There are a lot of stereotypes about people who work in theatre. You have to have a loud and in-your-face personality, and you have to enjoy being the centre of attention, but like all stereotypes, they're not actually true. When I was younger I used to have panic attacks if I had to speak in front of people. The fear of being asked to read aloud in school was paralysing. But I found other ways to make myself seen and heard.
Moving my body in dance classes gave me a new language, a way of saying all the things I wasn't confident enough to say with my voice. With choreography to concentrate on, I could step out onstage and forget the audience existed. And when I eventually started acting, I could immerse myself in different characters and become someone else, someone who could say and do things I didn't feel brave enough to.
Obviously, not everyone shares this experience. Maybe you're perfectly happy hiding out backstage among the costumes or sound equipment. There are a million ways to be creative and countless different careers in the arts where your skills, and your voice, will be important. I now run my own theatre company, managing projects from behind the scenes. I write, direct and produce plays that give other people the chance to see themselves reflected onstage. Creativity can come in the form of finding new ways to fundraise or reach audiences, workshop activities that help people whose brains learn differently to thrive, or designing the eye-catching poster that draws someone to a show that will change their life. Creative industries are as limitless as the people who shape them, and all the best art comes from breaking the mould – even quietly.
During the casting process for shows I direct, I'm often drawn to the quiet actors, the gentle ones, who listen more than they talk. Even from the other side of the audition panel, theatre spaces seem full of impossibly confident people, but when you remember that pretending is part of the job, suddenly it becomes clear we're all just as nervous and eager to prove ourselves as one another. Trust that there are people out there who will appreciate your ability to watch, listen, absorb, empathise, understand and choose your words (or whatever form your expression takes) with intention. Because that is what gives art its power. It's about what we say, not how loud we say it.
There are times when you will have to push yourself, embrace the fear of jumping in head first in group auditions, be proud in showing that interview panel why your project deserves support, and make yourself heard when your ideas could help create something spectacular. It may take time to find your way of saying the things you need to say, maybe even longer to find places and people who make you feel brave enough to act on your passion. But trust me, it will be worth it.
Written by CJ Turner-McMullan (they/them) Creative Director of Apricity Theatre, freelance Actor, Director and Writer, PhD Researcher and Associate Lecturer at Bath Spa University.