I recently had the opportunity to catch up with an old family friend who I hadn’t seen in a few years. The conversation turned to her grandchildren, who I haven’t seen since they were itty bitty. A middle granddaughter, who my friend described as having been a shy, quiet child, has discovered the fine arts and is blossoming. She is in violin recitals and loves to paint. But, even more importantly, she has discovered the theater.
It reminded me so much of my own experience. I was a shy, quiet child. I didn’t like to call attention to myself. And then my mom signed me up to be one of the elementary kids cast in the high school’s production of “The King and I”. I had to say such memorable lines as “I don’t believe in snow”. I also got to recite the letter to Miss Anna at the end because the 8th grader who was supposed to couldn’t memorize it. But I was hooked.
And a year or so later, we moved to a new town. In an attempt to help me make friends in this new environment, my mom signed me up for a new Children’s Theater program that was being formed. Those two weeks changed my life, no exaggeration.
I made friends, which was the ultimate goal, but I also found a love of the theater. Though I acted on stage for the four years before I aged out and became a teen counselor, I don’t think I was ever very good at the acting bit. Oh, I could memorize huge passages, which made me an ideal narrator. But I was consistently typecast into mother, teacher, and authority roles. However, all that aside, I came out of my shell more. And it gave me a skill that would prove invaluable for the future: putting on an act.
Being somewhat anxiety prone, I fear new situations instinctively. I get self-conscious easily and I start to shrink back into myself. But if I can pretend like I’m playing the role of someone more confident who absolutely knows what they’re doing, it makes it much easier. I can walk into the situation rather than avoiding it entirely.
But the most important thing the theater workshop gave me was a supportive group of people who I remain close with. Some were adults who ran the program, old enough to be my mother. Others were children with me in the program, or even children I mentored as a teen counselor. We have a common shared experience which binds us together no matter how long it has been since we’ve spoken.
So, for all of you introverts out there (or parents of introverted children), if you’re looking for a place where you can grow and get out of your shell a little more, don’t overlook your local amateur theater. You might be surprised what you’ll find inside.