How Theatre Taught an Introvert to Grin and Bare It

I used to be very conscious of my crooked teeth in school but my college's dramatics society helped me reinvent myself.

I used to be an introvert from childhood to my early adult years – to the extent that many people interpreted it as arrogance.

Yet someone who hasn’t known me in my early years would never believe that about me. My friends joke that I’m a “social butterfly”; they find it hard to believe that I could ever have been inhibited or hesitant about anything.

There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. I completely back Susan Cain in saying, “Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.” Yet at a certain stage of my life, it became a practical difficulty and I knew that if I had to get what I wanted, I will have to work upon that aspect of my personality.

This happened when I got to college.

In school, extra-curricular activities were limited to debates or quizzes. Since we had an enthusiastic English teacher, she encouraged us to enact some of the plays from our textbook. When I got into directing and acting, I realised how much I enjoyed it. But because there were no inter-school drama competitions, this activity was limited to my school and, that too, once in a blue moon.

Upon entering college, I was overjoyed to find that they had an entire society devoted to dramatics. I resolved to join it.

Also read: From Introvert to Socially Anxious

I saw a call for audition on the notice board. This wasn’t school where the teachers already knew and appreciated my theatrical skills. To enter the dramatic society, I had to prove myself anew. I was nervous because I had never gone for an audition. Yet I pulled up my socks and registered. When my turn came, my senior asked me to laugh as hard as I could.

Delivering a dialogue would have been easier; even crying would have been simpler. But this was something I did not do properly even in real life. I used to be very conscious of my crooked teeth in school. In photographs I could hardly be caught smiling, let alone laughing. And here I was being asked to laugh out loud on stage.

Recently, I was at an event where a counsellor revealed that kids – as young as ten – ask how they can lose weight and share their sadness because they do not feel pretty.

I was disturbed to hear it, but looking back I can now see that beauty standards for children have always existed, right from the time they are born.

In fact, from pregnancy itself, mothers in India are advised about what to eat so they have a fair-complexioned child. It is only that things get amplified in the age of social media and now we are having more conversations about problems with sexualising children’s bodies or subjecting them to the beauty industry’s arbitrary definitions.

So on that day of auditions, even though the auditorium with a capacity of 550 was mostly empty – save a few of my seniors, the prospect of laughing unabashedly in public seemed grim to me.

Also read: Acne and Growing Pains: Finding Peace With the Skin You’re in

But it was also a moment when my desire to be selected became greater than my self-consciousness. If I missed this opportunity, getting into other clubs seemed even tougher, because I neither had a sports record to join the basketball team nor could I do handstands for the dance society’s audition.

So I finally braced myself, got up there and laughed as hard as I could, harder and longer than I had ever laughed, till my seniors said I could come down.

In that moment it felt like I had crossed a bridge that I had always been viewing from a distance. Something had changed in me, for the better. But I couldn’t allow myself to become happy yet. The audition results would take some more time.

The day the audition results were to be out, I rushed to see the notice board. My name was there but under “backstage”. I was crestfallen. I thought maybe this really wasn’t my forte.

But I had the desire to learn and better myself so I still went for the orientation meeting.

There I was surprised to know that our seniors had come up with the onstage-backstage distinction to see if the “backstage” people would turn up, to confirm if they were interested in sharing all the responsibilities of the dramatics society or only in the glamour of acting.

That day onwards it was a fun-filled ride with my fellow theatre aficionados. I got to reinvent myself and, most importantly, developed the confidence to accept my physical self the way I am.

If I ever forgot, my senior would remind me by saying, “Why so serious when you have such a beautiful smile?”

And my face would break out in a toothy grin.

Ankita Anand is an independent journalist-writer-poet. Her primary interest areas are social justice and culture.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty