How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in't!"
Hedgehog is so excited to play the part of Miranda in the third-grade production of "The Tempest" this spring...which only goes to show how very very different she and I are, the difference becoming more and more apparent with age. As a child, I always had certain deeply ambivalent feelings about being the center of attention. Within my comfort zone--in conversation, among friends--I enjoyed it. But performing? Oh goodness no. From the youngest age, I became weak-kneed and hyperventilatey at the mere thought of standing before an audience and saying lines.
In junior high and high school, I was very involved in puppetry (which gives you an idea of what my school was like, that puppetry was a serious pursuit). I loved the creative and mechanistic process of puppet construction, the engineering involved, and learning how to manipulate them in performance. But most of all, I was glad of the opportunity to go before an audience yet not be seen--hidden away behind a barrier--my puppets spoke for me, and were brave for me. Still, even then, crouching in the darkness, clutching my puppets' sticks in sweaty hands, I had stage fright.
Hebrew School plays were torture. I remember playing Potiphar's wife in a production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and going through agonies beforehand. My mother had to literally stand in the wings and shove me onstage...a kindly shove, but a shove nonetheless...
When we had to recite memorized passages of poems and plays, as we frequently did, I could sometimes cajole my teacher into hearing my lines out in the hall away from my classmates. Even then, I would blush my way through the process.
My Bat Mitzvah was a crucible. Eighty pairs of eyes on me, watching as I chanted Torah and gave my homily...
I overcame this terrible performance anxiety to some extent, finally, when I taught college. I had to, or my then-livelihood would have been in jeopardy. Although I had to catch my breath before beginning class, and my palms were always clammy, I even came to enjoy the lectures, the feeling of power that came with commanding attention from a room full of people--and sometimes, when the lectures were good and the vibe was there, the connection between student and teacher, it was something like euphoria! And I could suddenly understand, just a little bit, the appeal of performing...
But never ever in childhood...which is why I admire my 9-year-old Miranda so much. She's excited--not scared, not self-effacing, but genuinely excited to learn lines and get dressed up and stand before an audience and act! Simply amazing to me.
Illustration of Miranda by Waterhouse