It’s been said several times and by different people, that I know how to capture an audience, and hold them in the palm of my hand. Those that have attributed that superpower to me aren’t in fact wrong. It’s both a talent of mine, and also a skill. What do I mean by both?
You’ve no doubt heard of the nature vs. nurture argument vis a vis psychology as well as behavior. Is it something passed down in the genes, & inherent in the person from birth (the SO’s half-Asian children loving rice and not doing well with milk; a person’s sexual orientation), or are the things a person is good at and the things they do because of their environment/how they’re raised (there’ve been multitudinous debates about what made the Columbine shooters do what they did, and also about where talent comes from)? I want to talk about the very latter.
Growing up, I was a dancer, writer, and theatre person, habits and behaviors of which having started almost from day 1. As a toddler, it went beyond loving Alice in Wonderland: I *became* her for days on end. At 4 or 5, my obsession with Wizard of Oz went way beyond merely loving the movie and reading some of the books (yes, I was an advanced reader); I cast my family members as the roles. To this day, my mother still gives me shit for casting her as the Wicked Witch of the West (my dad was the scarecrow, I was Dorothy, and my little brother was Toto, natch). It wasn’t till adulthood when I could explain to her that that was the strongest female character in the movie: Glinda, my mom certainly was not, but neither was she Auntie Em. And she couldn’t be Dorothy. It actually fits well with her awful temper and etc. but I digress. Though, not really…
I have also always been an excellent mover & dancer. I’ve had ability beyond my technical skill level all my life, culminating in a prominent aerial dance company casting me in lead roles in their dance pieces in the mid-late ‘90s, while still calling me a “non dancer” the while. The director couldn’t deny my ability, though, and my dancer mom would always confirm by saying everyone can learn technique, but that I had something more: an innate talent.
As far as presence, that would soon translate to stage presence, and my junior high drama teacher always told me something similar: I had an innate talent, a natural knack, of taking a stage and dominating it. Immense stage presence and personal power. I remember he once did a “test” on the class, telling us all about it first: we were to, one at a time, fake some laughter, and he wanted to see if any of our fake stage laughs would be contagious, making the room join in with the real thing. Nobody’s laughter was contagious (fake laughter isn’t, unlike fake yawns).
Well, nobody’s, that is, but mine.
This vast personal power has been good for me in a few ways, very difficult in several others, but that’s another post for another day.
Is this all from some mysterious talent I was born with? Or is it more a matter of my environment, and how I was raised, than any magical gift? I mean, I started displaying these talents and powers very very young. My mother, though, was a dance education major when she became pregnant with me (I always joke that I’ve been performing onstage since *before* I was born). She was a stay-at-home mom for my early development, taking me to the library twice a week, reading to me constantly, and including me in her children’s dance / creative movement classes until I was too old to take them, which is when I drifted into junior high theatre. So, I mean…
My junior high as well as high school had robust theatre and music programs, with brilliant professionals teaching us, which means that by the time I got to college and entered their BFA program in acting (one of the prominent ones in the country), I had undergone literally a lifetime of excellent training. Training, and encouragement. And of course, after the BFA program, I was that much better.
Would I have this incredible ability to hold a crowd as a middle aged adult, this immense personal power and huge presence, had I not grown up in that environment? With, say, parents who despised and denigrated the arts, weren’t artists themselves, or even forbade me to engage in performance the way I did, not only onstage but in everyday life, as I developed? If I had gone to crappy schools, with bad teachers, or no arts exposure in school at all? Well. Maybe. Would’ve been a lot harder, if I even managed to recognize the desire.
That, of course, is a series of questions impossible to answer sufficiently. There’s literally no way to know.
One of the mysteries of the ages: nature or nurture, hard work or innate talent, magic or science…. actually the answer to that myriad mystery, methinks, is: Both.
Both, of each of those things.
And yesterday I cupped the Blue Dime Cabaret Central City audience in the palm of my hand, both as I danced and as I chatted during our producer spiel. It’s a thing that feels natural, for me. I get a little nervously charged before a show, but performing is easy—I know it like the back of my hand. Or the palm.
Then again, I’ve been doing it since before I was born…