Published in London and South East Connection
Overcoming shyness through drama
I know what it feels like to wish the ground to open and swallow me up.
I spent the first part of my life being shy. I felt as if I was trapped in a box, always on the fringes of things watching other children participating and enjoying themselves.
I desperately wanted to get out of that box but I didn’t know how to.
Greatest Fear = Greatest Freedom
Something inside me told me drama was the way, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do – to go on stage, expose myself, to let go of what other might be thinking about me. But in fact I discovered that our greatest fear is passage to our greatest freedom. Performance set me free and set me on a life course that I had never dreamed I would follow.
I did it the hard way: a career in drama is not an easy one. Now I help people to find their freedom in the most pain-free and joy-full way. I work mainly through myths and fairytales, which are powerful in their own right, and through performance.
Performing in public is pretty high on most people’s “To be avoided at all costs” list. To stand up in front of others, to be watched equals for many people to be shamed, to look stupid, and to be criticised. It can elicit some of our most uncomfortable moments from childhood and lots of people carefully construct a life that avoids having to ever feel like that again.
Life calls us to Speak-Up
And yet more and more life calls on us to speak up for ourselves, to express ourselves and career pathways may be blocked as a result of a failure to be competent in that. Maybe alongside that, there’s also a feeling of not quite being alive, of not quite living our potential.
By this measure, performance can be liberating, exciting, bring a sense of achievement, of being in touch with all our senses. Performing can express something that is beyond ourselves, beyond our thoughts, our minds. Through performing we can engage with ourselves and others in a unique and unpredictable way that can be emotionally satisfying and freeing and can release surprising energies.
The Right Conditions
But before any of this is to happen the conditions have to be right. Even an experienced actor needs the right conditions, needs preparation before he or she can give the optimum performance.
The first and most important condition is safety – a safe place in which to have permission to fail, make mistakes and to discover. This is an environment, free of interruptions and invasions, where we won’t be peered at and where we are free to express ourselves in whatever way we feel – and where we can make a lot of noise if need be.
The most important part of this is the emotional safety that isn’t present at many drama classes. The block to most people’s expression is not just fear of what others think of us, but what we think of ourselves. It is the inner observer watching what we do, censuring everything we say, always trying to control, suppress and constrain our behaviour.
Removing the Inner Judge
So the first thing is to learn how remove the judge within. This allows people to “be”, to live in the moment, to respond naturally and instinctively. It takes away the need to perform and look good. Then it is amazing what people begin to express – they begin to find their true voice and their authentic way of moving and behaving.
But before you even to start “doing” anything preparation is needed. This takes the form of warming up the body, the voice and the imagination – the tools of expression through games, movement and interaction. Teaching people how to play, giving them tools with which to express themselves, expressing feelings through the voice and the body – by making feeling feelings fun.
As people learn how to get out of their heads and let their bodies lead them they are ready for the next stage – exploring the story . I call all the creative work we do “exploring”.
I invite people to work in group to explore the aspects of the story that interests them. They can choose any way they would like to express the story. This could be through movement, mime, puppetry, music or dramatic enactment.
I have a box of dressing up clothes, hats, brightly coloured fabrics, scarves, shoes, masks and wigs through which people can create their own costumes. There are also musical instruments, a vast array of c.d.’s, candles, lighting through which to create an emotional atmosphere.
The Power of Being Witnessed
Then comes the moment when the groups are ready to share their “explorations”. This is when we move from the private world of idea-sharing into showing the work to others – of performing.
But the focus of the performance is on the experiences we have, how we feel, and what we discover about ourselves in the process of expressing them. The audience thus become “witnesses” and are an active part of the process, so their watching is not as judges assessing the skills of the performers but as those who empathically bear witness, who see and in their seeing assist in empowering those that they watch.
The stories I choose are designed to give many opportunities for self expression. The story is a structure that gives permission to express a wide range of feelings though dramatic enactment. There will be a number of characters which people can choose from, and it is often the darker characters that permit the expression of feelings that are most freeing and healing.
Reclaiming Lost Power
Recently I ran a workshop on the Russian story of the Baba Yaga, in which there were a number of unpleasant characters – the Baba Yaga herself (a very nasty Russian witch), an evil stepmother and a number of jealous stepsisters. There was a man in the group who had never done any drama before. He chose to play the step-mother, who had similarities to certain aspects of his own mother. He was thus able to express the aspects of his mother that had effected him negatively through his life.
Instead of being the victim of his mother, he could be her and feel very powerful whilst at the same time contributing to the experience of other people in his group. They could enjoy playing against him, confronting him in a safe way and finding their own strength and power in relation to him.
Since that experience he has felt better than he can ever remember, has renewed energy to do all the things he wants to in his life, has found more confidence in himself, and is relating to people in a totally new way.
The beauty of working through creativity, is not only is this good for emotional health in detoxifying the body of suppressed feeling that over time can cause physical harm, it can completely transform the blocked energy into a form that is aesthetically and emotionally satisfying.
It never ceases to amaze me how people with very little drama experience can produce spellbinding, complex and fascinating pieces of theatre that outshine most West End productions (without any of “lovey-dom” and competitiveness associated with the theatrical profession).
Powerful Instinctive Connections
They achieve this because of the powerful instinctive connections between group members that would take a director months to achieve, and because of the supportive, non-competitive group atmosphere.
These pieces are so moving to watch because the emotions expressed are very real and keenly felt, bringing laughter and tears and in the process of expressing them people are setting themselves free from self-imposed restrictions, trauma and limitation.
In most of my groups and workshops, the performing part is contained within the group, but I have worked with a number of different group creating performances that have a healing intention.
I experienced this directly for myself when I created a performance around the effect of death of my father. It was the most personal performance I had ever done and after I had finished it, apart from the energy I was able to express through the performance, I felt something very dramatic shift in me. I was in a state of shock that was intensely healing.
My relationship with him had been seen by others and shared in a creative, symbolic form which had drawn out their compassion and empathy. I felt able to mourn and acknowledge my father in a way that enabled me also move on.
Now I am becoming more and more interested in exploring the healing aspects of performance and am in the process of setting up performance groups and projects with a healing intention. One of the positive aspects of working with creativity is that new ideas are continually changing, these come both from my own interests but also from the people I work with. Their creativity and ideas inspire me to develop in new directions in an endless cycle of co-creativity.
(Connections Magazine Dec 2004)
Want to get over shyness?
Confidence Building Courses
I offer a wide range of Confidence Building Courses aimed at beginners for different levels and abilities in London.
Or The Finding Your Voice – Speaking with Confidence Course if speaking in front of groups is a priority.
Many people start with the Introductory Evening to find out which course would be right for them.