It will come as a shock to absolutely no one who has ever read this blog that I have difficulties being in public situations without shrinking. If I could make myself disappear, I would. Since I can’t, I try to make myself as small a target as possible to help relieve some of the panic. Being the center of attention during work, giving presentations, introducing myself or socializing at large parties, etc has always made me cringe. Strangers intimidate me. It’s not that I think I’m not worthy of attention, it’s that I don’t want it. Generally, I have confidence in my own thoughts and ideas, but I’m never going to interrupt the conversation (or lives) of others in order to share them. Big potted plants are my friends. And when I don’t have a choice, the stress of that reality tends to dominate me. None of these behaviors are going to help me career-wise in a town built on relationships. And let’s face it; the behaviors aren’t going to help get the attention of a possible suitor, either.
Given these realities, when it was suggested that I read Acting Techniques for Everyday Life by Jane Marla Robbins, I was intrigued. The book uses examples and exercises designed to help you combat nerves and other less than helpful reactions to intimidating public (and one-on-one) encounters. While she offers a plethora of suggestions (substitution, sense memory, animal exercises, the incorporation of props and personalization, among others), the one I embraced the most involved playing a character. For me, it really is as simple as choosing someone I admire for their handling of public situations, or creating the vision of someone who would be successful in that environment, and incorporating imitation. The book breaks down this idea into exercises to determine how this successful person stands, walks into a room, smiles, holds their hands, etc. I have an imagination; I can create a character for me to imitate. And, in a way, it also gives me the potted plant protection without the plant. In my mind, the person taking the risks is just removed enough from who I am to make me bolder and more confident. Right now, I'm thinking of channeling a Lauren Bacall type in ... well, everything... but specifically Key Largo.
She also talks about how costumes can not only help actors really feel the part they are playing, but how clothing may help a shy person get into the character of a more confident and outgoing person. I know this is true. Just think back to the blogs I’ve written about feeling out of place—whether it was at the recent film festival or elsewhere. Part of that displacement was a lack in confidence in my appearance. Since the latest socializing hiccup, I’ve had a friend put together some “go to” outfits for meetings, film festivals and social situations. Those outfits, or costumes, have given me just slightly more confidence because in them I feel like I’m playing a person who does belong. It also keeps me from obsessing over what to wear because she literally has a file of photos with suggestions for me about when to wear each one. It’s like the adult version of Garanimals.
Ideally, if I play at being a confident character often enough, I will eventually just become more confident. Rather than it being an exercise, I will someday automatically relax and respond usefully (and appropriately) because the practice runs have removed at least some of the fear I currently have. Acting Techniques for Everyday Life is about “changes you can make in yourself so that there can be changes in your life.” And I’m ready for them (most of the time)! If you think you might be, the book is worth a read: http://www.janemarlarobbins.com/bookscard.htm