I’m finally getting around to reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I don’t know why I bothered to download the free sample on my kindle before hitting “buy.” From the title alone, I knew it would be a book for me.
I am an introvert through and through. I genuinely like being by myself because solitude is re-energizing for me. So how did I end up in theatre- in an art that is by its nature collaborative?
Introverts in theatre are not as uncommon as one might think. My cousin, Andrew asked me the other day to estimate a percentage of theatre artists that might identify as introverts. I couldn’t put a number on it, so I said, “More than you would think.” It’s not that introverts only like to be by themselves; being alone is how introverts restore their energy, whereas extroverts are energized by being surrounded by people. It’s not that introverts don’t need stimulation, it’s that they need less of it than extroverts do. Whether I’m working on a production or in the classroom, I like to create art with others. But when I go home, I need time alone to unwind. This is how a lot of introverts in theatre operate: they balance the stimulating, collaborative work environment with time alone.
Stage managers have a reputation for being soft-spoken, and having more introverted personalities. It’s fascinating to me because the stage manager is communication central. But when I think of the really great stage managers I’ve worked with, it’s less surprising. What makes these really good stage managers SO good is their ability to communicate concisely, and ask the right questions to inspire conversation between production team members and then, GET OUT OF THE WAY. These communication patterns are introverted, but they are what make an incredibly effective stage manager.
Though I have yet to finish Quiet, already one of my favorite things about this book is that Susan Cain is careful not to discount extroverts in her unpacking of the many facets of introversion. But her point that our society has placed an overwhelming value on extroversion is spot-on. An unlocking your power as an introvert is notably NOT about learning how to pretend to be an extrovert. As Susan Cain eloquently states in her manifesto, “Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.”
It’s a myth that all introverts are people-hating hermits who are painfully shy all the time. I can list many, successful, innovative, vibrant theatre artists who are introverts: actors, designers, directors, stage managers and teaching artists. Introversion is not an obstacle to be overcome in order to succeed in a collaborative art. It’s a powerful tool that one learns to wield appropriately. Self-reflection is a huge source of fuel for my artistic growth. That’s what works for me, but it may not work for everyone. Whether you’re talking about extroversion, introversion, or anywhere in between, the variety across this spectrum has great power to inform our work as teaching artists.
From the painfully shy young person who would rather listen than speak in front of the class to the excited, gregarious young person who wins the paper plate award, “Loud and Proud,” I’m sure you’ve seen the range of extroverts and introverts in your classrooms. (I know I have!) What I love about theatre is that there is a place for both of those kids, plus every student in between. And the introvert may thrive backstage or on stage. The loud, proud extrovert may find their joy in operating the spotlight or standing in front of it.
There is extroversion and introversion in all of us. The levels of each may be different, but we’re all human. The more we learn about both sides, no matter what end of the spectrum society favors, the more informed we can be as artists, as teachers, as humans.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does your personality inform your artistic process?