Most people think of actors as extroverts, socially adept and confident in every public situation. The life of the party. They think of Robin Williams or Jack Black: chewing up the scenery, the sofa, the restaurant at a moment’s notice round-the-clock.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, most of the actors I know are artists. That’s what they have in common. Everything else about them is unique, varied and distinct.
As for me, I’m painfully shy in public, often breaking out in a sweat when I have to speak in the checkout line of the local supermarket. I’ve never been completely relaxed around people. And parties? I hate them. I’d rather face a root canal than even just ten minutes of standing around with a drink in my hand in a roomful of strangers.
Why, then, do we become actors? For lots of reasons. And not all of them good or healthy reasons, either. But the most compelling reasons, the ones that give you staying power in the course of your career as an actor, are artistic or spiritual in nature. You act because you have to. Because if you didn’t your life would be missing something fundamental and essential: you.
I can’t describe well enough the sensation I feel in my body just watching two people on a coach lit with a single spotlight surrounded by darkness talking. That’s all it takes, that simple a scene and I’m hooked. I want to listen, watch and learn.
Learn? Yes! I want to learn how to be a human being. I think that’s why we do it. Present theatre. Act. Write plays. Because we want to understand ourselves as people.
I go out on stage and talk to strangers even though I’m terrified, sweating profusely, because I’m trying to learn some things about human beings. And in the process, I slowly ease into being human. I relax. Become aware of everything possible in the present moment. And feel absolutely alive.
That feeling of aliveness is what gives me the courage to face my fear of speaking in public and do it anyway. Isn’t it strange, though, that people choose to do the very thing they’re most afraid of?