Dear West End Producer: ‘Although they may love to perform, can actors be shy?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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Just because an actor stands on stage and shouts in front of an audience doesn’t mean that they are all confident and full of self-belief. No, in truth, many are very shy indeed. In fact, some performers are the most under-confident and anxious people I know.

Some find the stress of rehearsing and performing very tough, and a lack of confidence can be one of the main obstacles actors have to overcome. In the rehearsal room, actors need to feel safe in the knowledge that they can make mistakes, and won’t be judged by fellow performers.

But this can be hard, particularly on the first day when everyone is surrounded by a new group of people. And then, of course, their minds can start playing games and make them believe that everyone else thinks they’re rubbish (or that the director wishes they’d cast somebody else). This results in them feeling even more shy and introverted.

If you ever feel like this, you must remember that everyone else feels the same way. It is never just you. All actors, to some extent, will feel inferior and unsure – and that’s partly what the rehearsal process is all about. This fear is actually a useful tool if used correctly. The worst thing for an actor is if their shyness stands in the way, stopping them playing and developing in rehearsals.

So how do we defeat this feeling? Well, one great theatrical tradition prescribed by theatre doctors since the beginning of time is going to the pub with the rest of the cast.

After a couple of bags of Scampi Fries and several pints of Special Brew, a company quickly bonds. It doesn’t take long until everyone has shared their personal stories and embarrassing bedroom incidents to people they’ve only been working with for one day.

And once you’ve shared the details of your messy threesome in Margate, there really is little point in feeling shy. Your fellow cast mates will admire you for your openness. It’s amazing what an evening in the pub can do for company morale.

Many actors like the fact that they are told what to say and where to stand: they feel more confident playing another person than playing themselves. They like to be given the chance to leave their normal ‘shy’ self and become someone entirely different.

So, yes, actors can be shy – but they can’t let it take over. Obviously, a certain amount of confidence is needed to step into an audition or go out on to the stage.

Many actors find that once they have their routine in a show, and know their status within a company, then their confidence grows. In fact, one director I asked said that shy, quieter actors often give better performances. The big, loud, confident ones will make choices very early on in rehearsals and stick to them, while the quieter performers will slowly find their character and allow it to develop, resulting in a more honest performance.

So embrace that shyness, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer