Friday, May 3, 2013

"...of the opinion that there is no direct correlation between an artist's shyness and the quality of his or her work."

From The Dramatist-Jan/Feb 2012:

from the desk of Roland Tec/Department of Membership

on shyness

"One of my many obsessions is shyness. I suffer from it terribly, though you wouldn't necessarily know it if you've attended any event where I'm the moderator. With a specific job to do, I am somewhat able to let the task and all the focus it demands eclipse my own fears and awkwardness. But plunk me down into a cocktail party with no agenda other than to "mix and mingle" and I suddenly turn into the eight-year-old boy who ate lunch by himself every day of summer camp for fear of being rejected. At most social gatherings, I hover by the food or the exit or both and I calculate how long I have to endure this torture before my departure can be made without raising eyebrows.

If you doubt me on this, just ask Marsha Norman how long I'd been working at the Guild before I got up the nerve to even say "hello" to her, much less engage her in conversation.

As Director of Membership at the Guild, my own shyness has influenced the ways I've approached most of the programming initiatives I've undertaken. For example, I choose to conduct all of our various Exchanges a bit like an extended talk show, beginning with mini interviews of every person in the room before the entire group rather than simply relying on everyone to adequately introduce themselves. I do this quite consciously with the shy folks in mind.

Why go to all this trouble, you ask? Well, call me crazy, but I am of the opinion that there is no direct correlation between an artist's shyness and the quality of his or her work.

In my own work outside the Guild, as a film director, I have occasionally caught myself hiring the more quiet, reserved candidate for a position, the one whose interview may have been less fun, a bit more labored. I have noticed myself doing this on more than one occasion. Depending on the job I was filling, there may have been other more important qualities than charming one's way through a 25-min. cappuccino. Maybe I was seeking an eye and a sensitivity to the detail of character in a cinematographer or an intuitive feel for the nuances of narrative in an editor. Of course some jobs require natural people skills. Directing comes to mind. And producing. But writing? I don't think so.

Time and again, however, I am reminded of just how much depends on our not being shy in this business. There simply are too many people writing scripts of all varieties. So much so that without a little push, a little moxie, chances are pretty good that even the most glorious writing talent will go unnoticed.

So what's a shy person to do?

On a recent trip to Cleveland, after a half day of workshops, a young man rather sheepishly approached me to ask if I had any theatre plans for the evening. His name was Tom. The woman he was with, Liz, scolded him for being pushy. But I was curious to hear more despite the fact that my own fatigue was nudging me ever closer to a night in front of the hotel DVR.

"Well, there's this evening of monologues being done in another part of town and the writers and actors are all really pretty good."

I smiled. But my smile was hardly convincing.

Liz handed me her card and offered-quite generously, I thought-to pick me up at thehotel and give me a lift to and from the show if I decided I'd like to go.

"I have a hunch you might like it," she added.

"Do you both have work in the show," I asked, 90% certain of the answer.

"No, we don't. But a couple of the writers are friends."

In retrospect I have to admit that's probably what made the difference for me and I'm ashamed to admit that. These two were not simply pushing their own show onto me, and as such, instead of begging a favor, they were inviting me to an opportunity.

Odd psychology, eh? When something is being offered to us by the author, we are naturally more suspect. Doesn't seem fair, really. Does it?

But I digress. To my delight and surprise, the work was compelling and for the most part pretty sharply performed. I laughed my ass off, as did the other 40-odd folks gathered in the unmarked storefront gallery in a part of town I could not name.

So, unless and until we all make friends with the likes of generous souls Tom and Liz, what are we to do? How can we hope to sell ourselves to the world without coming across as pushy, self-promoting or just plain obnoxious?

My friend, the actress Judith Barcroft, is fond of saying that to be shy is essentially to be selfish because as such, the "shy" person is only really thinking of him or herself. Put another way, "If somebody doesn't make the first move, nobody would ever dance. We'd have a world full of wallflowers."

I'm quite taken with this view of things but I must admit I still have a long wy to go before I actually believe, with all my heart, that when I enter a crowded room it really is filled with people eager and hungry for whatever I may have to offer.

I don't know if I'll ever fully feel that. But I'm certainly willing to try.

Shall we dance?"

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