From Terminally Shy to “Watch Me!”

In Episode #56, I try to find an explanation for how someone (me), who exhibited what I have called “terminal shyness” (see Immaculate Misconceptions, page 16, where I explain why I don’t sing in public), can transform into a college professor of performing arts who has presented at national and international conferences and who has no difficulty getting up in front of a roomful of people to talk, to teach, or to perform.

As I suggest in the podcast episode, perhaps the seeds of performance were always there. But my default setting was to hide and not be noticed. One classmate, taunting me with the statement, “He didn’t become an altar boy because he doesn’t wanna make a mistake in front of God” hit a little close to home—but I was more concerned about making a mistake in front of the congregation than God.

Where the change did come from, of course, was an inspiration by a teacher, more specifically a college professor. In high school I’d been inspired to pursue a life in the arts as a result of a nun-: I had always been a voracious reader but Sister Francis Borgia and her English class introduced me to the true appreciation of Literature and Art. (Also in Immaculate Misconceptions, starting on page 62.) Her class really inspired me to want to pursue a career in the arts.

In college, Richard Farrell, my first theatre professor, inspired me to pursue a career in that field. Truth be told, he’s also the reason I decided to grow a beard, in emulation of him, and why I often told students to call me by my first name, as he (and later other theatre professors) did.

Once I committed to the Theatre, I never looked back, and in December 2022 I will be celebrating my 45th year of doing Theatre. I have always proudly declaimed my profession, even when urged not to do so. In the dorm at Temple University, I was advised to say I was a Communication major, not a Theatre major, because other people in the dorm might think I was gay. (Historically, actors and theater people have always been suspect; I think I need another blog post to talk about this. Next post!)

A lot of factors went into me becoming a theatre person, including my shyness, which allowed me to sit back, observe people, and then learn how to relate to them. The study of human personas served as good experience when I began directing, having an excellent understanding of how people think and behave.

My students will tell you that on the first day of class I would ask them if they were a pirate or a ninja. It was just an icebreaker exercise, but if pressed I would tell them that I was a pirate as a professor, and a ninja as a director. I never wanted people to see me in my theatre productions; it was always about the students and the actors. As a professor in front of a classroom, however, somehow the terminally shy kid became a pirate.

Listen to Audio Chimera Episode #56 to find out how!

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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