Personal Theatre: A Consideration of Self
‘All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players’, a famous quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. It came to mind recently as I reflected on the job interview process I had just been through that day. How right Shakespeare was to think of our relationships, our connections and our interactions with others in this way. Without even realising we create a personal theatre for every single interaction we share with others.
So, the job interview. Well, to give you a little background, I have just turned forty and have re-trained in a new career as a Primary School Teacher. I recently qualified in July 2018 and since March, I have been trying to secure a position as an NQT, or Newly Qualified Teacher. Walking into the school for the lesson observation, I was already wearing so many labels, that it was paramount that my appearance, the first thing the staff would see, would make that all-important good first impression. The interview process had already started you see, with that first phone call to the school to find out more. I was already being assessed for my manner, voice, tone and eloquence. I was a woman, but was I the right kind of woman for this school? Would my piece fit this dynamic jigsaw? Then, there had been the written application that had gotten my black, polished loafer in the door. Three pages of self-adulation, a thing we British women are not very good at, to make me stand out so they would take notice and give me consideration.
I had planned the outfit the night before and it was as I was sitting in a local Starbucks drinking an over-priced hazelnut flat white, that I realised how important each piece of my look had been to me. This process of preparation was akin to a knight donning armour before battle, each element necessary to bolster my confidence and bravery as I stepped forth into the fray.
It was a simple outfit on first impression, but one designed to convey this actor through her part in the very best way. It comprised; black loafers, black trousers, white shirt, black and white striped blazer, simple jewellery and a bright, colourful necklace. Let’s look at the black loafers, chosen because they were my newest smart shoe, because they were comfortable and flat, because I could walk confidently in them. Then, the black trousers, again the focus is on being smart and comfortable. I knew these trousers were practical, fitted well and would contribute to the overall. The shirt: good quality, cuff-linked and fitted. I had chosen this shirt so I could wear my cufflinks, my favourite vintage black ones with golden bulls on them. They were a personal reminder to step forth and be confident and a part of the theatre that showed others my attention to detail, my traditional taste and to a lesser extent, my conservatism as well as a strong, almost masculine overture to working in a hierarchical environment based on patriarchal social values. A black and white striped blazer pulled the outfit together. It was a soft fabric, tailored, but not in the overt way of the classic office suit, rather the opposite. Again, chosen to be a good match to the school and not to pitch myself as too smart for the classroom, yet smart enough to be professional. A softer fabric conveyed softer lines meaning I was approachable and the unbuttoned style spoke of being open to the process, the school and the children. The bright, colourful necklace was completely juxtaposed to the rest of the outfit, but a necessary part of the personal theatre all the same. It was made by my seven-year-old son and whilst I had been getting ready that morning, he had selected it and asked me to wear it. ‘It shows you’re fun Mum and if you wear it, you know I am thinking of you so you won’t be nervous,’ he said earnestly. And he was right. This necklace was a talking point, an insight, a reflection of my character, my sentimentality, an indicator of the kind of person I was. It was also a statement of intention – here is a woman who can relate to children and create a warm, fun and safe environment where we celebrate creativity. I had no hesitation in wearing it and indeed carried the feeling of pride and love from my son all day. My hair was tamed back into a plait so I looked tidy and organised and I wore earrings to match my bracelet, both also gifts from my sons. It was a cool, autumn morning so I grabbed my baby blue cashmere scarf. This was a gift from my Nana and another reminder. A strong, independent woman who has long been my guide, this scarf was a reminder of her unerring belief in me, but also an indication of my taste for quality and traditional things. This was in line with the conservative, moral and intelligent role model I have to be for the children. Aim high in all things and enjoy what you achieve. Even my perfume for that day was chosen with consideration. A light layer of J’adore, a scent that has always captivated my senses with its luxurious fragrant notes, but a reminder of my husband, without whom I wouldn’t have been in this position now. Yes, it was me who secured the opportunity that day, but it was him who supported me while I studied through University to become a teacher to follow the dream.
All these talismans and elements complemented each other to create the best impression to both the adults and the children I was to meet that day, but also and most importantly, to myself. I did go forth and the children and I enjoyed a brief lesson in poetry linked to The Great Fire of London. They learned, they were challenged and they had a creative, fun lesson that had meaning. Unfortunately, I was the square peg and didn’t quite fit into the round holes of the school, despite every effort I had taken to play the part. Yes, I was despondent, but I also left buoyant. I had delivered the lesson I wanted to and every talisman of love from my family, from those important connections, had shielded me from the worst of the self-doubt giving me space to evaluate and reflect productively. They weren’t the school for me and that was ok.
Just like the knights of old riding into battle, I had donned every item to prepare myself so I could act as I felt was expected in an outstanding school to give myself the best chance of inclusion. Ultimately, I think that’s what lies at the heart of our personal theatre, both internal and external, the innate desire to be valued and accepted for who we are in each social transaction. As human beings, we are multi-faceted gems millions of years in the making and we use each and every facet to show ourselves. As women, appearance has always carried a greater weight of importance in that quest for value, acceptance, equality and inclusion. As women, we are societally tuned to accept this and play our part as expected by the world at large. However, in doing so, we also find our way to be individual, to strengthen those connections and relationships with those people most important to us and to move forward armed with knowledge of our many selves and what parts we want to act and reveal in the grand play that is our lives.