More about Improv: Improvisation and introversion
It had been a good, fun show in a cheap room above a popular
bar. Chatting with an audience member after, they suddenly said, “You must be
an extrovert!” I was surprised at the time, but I’ve heard it enough since that
I can now be all cool about it. It is a common assumption that performers are
all extroverts. It makes sense. But as you probably know, many, many performers
are the opposite. We’re introverts.
The stereotypes are that extroverts are all
attention-seekers and introverts are all recluses. These are definitely extreme
and narrow views. However, even the standard dictionary definitions of the
words don’t do either side justice:
an outgoing, socially confident person.
a shy, reticent person.
It gets worse when you look at the synonyms:
outgoing person, sociable person, life and soul of the party, socializer,
mixer, mingler, social butterfly, socialite, party animal
lone wolf, hermit, solitary, misanthrope, outsider
You’re either a mingler or a misanthrope!
|Graphic by Allison Plume.|
The common psychological definitions are somehow better and
much less concrete:
person predominantly concerned with external things or objective
person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than
with external things.
The original definitions, popularised by psychiatrist Carl
Jung, were about where we focus our mental energy, and again a bit fuzzy:
Introverts direct their psychic energy inwards and extroverts, outwards.
Really, introvert and extrovert are best defined, as I see
it, by answering this: where do you get your energy?
person who gets energy from being with other people.
person who gets energy from being on their own.
So an introvert can be happy in crowds, be the life and soul
of the party, but they will go home for alone time to recharge, whereas an
extrovert will get energy from being at the party and will get more quickly
bored of being alone.
That is not to say people and parties can’t energise an
introvert or that extroverts don’t like alone time. As we see with many human
classifications, things are not defined as being completely one thing or
another. We all have introvert and extrovert sides to us, but very often there
is one end of the spectrum we tend to be. People you meet will never be entirely
at the end of the in/extrovert spectrum as the extremes are actually disorders.
In a very unscientific poll of improvisers I made, the
numbers of introverts and extroverts were pretty close, but over half the
people identified as in the middle or ambiverts, having both sides in more or
less equal amounts.
We’re currently experiencing a huge test of ex/introversion:
the lockdown challenge. Those people coping very well, and even secretly
enjoying lockdown more than they feel they should, are almost certainly
introverts. If you were tearing your hair out after 2 hours, you are probably
it’s very difficult to tell who is an introvert or an
extrovert on stage. Especially with seasoned performers. But you might get an
idea at an after party, but even then, not for sure. Plenty of introverts love
being at parties; some will be the so-called life and soul of said same party.
And it’s possible to be an extrovert AND shy and retiring.
In the so-called “West,” we seem to favour extroverts. You
are expected to be fun at parties, overjoyed to be part of a large crowd, and sparkling
at interviews. And whilst you don’t have to be the life and soul of the office,
it is frowned upon if you miss too many of the unnecessary meetings, social
events, and teambuilding ordeals.
Improv, despite the fact a large number of performers are
introverts, is really no different.
In fact improvisational theatre is often described in very
extrovert terms. I was always told my energy should be outwards when
improvising. It is definitely about focussing on other people. And of course we
all know being in your head (a classic introvert move) is bad for improvising.
All of which implies improv is for extroverts, even though a lot of us
introverts are pretty good at it.
And offstage, there is a very social aspect to improv. It sometimes
feels as though it is frowned upon if you go to very few social events and
don’t hang out too much after shows. Of course, you should do some of that
social stuff and many of us introverts enjoy it. Up to a point.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at improv festivals. I
love festivals, but they are often framed as very social endeavours where there
is an expectation that you will be there for every social activity, after party
and meal. I do pretty well at festivals because socialising that much is a
novelty and actually fun for a few days. Fun, but totally exhausting.
Now, it’s a fact of life that going to social events
improves your integration into a community. There is probably no way to avoid
this without devaluing human contact which is not my intention. I am all for
human contact. But at some point, as an introvert, you’ve had too much of it,
and you need crawl off back to your cave.
It does seem that extroverts rule the world, but that’s not
surprising cos we’re pack animals and consequently social creatures and have
built a society where social confidence is highly rated. Plus as an introvert
I’d hate to rule the world. Far too many meetings.
My purpose here is not to vent; my only purpose with this
post is awareness. (All right, maybe a little venting, but mostly awareness.)
It’s often hard for us to understand what goes on in other
people’s heads as we tend to assume the other’s brain works the exact same way
as our own, just with a different set of experiences. But given we had to
program our own brain from scratch since the day enough cells fused together to
make half a dozen synapses, it would be weird if two people did think alike.
What I would like ultimately is awareness that if someone
leaves an after-party early whilst not being tired to the point of near death
or so drunk they need to immediately check into a rehab clinic… or if they stay
but are quiet or hard to talk to… they should not be considered anti-social,
boring, reclusive, a bad member of the community or snooty.*
They might need to recharge their batteries.
Note: * Of course they might be one of these things as well
or instead, but never assume. Be kind.
- If you want to read more
about what makes an introvert an introvert, there is an excellent book on
the subject called “Introvert: The friendly takeover” (“Introvert: Den
tysta revolutionen”) by Swedish author Linus Jonkman.
- I found several useful
articles on psychologytoday.com and psychcentral.com and the dictionary
definitions are on lexico.com.
- And naturally, we leave the last word to Audrey Hepburn: “I have to
be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night
until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”
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