“What’s your name when you’re at home?”
—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The questions scene from R&G is perhaps one of Tom Stoppard’s greatest and most memorable. The question above, which leads to the follow up, “Is it different at home?” got me to thinking about the public self.
Psychology Today‘s article about peak performance identity further fed this idea of who we play in life. The article quotes a radio personality as saying the public persona presents “the dilemma of authentic connection…yet maintaining full engagement in one’s performance self.”
Although I am no longer an actor, I have talked about the varied roles I play (mother, wife, professor, writer) and how I must switch between them. Of particular interest is the role of professor. In each class I must connect with students, remain engaging, and cultivate learning. More succinctly put, I must be on.
This semester I teach four classes back to back and it is physically as well as emotionally draining. Yes, I teach community college Freshman and Sophomore courses, but I go from lecturing on pathos/logos/ethos to Japanese Feudalism in The Tale of Genji to analyzing e.e. cummings’ “anyone lived in a pretty how town” to discussing color symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Not only do I have to cover these topics primarily from memory, I have to ask and answer questions, keep an eye out for covert texting, and try to make what I’m saying interesting to someone other than me.
The classroom me has a different voice, different gestures, and even different facial expressions than the other versions of me. My face, which usually betrays whatever I’m thinking or feeling, has to be kept in check so when a student asks me the same question for the tenth time, my annoyance doesn’t show. Because several of my classes are recorded, my gestures have to be minimal to avoid distraction on the television screen.
It is a performance. On good days, I love doing it. But there are bad days when I slip and the performance is weak. While my students probably don’t care, I do. That may have been my one chance to sell a student on the beauty of Shakespeare and I dropped the ball because I didn’t come ready to play.
Hopefully those days are few and far between.