For any shy, reticent and socially reluctant individual (most of us in fact), the thought of performing in front of others is terrifying. Imagine the fear and dread as the curtain rises and that sea of expectant faces stares back, awaiting the inevitable slip-up. But drama can help us to overcome these inhibitions, challenge ourselves and become more self-assured.
For those with a learning disability and/or autism, social skills and communication can be a big challenge; but by taking on the role of another character in drama, the skills of social interaction can be learnt, often subconsciously, thereby building confidence for day to day life.
Actor Dan Aykroyd, of Ghostbusters and Blues Brothers fame, had been expelled from school twice before being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child. Aykroyd has since used his experiences with autism to develop his characters and incorporate the challenges he has faced into his movies.
Darryl Hannah’s autism left her with debilitating shyness, she has said, but acting gave her the opportunity to use her vivid imagination and make the circumstances and emotions of her characters feel real. She still finds it frightening to deal with the publicity that inevitably comes with the trappings of fame but, through acting, has developed strategies to help her cope.
Similarly, Anthony Hopkins has stated that his Asperger’s has aided him as an actor. He admits to being a loner who doesn’t have many friends, but he likes people and enjoys getting inside their heads. “I definitely look at people differently,” says the man who played Hannibal Lecter!!
So, if big stars like these can harness the positivity of drama, how can it work for us mere mortals?
I spoke to Talkback’s resident drama queen, Coral Simpson: “I am a massive ambassador for drama! It teaches so many skills, including teamwork, listening, creativity and body-awareness, as well as helping people to build confidence. A huge success story recently has been a guy that can really struggle with day to day interactions but, give him a character with a description and a script and he is like a different person when on stage. One of the great things is that he is able to understand how his character would respond to certain situations and he can actually ad lib really well! A few people that have worked with him in the past and came to see the show last year and at Christmas, all said how amazed and impressed they were by him and his progress! Our drama group really is going from strength to strength. When I first took it over in 2015 we never would have guessed that we’d be doing shows that 100 people were coming to see! The guys all get so much out of it and one of the great things is that they help to create the characters and write the storyline, which means they have ownership of it.”
Perhaps there is a performer inside us all, just awaiting the injection of confidence that drama can unleash. You never know, you could be working with the next Elwood Blues. Just don’t let him drive your car!!