An introverted thespian. It seems strange doesn’t it? Most thespians (you would think) are loud and outgoing people. At least that’s what I’ve assumed the stereotype to be.

But after observing the dynamic between what people bring to the stage and how they behave off of it, I realize the phenomenon of the introverted thespian is growing — and it’s an interesting one.

The first step towards understanding this is to dismantle the established stereotype. I don’t think that just because an actor feels comfortable taking on a role and performing in front of hundreds of people, that he or she behaves that way all the time. The same holds for a person who is extroverted at all times and would never dream of performing in front of people. One factor doesn’t make the other true — abandon this stereotype.

In high school, the hours I spent in drama club gave me a lot of time to analyze the thespian stereotype. They were loud, extroverted people, no doubt. I was among them. But more times than not, the people who stood out onstage were the ones who I didn’t see as extroverted. Onstage, their introverted qualities disappeared. They were entirely different.

The second point of understanding is this: taking on a new role literally means adopting traits and qualities that an actor doesn’t actually possess. When I watch an actor play a character, I often think they act the same way off the stage. That’s probably a sign of a good actor, not necessarily an indication of their real personality.

We can all look at Kristen Chenoweth and say yeah, she fits the part of Glinda in “Wicked” perfectly. She’s outgoing, energetic and lively, everything you need for the role. When I watch her in interviews or playing other roles, her demeanor screams Glinda.

Someone else may play that part onstage with an equal amounts of energy and charisma, just as the role calls for. But I would not be surprised if that actress is nothing at all like the gregarious and charismatic Chenoweth.  

But the calm and reserved actress preparing for her time onstage might just have something to offer.

My older sister Gabriel, for example, is an actress. Two words I would use to describe her? Calm and gentle. She is levelheaded and in a group, she’s rarely the one to demand the attention or provide the excessive noise. She leaves that task to those in her company. Most of the time, people would assume the thespians are the people around her who can’t shut up. She proves them wrong, of course.

Onstage, Gabriel shines. She plays such a vast range of characters, stretching from a young, innocent child to a grown, mature adult. You would never guess she’s the quiet one. That she’s the thespian. And an introverted one at that.

That’s the point of acting. Becoming a character entirely apart from who one really is. That isn’t to say that resembling the character the actor plays is a bad thing, oftentimes that’s a pleasure to watch.

But to fall into the assumption that a successful thespian, or a believable one, has to be extroverted — is false. A wise actor aims for the audience to simply believe the character that he or she takes on. It takes an incredible amount of time to study the physical and emotional traits of a character and portray them as natural.

I think the best response an actor could ever get from their work is: “Wow, that was you up there? I’ve never seen you behave anything like that before.”

Yes. Exactly. That’s a job well done for the thespian embodying a character whose traits are drastically different than what the actor views as inherent qualities.

The actors who study their roles and think, “Nope, I don’t behave anything like this in real life,” are often the ones who make you believe their character the most. They have spent long hours reversing their natural tendencies to become an incredibly different person onstage — and the result deserves our praise. 

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