In my 11 years as a stage actor, I have played many roles. I have even played myself. Or, as the director of the production at the time put it, "an enhanced, stereotyped version of yourself." So in one play I was, "Ty Unglebower".
But that was a play. A unique play under unique circumstances. Yet at times I, like many people, can get caught up in playing "Ty Unglebower" in everyday life off stage as well.
It is a natural and sometimes unfortunate tendency in our society to categorize. Create labels for people. Place them in easily accessible slots. And I don't just mean with strangers. We do it with our friends as well. Perhaps even more so with our friends than with those we do not know.
Here is an example. Think of your "gang." The ones that you will probably be with on a free Saturday night once a month or something. Now be honest with yourself when I ask this; Does that group contain "The Dumb One"? Is "The Horny One" in there somewhere? And I bet there is "The Quiet One". If not these three there has to be "The XYZ One" in your group. See what I mean?
These labels may have had some slight basis on truth in the beginning. "The Quiet One" really isn't worried about working the room. "The Dumb One" probably talks before she thinks more often than others. Yet without anyone truly intending it, consider that those labels have gone from wide descriptions to expectations. That after a few years of adventures and tribulations together as a group, the label has begun to define the person, and not the other way around.
Sally is the "Dumb One". But if you are not careful, her opinions will be dismissed out of hand when the topic is complex. Or they will be skipped over. Or she won't be able to finish her thought. Why? Because she's "The Dumb One". Her role is to be cute and bubbly in the group, not deep. And so if thought is involved, you pat Sally on the head and move on. At least that's how it starts.
But then something even worse happens. At some point Sally doesn't offer anything to the discussion. She accepts that she is the "Dumb One" and starts to believe it. When the group goes out she says dumber and sillier things as time goes on, and never pays attention to the serious side of things, knowing that she should not be taken seriously at such times. Sally has become her label. The group's expectations based on that label have become Sally's own. Sally now plays the role of "The Dumb One" in the play that is your life, instead of being Sally as a whole person. After all, the group won't accept or love her anymore if she starts acting like something other than "The Dumb One". She is now "Sally".
Have you seen this happen? Have you been a part of creating a role for someone you know? Or have you yourself become the victim of your own role? I have.
"Ty Unglebower" stands up near a corner of the room, observing those who are dumber than he is. He wears jeans and golf shirts. He doesn't like to be touched by anyone ever because warmth and affection disgust him. He remains silent until something in the room reminds him of a topic by which he is annoyed or confused, at which point he will lash out loudly in an enthusiastic rant of high vocabulary, much to the uproarious laughter of those nearby. The world pisses him off. People piss him off. And he wants everyone to know just how damn clever he can be in expressing that sentiment.
Ty Unglebower is an introvert who sometimes feels crowded in a small room. He likes to be near the wall sometimes because it is easier to see where everyone and everything is. Jeans and golf-shirts are not only comfortable to him, but fit in with 90% of occasions, thus eliminating the need to have a fashion sense.
He respects the boundaries of other people, and thinks it is only fair that others who do not yet know him respect his.
He doesn't need to be the center of attention very often, preferring to engage one on one with the people in the room that matter. But when he is the center of attention of the whole room, usually as a result of someone asking him to be, he is damn sure not going to sanitize his answers to a question. As a writer he considers language to be an important tool, and hence puts in extra effort to use it well, in all circumstances. He is pleased when his friends are entertained by this, but speaks the same way at home to his mother. He is world-weary and has a shortage of close, personal friends, and that has in some ways forged his viewpoints, though he tries to alter them as time goes on. If he is clever it is because he has been exposed to many things in his life, and has made the specific effort, on the lifelong advice of his mother, to always pay attention. (Another reason he likes the corner.)
Ty Unglebower can become "Ty Unglebower" at the drop of a hat. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, I have to say. But the urge to rant because I am "The Ranter", or the sense of expectation that I won't introduce myself to anyone new because I am the "Aloof One" can be pretty large at times, even today.
You don't have to succumb to your role. I have a right to dance any given night I feel I want to. Sally has every right and ability to express her views on the complex subjects that come up. "The Horny One" should certainly expect to be left alone if she is in no mood for interaction tonight. It all starts with the choice to not play ourselves. It all starts with writing own own scene, and not taking all of our cues from the audience.
What role do you play in the production of your life? What is your label? Do you know anybody who has one of these labels I mentioned, and do you ever think if that label is fair?