I had a recent conversation with someone who was shocked to find out that I’m an actor. But you’re so quiet, this person had said. I usually think of performers as being narcissistic and hungry for attention. I bristled at this, of course. I felt immediately defensive, as many of my friends are people I met through theater.
I had a social fantasy about going on a full rant. Of standing up, leaning close, and saying: Actors are some of the most generous, intuitive people I have ever met. Many use the playwright’s words as a way to “tell” their own stories. And this is brave, wise, genuine, necessary…
But of course, being a born introvert, I said nothing of the kind. I likely looked down at my lap, smiled, and said, I’m sure narcissism is true of some actors, but it’s not true of most. If I was feeling particularly rattled, hives spread over my neck, or I started touching my jewelry or hair (my husband, Adam, says that these are my “tells” that my social anxiety has reached 11/10).
I’m a textbook introvert. I keep my distance, (until I trust a person, in which case, I become rabidly protective) prefer small groups to crowds, need time alone, observe before reacting, and take time to process information before making decisions.
Perhaps, to people who are more outgoing, these qualities sound passive, or tiring, or sad. But it’s these very traits: my proneness to quiet, my propensity toward observation—that feed me as an artist. Speaking less gives me the opportunity to see more, (Did you start singing Hamilton lyrics there, as I did? If yes, we are meant to be friends) to watch deeply, and to intuit the feelings of others. It gives me a unique vantage point, of which I’m unflinchingly proud.
It’s true, it’s absolutely true—that I am not shy on stage. I can’t explain this phenomenon, except to say, it’s me, but not me. It’s my fingers moving inside of a mitten. It’s my story, but not my words. And in that way, I’m being heard, being seen, the things I most want in all of the world—but behind a shadow, a veil. When the acting feels right, it is vulnerable–achingly so—but it is the opposite of attention-seeking. The energy is either turned inward—or—toward an immediate, intimate, scene-partner. When a scene feels right to me, I feel still. Centered. Deeply engaged. And so, perhaps, the introverted actor is not a paradox at all.
However, while the arts are often (though clearly not always) well-served by observation, deep-thinking, and empathy, promoting one’s art is another thing entirely. Self-promotion and the business side of the arts requires a kind of risk-taking, a kind of unapologetic ability to “put oneself out there.” The personality that works so well for me as a writer and actor, is the exact reason I struggle with self-promotion. Art, to me, or– more accurately, the creation of art– feels private, deeply personal. The act of selling that art—is not.
Good thing, really good thing, that my wonderful agent works most of the business side (of writing) for me. But still, it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s a kind of attitude a person has to take on—the necessity of saying, I’m here. Look at me. I am the real deal. And that, that? It’s immensely difficult. It’s where my introversion becomes a deficit rather than a tool.
And so, here we are. You’ve stumbled upon this blog, which is the equivalent of me dipping my toe into the water. Of me saying, I’m here. Let me show you. This is me, as introvert, playing the role of extrovert. Thank you for being here, as witness. I’m here. Let me show you.