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Secret Life of an Expat: Speaking and Teaching

Photo by hiddedevries

I used to be the biggest coward. I was terrified of standing up in front of other people. Of having the class stare at me when we had to do speeches in 7th grade. Of playing in violin recitals. But music was easier, I played in a youth orchestra and I loved being on stage with a hundred other kids, I was a small part of a bigger organism. If it was just me, standing there, a room or theater full of people waiting to hear what will happen: yech. Terrifying.

At the same time, a secret part of me wanted to be a theater person. I joined the drama club in ninth grade because all my friends were doing it. Every day we did theater exercises, games like freeze, where a few people acted out a scene, and you were supposed to yell “freeze” and jump into the scene and change it to something else. In a whole year I jumped in once. In our end-of-the-year play, I had a non-speaking role that walked onto the stage one time. And I was terrified. After that, no more theater, even though I sometimes looked longingly into the room where they rehearsed and built their sets. The idea of auditioning, and then acting for the world to see scared the pants off me, and I always wondered if I was missing out.

One day in grad school, our beloved drawing teacher brought in an improv coach for the day. He’s the kind of guy an office manager would hire to build teamwork skills amongst the employees. I had arrived early, as usual, and was able to tell the teacher and the acting coach that I had crippling stage fright and would just be watching. But by the end of the morning I was able to get up and play a role in one of the little scenes he had set up. My drawing teacher said, and I quote: “you were so terrified to act, but then you were the best actor there.” I wish I knew whether or not he was just being nice.

A series of public speaking requirements passed through my life. Events that other, more comfortable people, may not even recognize as difficult: reading poems at weddings, introducing myself on mic at a filmmakers party, getting married, and with each event I grew a little.

Photo by Art, as a weapon

In spite of these tiny victories, when I recently got a job teaching Filmmaking at the American School of Paris Extension Program Summer Camp, I was terrified. I had done some assistant teaching and tutoring, but I’d never dealt with teaching kids. The thought of teaching always gave me the same wave of stage fright as the thought of acting, and I think a selfish part of me wasn’t ready to share knowledge that I wasn’t yet finished with. Everyone knows the term, “those who can’t do, teach,” and I didn’t want to be one of “those.” But now I know it’s different.

Teaching, at least my experience teaching, was not just me passing on information that I wasn’t good enough to use myself. It was me condensing and synthesizing the information I had garnered throughout my experiences, into something that I thought would be coherent and attractive to the students. I wanted the kids to get excited about filmmaking, to understand it and to learn the process so they had the knowledge and the power to make a film at home. And in the process of teaching them about it, I got excited too. In the last week when we taught them a little bit of animation (my favorite flavor of filmmaking), I found I was even more passionate.

I was amazed at how exhausting teaching for only 2 hours could be, and how I started to feel for the kids. I saw some of them caring, and some of them not caring, and I realized it was up to me as their teacher to guide them through. I learned so much from those five weeks, and now I feel like I can do anything.

Every little blip and bloop of public speaking that has passed through my life, playing the violin on a stage, reciting poems at friends’ weddings, reading my own writing on a stage at the West Hollywood Book Fair, being interviewed in front of a theater at a film festival, being forced into a surprise acting class when I thought I would be drawing, welcoming friends and family to our wedding, and now teaching kids, has helped me grow.Learning to face the fear that comes along with these events is where the growth comes from. I must accept that the steps leading up to public speaking may never change: I wish I could back out, I hear my cue, I walk forward and turn on the loud voice, my body wants to turn tail and run, but I do it anyway because I don’t have a choice. Then after a few minutes the fear subsides (a little) and it becomes (kind of) fun. Maybe I can be a theater person after all.