Sometimes a student arrives at Theatretrain because their parents think they’re a bit shy and need to come out of their shell – not a bad reason. Most of us remember a time when getting up in front of people was scary. In fact, many people still feel like that as an adult.
We’re all different and some lucky people seem entirely at ease in every situation. I remember years ago a guy who is now a well-known actor/director was asked to take Princess Anne behind the scenes at the then-new home of the National Youth Theatre. “Come through here love,“ he was heard to say, “this is where we stand by, and over here is the stage manager’s desk.” He wasn’t being clever or rude – he was being himself. That was how he spoke and I’m sure she appreciated someone who didn’t put on airs and graces.
He had a lot of confidence and of course, you must take care that it doesn’t become arrogance. But if you didn’t have a lot of confidence that situation would probably make your heart beat faster, your mouth dry up and you might even freeze like a rabbit in the headlights and not be able to speak. When you’re young doing show-and-tell in front of the class could make you feel like that – a kind of overwhelming sense of everyone looking at you. You might even be your own worst critic – “You can’t do this. You’re silly.”
If a young person feels like that I sympathise. It’s a nightmare. But I start by thinking that this person has a sensitive soul. They’re not at ease in public, but they think and have just as much feelings as anyone else – probably more.
The trick is to give them experiences that gently challenge them with a supportive environment to build their confidence. That’s why it’s good to join a group and become part of a team. When you feel connected with those around you, you soften up a bit socially. When you feel supported and see others having the same fears you understand you are not alone – you’re just human.
Over the years we have received so many messages from parents thanking our companies for giving their child a chance to reset and to be happy in the group. Sometimes it takes a while, but it can happen within a few weeks. Theatre gives you a space to be someone else but safe within a team.
Over the years I’ve found that the best actors I have met or taught have two great attributes – they are usually generous in spirit and kind-hearted with others but also themselves quite sensitive, retiring even inside. It’s as if they have learnt to stand outside that shyness and use that depth of feeling to draw on in their work. So, it’s not a bad thing.
What a great gift for the young people who clam up –a way out in an atmosphere of fun and support that could stay with them forever.