How many of you have stage fright? I used to have it even though I used to participate in cultural programs, especially solo dance programmes, till high school. I badly wanted to get rid of it but had no clue how to go about doing it. One of my greatest dreams has been to give a TED talk. Many of my friends suggested joining a Toastmasters club as a first step. But somehow that didn’t materialise.
Last year I came to know about a 45-day, 2 hours-per-day, theatre workshop in our area through my son, which he was planning to attend. He tried to persuade me to do the same, but I didn’t want to reveal my stage fright, and hence declined to join him. He convinced his dad though, without too much effort, and both of them attended the workshop. Since they used to spend all the evenings during that period at the workshop I used to feel bored and developed negative feelings towards the whole idea.
In spite of all that, somehow I decided to attend the same workshop this May. A few weeks of initial exercises and training in various aspects of theatre was followed by presenting a complete play, fully devised, scripted and performed by the participants themselves, of course with lots of directorial and other assistance from the organizers. I only wanted a small role in the play with minimum dialogues so as to get some on-stage experience and get rid of my stage fright. But in reality, what happened was just the opposite! I was trained to be a ‘brave’ actress and my director equipped me to handle the main character, a war veteran suffering from PTSD!
The first and foremost challenge I faced was with hand gestures. Since I was working in the IT industry for more than 15 years and most of the project clients were from the US and Europe, I was used to talking formally with minimal hand gestures during client meetings. So I found it difficult to speak and gesture dramatically as was required on stage for the play. It was so bad that I even checked with my director whether there was scope for my character to be handcuffed throughout the play 🙂
Our directors told us that acting wasn’t about ‘faking’ actions, emotions, speech tones, and so on. To be a good actor, we have to be able to live truthfully within the imaginary world of the script. The directors helped us in scriptwriting, voice modulation and using effective pauses while delivering dialogues. Only when rehearsing my own lines and stage movements did I understand that intense focus is needed in theatre. This workshop changed the way I view my everyday life, in an amazing way. I learned a lot about myself. I also learned some life lessons from the acting workshop:
- Letting go of the ego: During the initial days, we had lots of inhibition-breaking rounds and improvisation sessions. During these activities, we have to make fun of ourselves, be silly, show anger, jealousy, sadness, lust, love, and everything in between! It was really tough for me on the first day. Also, there were some group games which I had not even heard of. All the team members were in their teens or early twenties. But somehow within a day or two, I could easily relate to them. And later I was the one eagerly waiting for the games! All these exercises and games really help to shed our ego and to be in character and connect with our audience later.
- Observation and listening: To be an active listener we have to be fully focused on what the speaker is saying. We have to listen with the intent to understand not with the intent to reply. No looking at your phone during a conversation. (I hate this!) Giving verbal and non-verbal cues that demonstrate you are listening is also important. In real life, all our responses and reactions should be based on our listening skills.
- Being vulnerable: In acting, the audience pays to see our vulnerability. The audience enjoys seeing raw emotions portrayed by actors, but are too afraid to acknowledge their own or show them to others. In real life, I seldom used to cry and never in front of my kids. So when my daughter saw me crying loudly in the last scene of the play, tears came to her eyes too. Later she said she had never seen me crying except when my dad passed away. She has seen me laughing (most of the time) or scolding her in anger only. I realized that it’s okay to cry or show emotion at least in the home.
- Trusting co-actors: No matter how much ever we rehearse, live shows don’t always go as planned. Someone in the team could miss their cue, or say the wrong line, or mess up their choreography. In such situations, we have to improvise and make it look as if it was really supposed to happen. So mutual trust is very important in theatre, as in real life.
- Bonding: The best bonding happens in the breaks between rehearsals. Getting together with the entire cast before/during rehearsals and sharing a meal can be a wonderful connecting experience. Also, the conversations and sharing of experiences outside theatre life really help to understand the other person better. It makes rehearsals a lot easier if we understand how the other cast members are as real persons.
Those 45 days passed like as many hours! Everything the production has worked for is on stage, in front of an audience. It really left me with a sense of accomplishment. We all worked together to create this wonderful piece of art. And it is one of the best feelings in the whole world.
After the first show of our play, people I had never met till then came to the green room in search of me just to say that they loved my performance. I can’t express the feeling I had in words. It’s something which I had never experienced in my life.
When I left the workshop after 45 days, there was no ‘I’ left in me. All I could see was ‘we’. I am not sure about my future path in the theatre field as of now, but I really feel it was one of the best decisions I have ever made! I will always cherish those memories and my team members will always be very close to my heart.
It’s true that unexpected friendships are the best ones! Life is very short to worry about stupid things or live in fear; so follow your dreams and take risks. Don’t forget that you are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream!
Happy empty nesting 🙂
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
~ William Shakespeare