I made an off-hand comment to an educator and watched her eyes light up with understanding. In the hopes that it could help some other people it seemed like a worthwhile topic for blog discussion.
I’ve always been an actor. Both my parents were performers. Everyone in the family has some bit of performer in their personality. Our gatherings can turn into impromptu concerts. In those moments of spontaneous beauty it’s a beautiful gift to be a performer.
The rest of the time it makes life hard. And not for the reasons you might expect.
At least I had a roadmap because the entire family is so lousy with talent. I knew that some of my natural inclination to tear into a role is due to a performer’s instinct. Today, I play the role of historian. Today, I am the nerdy student running the study group. Today, I play the role of the funny nanny. When you’re a good actor you can slip into any number of real-life jobs and look from the outside observer to be crushing it.
But none of the jobs I had growing up felt right in the long run. I’m an actor. You can literally drop me into any job and I will find a way to bullshit my way through it and look like I know what I’m doing. You could have slipped a scalpel between my fingers and told me to perform surgery and I would have given it a go.
Are you starting to understand why this could make the formative years so fraught for a performer kid? Who the hell am I actually? What do I actually enjoy? Could I take on these jobs and identities on a permanent basis? I won an award at mock trial but does that mean I’m supposed to be a lawyer or is it because I should get cast as one on a long-running television series?
Some jobs fit my core character but it took me a lot longer to find those. As it turns out, science communicator was the closest one to my true personality. Who knew? Not me!
Educators may have an extra layer to untangle when they’re teaching hyper children who are characterized as “creative” types. It’s easier when they’re arty ones who like to draw and prefer introverted pursuits. But what about those hyperactive kids who are taking on everyone else’s emotional states throughout the day? One week she seems like a science nerd and the next week she’s all about playing therapist with her best friend. That’s a slippery kid. That one is tough to pin down. That one is probably an actor. Poor sod. So full of empathy for humanity they don’t even know who they are.
More than a few creatives end up in jobs they hate never acknowledging they were merely playing a role.
One way to solve a problem like Maria, is for a wise adult to help the kid identify their performer instinct so they will own it instead of having the instinct subconsciously wreck their professional life. They must know that the tendency to over-identify with people and jobs is a hazard of their personality type. They will need quiet guidance to listen to the voice in their head to know who they actually are.
To that end I did an actor’s workshop recently called Performer’s Mastery and it was exactly the mirror I needed to figure out what I prefer.
There’s a non-performer’s version and during a break I was talking to a past participant and mused that the performer version must be easier because we’re people who are accustomed to being in front of an audience and baring our souls.
“Noooo,” he said, shaking his head in wonder. “Performers are so much harder. We hide. We wear masks.”
The experienced facilitators are themselves actors and can see through all the bullshit. When Henry Mah writes that the process is life and death he’s not speaking in hyperbole. For some it is the death of an assumed identity. For many, the process will reveal hidden personality traits and it will change their lives:
“For me, it has been a journey to find the right trusting eyes to guide me forward. And the operative word here is “trust”. This is why I hold what I do at the Mastery to such a high regard. Because if you choose to trust me and put your process in my hands to guide and, in partnership with you, shape your journey, I hold that trust as sacred. I hold that trust as a scared bond to support your growth and betterment, and to go to the wall with you in a loving and supportive way to help you get where you want to go and then come back stronger and more present for it. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, because I believe that when you engage in this process with me your very life, actually and metaphorically, is at stake. And that means something to me.”
What individuals get out of doing a Mastery workshop is different based on their own issues. For me it was clarifying what I’m about. I’m a writer, yes. But I’m an actor, too.
Also, I’m a bomb ass bitch with sass to spare.
But I knew that.