My husband is a theatre nerd. His ability to memorize a five page monologue in five hours and his lack of stage fright astounds me. He is devoid of self-consciousness: without hesitation, he risks awkwardness by being friendly and open to strangers. He speaks in silly accents and tries new games whenever possible. His positive attitude about everything makes him look naive, but he is almost always in a happy mood. He includes everyone in everything—he has even accidentally invited people on dates with us (seriously). And he is the master of controlling his reactions to negative emotions. He learned this mostly because he has amazing parents, but also because he spent his young adult life acting.
I lack the qualities that I love about my husband. This year, I was able to teach his lovable qualities—which are the most important aspects of theatre—to two classes of students. Here’s what my husband and theatre have taught me about life:
We usually begin class with vocal warm-ups and a focal (to practice concentration and staying in character) or physical game (to warm up our bodies). Some of the vocal warm-ups we do are silly and embarrassing if you choose to let them be; otherwise, repeating tongue twisters loudly by using your diaphragm (try quickly repeating “I am not the pheasant plucker, I’m the pheasant plucker’s mate and I’m only plucking pheasants because the pheasant plucker’s late!” without it turning dirty) is fun and allows you to lose yourself in the moment. When my students finally stopped worrying about “looking cool” they became free to live in the present and lose themselves in laughter. They realized: active games are fun!
Same goes for life: when we participate in life, it’s often fun. Even if we suck at something, if we show up and simply try with complete willingness, we will only learn, improve, and enjoy. Show up. Participate. Lose yourself in the moment, forget how silly you look, and allow yourself to have fun.
During active games and in Improv, attitude is everything. You have to trust your fellow actors, and work with them and the story on stage. You don’t upstage your fellow actor by stealing the spotlight during her monologue—you wait for your time to shine. And when it is time to work together, you agree and add to the plot. “Hey! What’s that purple giraffe doing in the corner?” asks your partner. You have no idea what she’s talking about, but instead of saying, “I don’t see anything,” you agree and say, “Yeah! And why does it look so angry?!” Don’t undermine your fellow actor in order to bring attention to yourself; instead, work together and both of your performances and the entire story will sparkle.
Same goes for life: don’t push others down in order to rise to the top. Even if you have to share the spotlight, you and everyone else will benefit more in the long run by working together. And when you send out positivity into the world, positivity returns to you. Similarly, negativity attracts negativity.
3) Make everything you do meaningful
When you’re on stage, everyone can see and analyze every move you make. So, make every move meaningful. Don’t fidget, pace, or slap your hands against your thighs. Don’t enter Stage Left when your scene clearly requires you to enter Stage Right. Make sure you are putting energy into words and actions that convey who you really are and what you really mean. Otherwise, you’re wasting your energy.
Same goes for life: don’t waste time on things that don’t mean something to you. Don’t say or do things that don’t truly reflect your character and beliefs. Everyone is watching, always.
4) Control your REactions
When your character is supposed to feel angry, it’s not that easy to simply conjure up anger. But you can control your reactions to make it seem like you’re angry. Likewise, if the jug of water accidentally falls over on stage, rather than smacking your hand against your forehead and declaring “That wasn’t supposed to happen! Show’s over!” you can quickly acknowledge it with a quiet reaction, return it upright, and move on.
Same goes for life: you can’t control the emotions you feel, and you shouldn't ignore them. But you can control how you REact to them. It’s okay to feel angry, and you should not stuff your emotions, but there is an appropriate way to react to all emotions. You do have the ability to control your reactions, even if you can’t control your emotions.
5) Include everyone
Everyone has the ability to bring something beneficial to the production, whether it’s set design, costume design, lighting, stage crew, music, acting, directing, or writing. Everyone is valuable, and no one should be excluded. Even the shy, quiet types have their niches in theatre. In fact, how would all of the hams be able to soak up the spotlight without the brilliant lighting technicians?
Same goes for life: even when we don’t want to, we really should include everyone. Even when you think you have nothing in common with someone, you should at least extend the offer to get to know them. And maybe you don’t become the best of friends, but at least they feel included, and that’s what matters. Everyone has a purpose and a skill. And we all need each other to put on an entertaining, dramatic, humorous, unforgettable performance: life.