The myth of the “bigger than life” personality

There is a popular idea that performers are blustery extroverts, or that huge personalities make great performers. If you’ve ever done community theatre, you will have seen many of them. You will also see needy attention-seekers, regular folks who enjoy the process of performing, and all kinds of other people. In some of these non-professional organizations, including many training programs, it is easy for the people who don’t read as “big” in everyday life to feel as if they don’t belong on stage. But it’s not as simple as that. People who are excellent performers, especially at the top of their fields, represent many personality types. Having a histrionic personality does not equate to an aptitude for great performances.

I recently read a social media thread about feedback from auditions for young people. A common direction given to auditionees, especially in musical theatre, is “We want to see more of YOU”. But what if YOU are shy? What if YOU are a thoughtful, introspective person who is potentially effective at creating a character and bringing that to life? I would invite people to be careful about assumptions about what is “missing” in a performance by a developing artist. Perceiving that a performance could be better is easy; diagnosing the cause is not. If a performance falls flat, rather than going straight to the person’s core expression of their personality, doesn’t it make sense to give direction about how to improve their creative process and product?

Some of the most beautiful performances of songs and stage characters that I have enjoyed have been by people whose everyday personalities are laid-back. If they can create the magic of character, mood, and music, they have every right to the stage as much as the personally overwhelming person.

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2 Replies to “The myth of the “bigger than life” personality”

  1. 20+ years ago, I was nervous as all hell and shy I was auditioning to be a performance major. I was told I “wasn’t expressive enough” even though I was confident enough to know I had some kind of vocal talent worth further developing. I ended up going to a different school that gave me a chance, and students today can’t be afraid to make the same decision.

    Educational institutions and young artist programs should be fostering a safe space for people to grow into their ability to be expressive, not tearing people down for not simply having had a chance to get over any fears. The only way to get over a fear is by doing the thing you’re afraid of. Fear is an illusion of the mind. Unless you’re doing what you’re afraid of, the illusion stays real. Acting and performing on stage or camera can be learned by anyone, even by introverted people. Sharon Stone is but one example. I’m confident enough to say I’m another—though I’m sure I’ll never be perfect enough in the eyes of certain directors!

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