I bumped into an old school friend the other day. We were from the same class in Primary School. But what she told me next surprised me…
“You were a very quiet person back in school! Now I see you act on stage and television; and give talks. You are so different now. What had happened?”
She was right. I was a very quiet student. I was so quiet that I didn’t even dare to raise my hands to answer questions by my teachers. When I won awards that required me to collect on stage, I trembled. I was very quiet and shy.
I remembered vividly in a performance back in my secondary school days. Every class had to take part in a National Day performance competition event and I was one of those being “volunteered” to represent my class, together with a few others. During the performance, at one point, I had to step forward and rallied the audience to sing a chorus of the National Day song together with us on stage.
I rallied, “Come on! Come on! Join us sing!”
What happened next?
The whole school kept quiet! Not a single soul joined me and my team sang the chorus. To add more salts to the wound, the very next day my other schoolmates kept teasing me, “Come on! Come on!”
That was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. Worst, we did not win the competition.
I felt that I had let myself and the team down.
I needed to go somewhere – an avenue- to express my disappointments!
However as I reflected those days, it dawned unto me that the experience actually pushed my “disappointments” to another level. As an introvert, we are healers of emotional wounds. I manage to overcome that moment of disappointments by starting a “project” to find out how stage performers managed to exude that confidence on stage to capture and influence the audience.
This search brought me to theatre. After watching a short theatre play by the actors while I was in junior college, I sensed that there is so much to learn doing acting and theatre works. I was interested to know more about acting and theatre.
My acting and theatre journey started in 1997. After that ‘big break’ passing an audition for a major theatre production that was to be held at Victoria Theatre, I embarked on my first steps learning about acting and theatre.
During the practice and rehearsals sessions, I found a new platform – a platform to express my ideas and my feelings.
Creative expression is the lifeblood of the introvert.
I learnt the ropes from various theatre practitioners to hone by acting skills. Vocal techniques, stage presence, stage dynamics are some of the skills I picked up from them.
In fact, one of the first few acting skills I learnt was “theatre improvisation”. Theatre improvisation helps us actors to be able to think and react on the spot. This is crucial because stage acting is “Live” performance; and if anything goes wrong, actors we must be able to “adlib” and continue with the show – and looks like “nothing had gone wrong” – for the audience. (Adlib is a term in theatre; originally from the latin word ‘Ad-Libtum’, which means to improvise, impromptu or delivery without preparation).
This is the one thing about being an introvert. If we are passionate about something, we are really passionate about it. I was so passionate (and I m still am now!) about acting and little that I realized that the skills in acting and theatre helped me in other aspects of my life.
In the year 2002, I was balancing theatre works and working with one of the government agencies. I was a newbie at the agency back then. As a newbie, I had to host a corporate event, emceeing in front of corporate executives, staff, vendors, which had about 1000 people in the audience.
At the event that I was to emcee, I had to play “James Bond” who was looking out for his “Bond Girl” (who would be my co-host for the event) in the audience. So the event organizer played a pre-enacted video clip of me (as James Bond; but ala ‘Get Smart’ character) speaking but using my shoe as a phone.
After the video clip had been played, I had to “continue” with the storyline by appearing on stage. That was the nerve-wrecking moment, for sure! And to make matters worst, the microphone died on me, as I was about to speak and address the audience! How worst it could have been?
Luckily for me, my theatre and acting experiences took over, and that helped me – a LOT – in managing those nerves; and the improvisation skills helped me managed the turn of event – the faulty microphone! What did I do?
Almost instantaneously, I ‘replaced’ the microphone with my shoe (similar to the one in the video clip) and got the audience into stitches because they could relate it to the video clip earlier. This was done to ‘buy time’ while the organizer looked for a replacement microphone.
But what I did not realize earlier was that the opportunity to speak to that particular group of people at a corporate event helped me in my professional capacity. One of the ways an introvert can grow is by experimenting and having new experiences. Through this experience, I started to get more hosting gigs in the company, the other staff and directors started taking notice of me, and all these helped me in climbing up the corporate ladder!
I stayed with the company until I received my Long Service Award of 10 years, before parting ways amicably to start my own business consultancy and started writing books. In fact, my former director lent his support by writing his testimonial of me which I gladly placed it at the cover page of my first book, The Stage Fright Antidote!.
After doing acting and speaking for some years, people keep asking me how do I appear confident on stage and yet I am still an introvert.
To me, there are two prongs about acting that I figured out. Firstly acting on stage is about taking up different characters and immerse in the feelings of the characters. Secondly, is the art of playing different roles at different situations. We could be a father back home to our kids, or be a big brother to our younger siblings, or even be a buddy back in army camp during reservist; but ultimately we are the exact same person.
While it is not an easy feat to do, especially the former and at times the latter, it is an added advantage to the introvert because introverts like to connect with the essence of life. Introverts can easily relate their own feelings, the feelings people they know, or even the feelings of the human life in general. This is what “being in other people’s shoes” really mean.
So to answer my primary school classmate’s question on “what happened?”, actually nothing has happened. I am still what I was before. Recently a friend of mine asked me to take an online introvert quiz. The result is the same: I am an introvert. The only difference is that I now understand more about being an introvert and I’ll find opportunities to maximize the skills that introverts can do to make a difference in others.
The above article is one of 12 articles featured in Introverts Network Asia’s very own publication, “Because I’m Introvert…“.
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