I’ve been thinking about artistic expression and validation: how I embrace the former and seek the latter.
I’m a writer, but I’m also a musical theatre performer. This comes as a surprise to many people. Writing is such a solitary, introspective art, they say. How do you marry that with the intensely public display that is theatrical performance? And then they ask: which one do you prefer?
Let’s set the scene (see what I did there) with some background info: In that ghastly “put you in a box” system that is Myers-Briggs, I come out as an introvert, but with extrovert tendencies. Again, this comes as a surprise to many, especially my musical theatre friends who have been lucky enough to witness my very public (and occasionally messy) displays of extroversion. (I drunkenly crashed through a stage once, at a show afterparty. That’s a whole other story.)
But as I see it, this apparent contradiction helps my art, both literary and theatrical.
I gain energy from being on my own. I recharge in solitude. I don’t like big crowds. I leave parties early (but I make an impression while I’m there). Writing offers me solitude, the joy of creating straight from the deepest, hidden part of me, the delight of unfettered play, the delicious thrill of capturing yearning and desire and hurt and sorrow and joy on the page. I can write with the door shut, and it is up to me when I open that door and let others in.
That act of “letting in” is risky, because I’m inviting readers inside me, in a way. It’s a frightening act of vulnerability and surrender – but it’s cushioned by the fact that I will not be there as people read and critique my words.
As a theatre performer, on the other hand, the audience is in my face and immediate. I make a mistake, they see and hear it, right in that moment. I can’t press backspace. I can’t refine and edit and polish.
I sang in a show not long ago, and I was tired after the matinee performance. The evening show was hard work. My voice was a little strained, I lost a bit of focus, and it wasn’t my best performance. When I walked into the foyer afterwards to say hi to friends, I cringed when I saw a gaggle of theatre people, well-known in acting circles. Oh God. They heard me. I wasn’t perfect. How embarrassing.
How hard we are on ourselves. Live theatre is humanity in all its fullness, offering a story to fellow humans. It’s rarely perfect. But that is its joy. I need to remind myself of that, regularly.
In life as in art, vulnerability is vital. Taking risks. Being honest. Saying who we really are, showing it, offering it to others. Being brave enough to trust others to accept it.
Ultimately, writing is the art that most allows me to do that, cradled in the safety of my office, crafting, perfecting, refining my sentences until they are as accurate and truthful as I can make them. I then offer them to my readers, and I say: Here I am. Can you relate? Does this help you? Can you hear the whisper of your own heart in this story? This poem? This novel?
But I continue to take the risk of performing, because that electric moment when you connect with the audience, when you hit that glorious sweet spot and your voice soars, and hearts around the auditorium soar with it, and you ride on a sea of laughter or hush or tears, and if you falter that’s OK, because we all do…that is everything.
Thank God for art, and creativity, and creative expression. Thank God for imperfection.