There is this weird supposition that all or most actors are extroverts, to the degree that some people think theatre isn’t attainable as their career or hobby just because they’re introverted.
Boy is that a load of crap.
Science estimates that there are slightly more extroverts in the world than introverts, or else there is a roughly 50/50 split. This seems to hold up with my own observations. Being an introvert, I tend to attract other introverted people, so my friend group is perhaps slightly skewed but even with that in mind I’d say a 50/50 split is fairly evident in my personal life. For every deeply introverted friend I have, I have a strongly extroverted friend to counterpoint.
The irony is, a really large portion of my introverted friends are my theatre friends.
Part of the problem is that not all introverts or extroverts behave the same or enjoy the same things. I know extroverts who are the life of every party, who really attend every party instead of bailing at the last minute with a vague text about having to work or feeling crappy, but are terrified to do an oral presentation on a project to a classroom. I’m introverted enough that I might want to skip out on the cast party since I’ve been stuck in a dressing room with these animals all tech week, but the actual on-stage part with them is the highlight of my month. It’s all a spectrum of interests and behaviors, and frequently comes down to luck of the draw, how much time I’ve spent alone versus with others over the last several days, and how badly I just want to get home and play video games, already.
I get the theory. Theatre is a team sport. It requires a lot of social interaction with a lot of people, and requires you do it all on stage in front of even more people. To some introverts, this is a nightmare. This sounds, for all intents and purposes, like a strictly extroverted activity.
However, theatre is actually a perfect activity for introverts. In fact, they may even be better suited to it for extroverts.
The thing about theatre is that it doesn’t just require communicating with others– it requires really connecting with yourself. A big part of acting is looking within. You, as an actor, need to understand the circumstances of the script, how they apply to the character, and how you would feel in the character’s situation given their life experiences. This is, in no uncertain terms, an introspective act. A lot of acting is just making introspection visible to an onlooker– many acting teachers advise beginning with mental lines of thought and letting a physical life emerge from it. Usually show and character analysis comes before determining blocking or character choices. Most of the set-up for acting is highly introverted, in the respect that it deals with a lot of independent thinking and deep intra-personal reflection.
And once all of this business is brought to the stage, extroversion alone still isn’t enough to succeed. Consider what we often think of as a chief trait of extroversion: the ability to strike up conversation with anyone and always know what to say.
Responding to other actors on stage isn’t about finding the nerve to speak to someone or knowing what to say next. That much is already taken care of by the script. Really truthfully responding is very much about more introspection, though in an obviously less isolated sense. Actors need to be able to cut to the heart of how the dialogue and circumstances make them (and their character) feel. While being clear about feelings and emotions usually isn’t a strong suit of the introverted, it isn’t necessarily for the extroverted, either. Both groups are similarly inclined to stomp down their instinctual feelings in favor of presenting a comfortable exterior to the public. Introverts, though, are typically well versed in thinking on and working through these emotions later in private– something extroverts are more likely to skip out on. Stanislavski said that while acting, actors should be able to maintain a sense of public solitude. In other words, the public part of performing shouldn’t be much of a worry at all, and introverts have the leg up on behaving in solitude.
At worst, extroverts are more likely to focus too much on the strictly external. They might characterize their performances through only physical or even superficial actions, or give in to over-the-top clowning in order to be funny and eye-catching. Acting is not about being the center of attention (unless you’re playing a role that really demands it– and this is rarer than you think). Acting is about knowing when to back off and switch to internal action. This is something the introverts will have on lock.
Of course, anyone and everyone can do theatre. I simply want to dispel the myth that theatre is wrong for some people due to their preference of company versus alone time. I’m an introverted actor, surrounded by other introverted actors and an equal measure of extroverted actors– don’t count yourself out!