Vulnerability: Birthplace of Courage

It’s no question that vulnerability goes hand in hand with art. Digging deep into your own emotions, fears, shortcomings, failures as well as your victories, crushes, hopes and dreams makes for excellent sculptures, paintings, poetry, and films. And that’s all due to the fact that human beings just love emotions.

If you’re a human being, you know what I’m talking about. We’re like moths attracted to the light. The weepy, emotional light! *sob* Think about it… If you passed a stranger on the street that was crying, or even laughing hysterically, you couldn’t help but stare, right?

Your brain starts to guess at reasons why they might be expressing themselves this way. Maybe you empathize and start to laugh or cry with them. It certainly catches your attention.

Or - if you overhear someone sitting near you in a restaurant saying, “I have to tell you about the most embarrassing thing that happened this week…” your ears automatically perk up. Embarrassing, you say? Please, go on.

Embarrassment is an emotion that we are all familiar with, and so when we hear a story or see a photograph that evokes that emotion, our interest is piqued.  Same with all the other feelings: jealousy, anger, sadness, joy, surprise, etc. Audiences love to see big emotions on stage! And guess what creates better emotions? (Hint: it’s the topic of this blog!) This is a huge reason that emotions and vulnerability are planted into the DCH curriculum. It simply makes for dang good art makin’.

When it comes to improvising, writing sketches, stand-up, or storytelling material – any art really, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. The key factor is making sure that the experiences you’re drawing from are genuine.

I say this because it’s easy just to repeat the emotional scenes and dialogue you’ve seen before.

“OH FRANCISCO, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME???”

“Annabelle, I had to, because your father banished me from the kingdom.”

“But Francisco, if you loved me, why didn’t you fight for me?”

“Annabelle, that’s precisely why I have returned.”

See? I literally just made that critically acclaimed story off the top of my head. But that’s not really vulnerability, is it? Hollywood movies do it all the time. You can see the same type of scenes repeated over and over. Someone confesses their love, another confronts their parents’ expectations, somebody comes clean about a lie, and as soon as it starts, most folks can pretty much predict where the story will go before they’ve even finished.

We see these archetypes over and over again. But what will set YOUR art apart (and enhance it!) is drawing on the specific details of your own life and using them to tell compelling stories. It’s much more interesting.

If you don’t “go there” with your performances, then are you really contributing something new and unique that only you can bring forward? Your life experiences database is your superpower, and if you leave it untouched, then you’re leaving that talent on the table. Art based in truth is the strongest art you can get.

Some experts suggest that applying this openness to your life can be beneficial. (Check out Brené Brown’s TED Talk on the subject.) While, yes, sharing personal information can be terrifying, it also inherently suggests that vulnerability can be the birthplace of courage.

Exposing your real feelings and experiences takes bravery. It requires you to be yourself – in front of other people, no less. But there’s an unexpected side effect – as you share with others, you allow access to different perspectives.  

Especially on stage at DCH, we are blessed with the unique opportunity to spread awareness, acceptance and understanding through our performances because we are the writers of the scripts. Comedy gives us the platform to present new ideas and challenge traditional thinking. Pretty powerful stuff. Much better than recreating something you’ve seen before, right?

Make your reactions genuine. Make your characters genuine. It will resonate. Who knows, your performance could leave an audience member reflecting on his or her own life. And if they’re dwelling on the show afterward… You know you must’ve made some good art.

Hannah Westbrook is a visual artist, a filmmaker and a dreamer. She performs with Left on Read and Boyoiyoing and is a huge lover of Dallas Comedy House and all things silly.