An introductory story, I think, is in order. I suppose it toots my own horn, but please bear with me.
In early 2017, a family friend’s oldest son was becoming a bar mitzvah. I had been asked to be the photographer for the event – sanctuary pictures the Thursday before, but I could take video of the actual service provided the cameras were set up beforehand. Also, being close friends of the family, my then-wife and I were asked to play a part in the service: we were to read a prayer for the world and the environment. Nothing too elaborate; it was in English, not Hebrew, so there was really nothing to it. She and I just had to figure out who was going to read what parts of the prayer. I reviewed it, made my suggestions, and we quickly worked it out a few days before the service.
I learned public speaking from my pastor. It was not a formal class or anything like that; I just noticed the patterns and mannerisms he used while delivering his sermons every Sunday. How to hold your body, where to look, how to project without yelling, where to pause for greatest effect; these all were the lessons I came home with, possibly more so than the intended lessons of the various sermons. This is not to say that the sermons were not interesting or that they failed in their purpose; I still distinctly remember quite a few of them! But I absorbed much more than the spoken word. I absorbed a particular speaking style and manner of presentation – so much so that I am asked if I am a minister after people listen to me talk. And that speaking style is what I adopted and applied as I was reading a prayer in a Jewish synagogue twenty-five years later.
As we finished and were leaving the bimah, the rabbi made a comment that he needed to invite us back, as that was the only way they wanted that prayer read. A friend sitting in the congregation said something to the effect of, “What did you expect would happen if you read it like that?” And as the Torah was being recessed, an elder of the synagogue – who was a leader of a small theater company associated with the synagogue – commented to me that I should be on stage.
Should I be on stage? I am horribly afraid of being teased. I do not handle embarrassment well, and being teased leads straight into being embarrassed. Anything I do or say or even think might lead to somebody embarrassing me. And when I am embarrassed, my face turns the brightest shade of red. I have stories of being teased into embarrassment. Unfortunately, these stories are objectively funny; I can’t fault the people in them for their actions nor their retellings of the stories, which cause me almost as much embarrassment as the original story. But those are stories for another time and possibly another place. If you see me in person, ask of them, and I might tell you one.
Oddly enough, this fear of embarrassment is the reason why, not only should I be on the stage, I actually enjoy being on the stage. This sounds almost backwards; if I dislike being embarrassed so much, then why should I put myself is a situation where I would be an easy target for teasing? For me, the stage is an embarrassment-proof zone. I am an actor, portraying a character. The audience cannot tease me; they can only tease the character.
In some ways, I never leave the stage. I can project as much self-confidence as needed by playing a character version of myself. Being on stage puts me in charge of the situation, and I can make an active decision about whether or not I play the fool.
I have been on stage in many different ways. I have been a magician. I have been a puppeteer. I have been a Cub Scout leader. I have been a traditional actor. I have been an MC, played the fool, been in a marching band, and delivered poignant messages. Browse through the various stories here and enjoy – or don’t. I won’t suffer any embarrassment if you don’t like them, for they are my stories and my stage.