I was leaving the theatre after performing in a show a few months back when I heard a friend of mine call out from the stage door.
“Hey, aren’t you going to hang out tonight?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m going home.”
“Oh, come on, stay for a while. Have a drink with us.”
“No, I’m good. I get very awkward with people.”
He laughed, not unkindly. “But you’re an actor, you get up on stage in front of people every night! You’re not awkward.”
I laughed, too, understanding how strange it must sound to someone who’s wired differently than I am. It sounds strange to me, too, especially when I say it out loud.
I explained that it wasn’t the same thing for me, that acting on a stage in front of a couple hundred people is easy compared to having to, well, be myself. He shook his head, but made sure I knew that the offer was a standing one, then went inside to have fun with friends while I made my way to the car.
Introverts Can Be Actors
Staying after shows to celebrate and just be with people is a common thing to do at the theatre where I perform, but I rarely stay afterward. I prefer to change out of my costume, say a quick hello and thank you to patrons who wait for the actors, then head home to have a quiet glass of wine and decompress before bed. Gatherings, even with people I know and love, are something that I dread.
Being both an introvert and an actor (community theatre here, nothing fancy!) are two things that don’t seem to go together. That wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten that reaction, and I usually have to explain what being introverted means.
Alone time is crucial for introverts. During a show, from call time when we begin hair and makeup to the end of a show, can be anywhere from four to six hours. That’s four to six hours of being “on,” whether it’s actually onstage or in the green room and makeup room with everyone else.
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Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I’ve been in shows with are a lot of fun to talk to and be with — that’s just a long time to go without my “recharging” time. When it’s over, I don’t want to have to talk to anyone for a while. In true introvert form, that’s how I build my energy.
What Introversion Really Is
I think the disconnect comes from the misconception that introverts are shy or “antisocial.” While introverts can, indeed, be shy or antisocial, that’s not what introversion is. I’m not unsociable, I love people.
I’m definitely not shy. Being shy would mean that I don’t feel comfortable getting up in front of people or talking to people in general — and that’s just the opposite for me, at least in a performance situation. I know that a lot of introverts hate public speaking, but if in performance mode, I’m very comfortable, whether it’s on stage, teaching my middle school students, or giving a talk on historical clothing.
Now, I don’t go up and start conversations with people in the grocery store or at the doctor’s office, because that would be way out of my comfort zone as an introvert. But if I have a topic that I know about or lines to perform, I’m usually very calm. When I worked at a historical museum, my favorite thing to do was to talk to people to find out where they were from and to make them smile, especially little kids. As an actor, I love to get an audible reaction from the audience. There is absolutely nothing shy about me; I just need periods of time to be by myself in order to get to that happy level where I feel comfortable.
Alone Time Is Crucial
What happens if I overextend myself and don’t take that alone time? My anxiety ramps up, I get cranky, and I get quiet. Sometimes it triggers my depression as well and I spiral downward.
Since I’ve learned what being an introvert means and how to care for myself properly, I’ve made sure to make time to be alone every day. When I’m teaching, that time is my prep hour, and I usually spend my lunch time at my desk, light out and door locked. I need that time in order to give my best to my students in the afternoon. At home, I retreat to my room to meditate or go for a run. It’s not much, but it makes a huge difference in how I interact with my family and others.
Extroverts, on the other hand, need lots of human interaction to feel charged and ready. They are the friends who are staying at the theatre until the wee hours having a wonderful time, who are ready at the drop of a hat to meet up somewhere, and who really just want to be around people almost always.
Sometimes, one can be a little of both, called an “ambivert.” I have ambivert tendencies sometimes, but they don’t last long. They usually take hold when I am feeling really good after a show, when the conversation and the comradery have been spot on, when I actually want to hang out. I want to fit in. So, I try, but then my ambivert self quickly reverts back to introvert. My brain reminds me that it needs a break, and I try to leave before the anxiety completely sets in and I become a wallflower.
There are many shades of introvert; we’re not all the same. We require different amounts of alone time and different amounts of people time. Also, just because someone is an introvert does not automatically mean that they have depression and/or anxiety. I can only speak for myself in that regard because I’ve been diagnosed with both, but there are plenty of introverts who do not suffer from either of those conditions. Wanting to be alone does not automatically equal being depressed. Extroverts can just as easily have depression and anxiety.
The Strength of Introverted Actors
There are many professional actors and performers who are introverts: Emma Watson, Glenn Close, Tom Hanks, and Harrison Ford, just to name a few. Being an introvert in no way hinders one’s performance. It’s knowing how to take care of yourself, how to give yourself that important alone time. That’s the key.
As an introverted actor, I’m self-sufficient. I know a lot of extroverted actors who need to say their lines with other people in order to learn them. While that can be helpful, I don’t need anyone to help me learn my characters; in fact, I learn best when I’m alone with no distractions. This is one way my introversion gives me a “boost” when it comes to acting — I can get a good feel for my characters’ personalities and develop them well, usually without needing to turn to anyone else.
I’ve been at my theatre for several years now, and I love the people there. Many of them know me well, and they understand that while hanging out is not something I do very often, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like them or that I’m being stand-offish. In fact, learning about myself and being open about it has inspired some really good conversations about introversion and extroversion.
For me, theatre season starts up again in a couple of weeks. There will be rehearsals soon, there will be shows, new and renewed friendships, and there will be parties that I won’t go to. The offers will be made, because my friends are awesome people and don’t want me to feel left out, but I will most likely still choose to go home afterward and sip my glass(es) of wine while I process the evening.
They’re okay with that, and so am I.