Why Everyone Should Take a Drama Class

Something that I’ve tried to emphasize throughout this blog is the importance of being comfortable in a variety of social settings. It’s not that I want you to socialize all the time, but I do want you to have the option. Don’t embark on a heart-to-heart with every crazy person on Mass Ave, but if you are in an unfamiliar city looking for the nearest Starbucks, save yourself fifteen minutes and ask someone. There’s no need to go out three nights a week, but don’t say no when a cute girl invites you to a bar with her just because the combination of drunk strangers, loud music, and public restrooms makes you uneasy. Becoming comfortable doesn’t necessitate a change in lifestyle. It’s better to think of it as an enabler.

There are a number of steps to becoming comfortable in a given situation. The most broadly applicable, and perhaps the most important, is to switch from the mindset of trying to impress others to the mindset of trying to have fun. To illustrate, when you knock over a vase in front of your date, it’s natural to feel some embarrassment, but don’t slip into imagining how she perceives the incident and is now regretting her decision to take you to the Museum of Fine Art. It’s much better to laugh it off. Feel free to use it as a segue into an entertaining story about some other clumsy thing you did.

The lesson is twofold. First, when people who aren’t an important part of your life think poorly of you, this generally will not hurt you. Second, most of the time when you think others are judging you, they actually aren’t. The trick is to transition from pretending to believe this to actually believing this.

This is one case where you really have to see it to believe it. Try yelling at the top of your lungs at a Celtics game or off the edge of the Harvard Bridge, and you’ll see that no one minds. Next time you’re on the subway, talk to the girl in the MIT sweatshirt. Half the time, you’ll find that she wants to chat with you. You can even propose to the next stranger you come across. Everyone involved will get a good laugh. There are no consequences.

If you have a hard time motivating yourself to do potentially embarrassing things, sign up for a drama class and let your grade motivate you. I’m taking an improvisation class at the moment, and in addition to providing me with a great group of friends, it has forced me into situations I don’t normally seek out. We often do exercises that involve making prolonged eye contact, starting heated arguments, and acting out scenes that would be highly embarrassing in any other context.

Conversing, flirting, yelling, proposing… all of these become natural with practice. And the skills learned are widely applicable. Learning to draw attention to yourself and not feel self-conscious will help you overcome stage fright and make you a better public speaker. Telling stories to a stranger will make it easier to speak in class. It also feeds back on itself. The more natural it all is, the easier it is to have fun, and the further you can push the boundaries of your comfort zone. When you risk embarrassing yourself, you learn the ironic lesson that the risk is mostly imagined.