I’m an introvert. A big one. I wouldn’t say I’m shy—actually I’m very talkative around my friends, in one-on-one situations, and around the amazing theater people I’m lucky enough to work with in DC. But put me in a room full of strangers, or even a small setting, and I clam up. I can’t think. I sweat. I don’t know what to say or how to say it. When I do talk, I often say nonsensical things, flip syllables, substitute incorrect words, or draw a blank when I’m trying to think of a descriptive word or movie title or person. Being around new people is mentally and physically exhausting, and far too many gatherings have devolved into me hovering in a corner and missing out on the action.
It’s bad enough to feel so out of control, but when I think about how others must see me, I panic. I probably seem stupid. Or stuck-up. Or unfriendly? Vivid memories of my unbearable middle-school years rush back in—lunches alone in the bathroom, solitary work at the group tables, the constant snickering and bullying… There was nothing about me to mock at that time besides my small, flat body. So I wonder, did I project some type of meanness, when all I was was afraid? Could I have done better if I’d been able to rise above my own terror?
The deeper I get into Playwrightland, the more I worry about how alive my 10-year-old self still is. I thought she had left the building, but every time I step into a networking event or cocktail party, there she is, wiping her palms on my jeans and making me want to run out of the room as soon as possible. I worry because theater is a business of personality and who-you-know and perception, one in which there are many more candidates and hopefuls than there are opportunities. Relationships matter.
So how does someone like me survive? I can’t possibly be the only introverted playwright out there. I’ve read a few blogs and articles, and when copies become available, I’m going to check this book out too. It turns out I’ve already been following the most common advice for introverts: Avoid big group meetings and instead have one-on-one face time with individuals. I enjoy getting together with new people, after work in a bar or something, just to chat. I’ve been asking people out in a slow but steady stream over the past few months, and it’s been lovely to get to talk to people offline and outside of work. Unfortunately, my “dating” has two sustainability problems. First, I will inevitably have to go to large meetings or gatherings at some point in the near future, some of them high-pressure, and I will have to be able to hold my own. Second, by meeting with individuals only, I’m creating a spattering of colleagues as opposed to a cohesive web. Perhaps it’s worth noting that I’ve always been like this: the girl at school who is everywhere and nowhere, who has one or two friends in every clique but no clique of her own. So far, I’ve found this to be the most comfortable and enjoyable way of living, and it’s only been more recently that I’ve started to think it might be a detriment to my career.
The theater world sometimes seems to be one that belongs to the Alphas, but I just can’t believe that there are no successful introverts out there. If you are like me, or just want to offer some advice, please drop me a line.