Stand and Be Present

A student, I’ll call her Beth, stood facing away from the audience in a theater class I taught last month. She turned, walked downstage and said, “Hello, my name is Beth.” Just that, and my eyes teared up.

It was her third try at an exercise I describe in The Secret Life of Clowns:

Let’s start with something basic, the very simplest performance — one human being standing in front of a group of other humans…Can you stand on stage with no tricks, nothing? Just you and the audience…Do you deserve their attention?

When Beth faced us that third time, she dropped her public façade; she looked real and human and a little vulnerable. She was radically present, radically authentic.

Whether you are playing Hamlet, giving an oral report or pitching a product, the question “Do I deserve their attention?” is often floating around your brain. Paradoxically, the harder you try to earn their attention, the less likely you are to succeed. You need to know, deep down, that just being human is enough, that being human is more important than your slide deck, more important than your lines or your jokes or your research.

All the skills you learn are important but if the audience doesn’t see your heart, and feel your heart, they can’t fall in love with you.”

That line is also from Secret Life. Here is a line from our temple’s Yom Kippur service:

I try simply to stand and be present. For that is all I can do: Stand and be present.”

Jeff walking with Micah