How to Be…Dramatic
by Lindsay Timmington
When I was little, and I didn’t get my way I’d find the nearest wall, slam my body against it, throw my forearm over my forehead and begin a slow descent down until I landed on the floor. This was usually accompanied by a wail and probably the reason we never had windows open in our house. Either way you spun it, from a young age it was clear that somewhere within my genetic code was a tiny little swirl of DNA that flashed jazz hands at every chance.
I’ve been called dramatic plenty of times in my life—sometimes as a compliment, sometimes an insult. In my experience, if the moniker is followed by “ass,” “bitch” or “queen” you can go ahead and assume that either a) your actions have exceeded what is considered a “normal” response to a situation or 2) you’re talking to a big fat jerk. With # 2, you can go ahead and chuck that glass of water/wine/beer in said jerk’s face because, after all, once you’ve called someone a drama ass/bitch/queen you better expect a Tony award winning performance in return.
If I’m being entirely honest though, I’ve never really thought of myself as an overly dramatic person.
Stubborn? Sing it.
You have mistaken me for someone else.
Cut to-the massive uprising from the people who are closest to me, and their peals of laughter and pointed fingers in my direction. They’d echo what I’m slowly discovering to be true.
I might be a teeny-tiny bit on the dramatic side.
If I really think about it, the signs were there from the beginning. As a teenager, I lived in a bedroom without a door. The door to my room sat just outside, propped up against a wall. This apparently was a consequence to repeated door slamming.
Now normally, you have a dramatic kid and you think–we’ll find an outlet to that madness–plug that sucker into some acting/singing/dancing lessons, and God love my parents–they tried. Signed me up for figure skating–I LOVED the outfits, but the skating part was really cold. They put me in dance–I LOVED the butterscotch candies we got after class and the barrel rolls we did down the hill behind Miss Eva’s School of Dance/House but the dance part kinda terrified me-I mean she walked around with a yardstick and I thought for sure if I messed up she’d take me out at my knees.
Also, these activities posed a couple of other problems.
a) I couldn’t be the star with that many other kids in class.
2) I wasn’t good enough to be the star given my focus on butterscotch candies, spandex ice skating skirts and NOT the skating or dancing itself.
3) I needed more than a boring ballet choreographed by an old Czechoslovakian ballerina to get my creative juices flowing.
So the drama–unreleased in appropriate settings–seeped out in peculiar ways. When I was nine my parents grounded me for (I’m sure) something I did not do but I accepted my punishment. However, when I felt that the suitable amount of time to be grounded had passed I began to protest. Which got me nowhere. Which made me mad. Which led me to find the phone and dial 911 to alert them to the life-threatening situation I was in–that my parents had grounded me for too long.
It wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that I stepped foot onstage. The very first role I ever landed was as the fairy godmother in the children’s production of “The Frog Prince.” I have NO idea how I got the part, given that I had no acting experience but I didn’t dare ask. With the smallest part in the show I crammed that character so full of “stuff” that she ended up resembling a very drunk Gladys Kravitz covered in glitter. I was so hungry to release all these emotions, imaginings, stories and people that it felt like lived inside me that I dumped all that stuff onto one poor character. I’m lucky I continued to get cast in shows after that.
What began as a whoosh of dramatic release tapered off to a steady stream as I found myself in different roles and I found, when I’m engaged in an artistic project I feel most balanced in my real life. Given a suitable avenue for expression I can, it would seem, behave like a fairly normal human being. When I’m in between projects I find myself simultaneously gasping for air and desperately trying to exhale. The need for expression, bigger than what society deems as acceptable is overwhelming. As I’ve realized what happens when I am not focused on something creative I have had to learn, as silly as it sounds, how to turn down my reactions, perceptions and emotions in order to see a situation or person clearly and accurately. Or to always be working on something.
The methodologies of acting and theatre contribute to this malaise. As an actor you’re taught that the bigger the choice, the better. A strong emotional reaction is always more interesting to watch and therefore encouraged. Unfortunately, this does not hold true in real life and it’s a difficult task, this navigation from performer to person and back again.
But I’m getting there. Each time I find myself stepping back and re-assessing a person, a situation, an event that I’d usually have an immediate and emotional reaction to I count as a success. Each time I pass a wall and don’t slide down it, I figure I’m coming along. But the drama is as much a part of who I am as anything else–and sure it needs to be kept in check, but I’ll tell ya, call me a dramatic ass/bitch/queen and I’ll call 911.