With something like twenty percent of us being highly sensitive, that means there are many performers with the trait – musicians, actors, public speakers.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD writes that public speaking or performing is “a natural for HSPs – yes, it is. (I leave you to think about all the reasons why it is harder for us.)
“First, we often feel we have something important to say that others have missed. When others are grateful for our contribution, we feel rewarded, and the next time is easier.
“Second, we prepare. In some situations… we can seem ‘compulsive’ to people not as determined as ourselves to prevent all unnecessary surprises. But anyone would be a fool not to ‘overprepare’ for the extra arousal due to an audience. Having prepared best, we succeed most.”
She adds, “(Those are two reasons why all the books on shyness can cite so many politicians, performers, and comics who ‘conquered their shyness, so you can, too.’)”
I appreciate what she is saying. I used to associate high sensitivity only with introversion (as I am), but Dr. Aron notes on her site hsperson.com “30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”
Video: comments by Russell Crowe on preparation as an actor:
[Crowe also is a great example of a highly talented actor with a quality that may often go along with high sensitivity – as Jodie Foster once commented: “He has that glacier intensity.” – See more in my article: Intensity and Being Creative.
Dr. Aron and others note that perfectionistic preparation – of a speech, an art project, an acting scene, or whatever sort of performance that demands care and craft – may be a way that sensitive people work to avoid potentially “upsetting” consequences such as social reactions if a performance is not “just right.”
But, of course, no matter how well-prepared it may be, a performance can’t be “perfect” in any absolute sense.
That’s one reason I like Cher‘s comments: “I never feel that I am getting it right. I just keep trying. It’s kind of a work in progress all the time for me. Everything, all of it — life, career, whatever.” [BUST mag., Summer 2003]
Hilary Swank also expressed a healthy attitude: “The great thing about my Oscar [for Boys Don’t Cry] was when I received it, they put the nameplate on with my name crooked, and I went home and I was like, ‘I am going to have to take that back and have them fix it.’ Then I said to myself, ‘This reminds me that I’m not perfect, my performance wasn’t really perfect, and that I still have a lot to learn.’ To a lot of people, this represents perfection and it’s not.” [Gotham, May 2002]
This photo, and the one at the top, is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.”
[By the way, Monroe was considered very introverted, which for many people overlaps with the personality trait of high sensitivity. See one of my articles: Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.]
Producer Harvey Weinstein said he was impressed at the level of Williams’ preparation, how she could quote passages from Maurice Zolotow’s biography on Monroe.
“Michelle researches a role like no one I’ve ever encountered,” Weinstein wrote in an email. “She watched and studied the movies and photos; she read every book, every biography.… She could describe how Marilyn wiggled and winked while quoting some of her best lines, [like] when she teased that she was nude by saying, ‘I have nothing on but the radio.’”
– From my Inner Actor article: “Michelle Williams on Interpreting Marilyn Monroe.”
Sometimes we may be overly critical about meticulousness and positive obsession.
Actor Jennifer Connelly has made comments that can also apply to other artists:
“Acting is great. When it works it is so fulfilling. You do the research and work with other talented people who are creative and compassionate and use all your faculties.
“The ability to express yourself completely is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Each film is a chapter in my life wherein I learn so much more about myself.” [imdb.com]
She also once said, “I am an obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist. I don’t say it with pride.” [Vogue mag., quoted in The Week, Nov 5 2004]
But we can also celebrate it, like James Cameron, responding to being called a perfectionist:
“No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD thinks obsession is a more or less necessary element of creative achievement – at least the healthy variety of obsession:
“Negative obsessions are a true negative for everyone, but most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough. For an artist, the absence of positive obsessions leads to long periods of blockage, repetitive work that bores the artist himself, and existential ailments of all sorts.”
From my article: Positive Obsessions To Be Creative.
He also notes that every smart person experiences challenges, including:
“Dealing with a racing brain that, because it doesn’t come with an off switch, inclines itself toward insomnia, manias, obsessions, compulsions, and addictions.”
From his book Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative – see more quotes from the book in my article Brainpower and The Smart Gap.