The theatre world is often associated with big, extroverted personalities. But what about those in the industry who are more reserved? Holly Webster writes about why we shouldn’t underestimate quietness — and why it’s actually a strength.
I watched a friend’s show online recently and it got me thinking about the first time I saw her perform. Two years previously, I had started performance poetry myself and right off the bat, I felt like I didn’t have a place on the stage, from having imposter syndrome to not being assured or loud enough. After seeing my friend, I decided to use my quietness — which is so often seen as a weakness — as my power.
As I was growing up, I was told by teachers and family members over and over that I was quiet. As I got older and began to experience social isolation and mental illnesses, I was also told that I ‘needed more confidence’. It started to become somewhat of a joke to expect it. How many times would my shortcomings and emotions be blamed on my lack of confidence?
After years of hearing this and a particularly bad bout of depression, I realised that people may have had a point. It seemed that getting older didn’t make things easier and essentially, isolation and unfulfilled dreams were at the root of a lot of my mental illness episodes. Trying to just ‘be confident’ though, isn’t an easy feat and I felt like I needed some sort of guidance to help. In my first year of college, I had messed up one of my A-Level Citizenship exams and subsequently failed, so I needed to find a new subject to carry forward. It was suggested by my learning mentor that I try Drama and Theatre Studies. At first I thought he had lost his mind, but I had always loved theatre and performing is undoubtedly out of my comfort zone, so I decided to give it a try. It was hard, and it took a long time for me to find my voice as a creative person but it instilled in me more confidence than I’d ever felt before. I remember a workshop where we explored how we could safely use my wheelchair in combat scenes and it was the first time that I felt as if my wheelchair was a tool and not a barrier.
Since that day, I have continued to grow as an artist and person, even studying an art-based subject as my degree and having it become an integral part of my personality. But during my time in the arts world, I’ve noticed something… There is a pattern running through the industry to push the loud, brash types as the better performers. But life doesn’t just have loud voices, so why should art? If it is meant to imitate life, then why should people like me effectively alter our personality to succeed, when quiet people are just as valid and beautiful?
I want more Evan Hansen roles. I want more moments like Hannah in Come from Away finding out her son had passed away – where subtlety is power. Over lockdown (like many other people reading this I’d imagine), I watched Hamilton on Disney+. I fell in love and through it, I found out about a handy plot device – the bullet. Played by Ariana DeBose here, the bullet is a chorus member that shows the impending death of Hamilton and in one scene, shakes hands with John Laurens moments before his death. I was immediately inspired by this idea, and I revelled in the fact it existed. Such a role allows actors to be an integral and clever part of the plot, without having any lines and not being ‘too’ in the spotlight.
If you’re like me and love the arts but are scared that there is not a place for you – I promise that there is. You are just as valuable as those who were practically born on stage and chase main roles as if their life depended on it. If you have a love for the arts or just want to try something new to boost your confidence or simply to have fun – go for it. I hope it changes your life in the way it has mine.