maybe I could actually teach. I memorized many monologues and prepared several lessons and began teaching here and there art lessons in public schools. It turned into something I did almost full time for many years, even without a teaching creditial. All because dramatic performances gave me the courage and confidence to face an audience and be someone else.
In the Spotlight
Years later, I met a new director. My church drama group knew him, but I hadn’t met him before. He called for auditions so I came. He had written a new Easter production to be performed at the church. I auditioned for the part of the wife, without knowing that he would be playing the part of the husband. The interesting thing is that there were 4 of us auditioning for that part and he had already mentally picked another girl he thought would be perfect for the part. However after hearing my reading he changed his mind. I like to tell people that I auditioned for the part of his wife and I got the part… because years later we married.
I feel I owe a lot to drama and the theater. My confidence, my teaching, and my marriage. That’s pretty good for a girl so shy she failed Speech class four times because she refused to get up in front of people.