“Socially Anxious Artist Seeking Anxiety-Causing Opportunities”

In the middle of a recent holiday party, a friend discovered me in the kitchen washing dishes. “Why are you doing that now?” she asked. “I need a break from the people,” I sheepishly replied. “But, it’s your party. There are only six people here. Come on! You’re in show business. It’s a people business!” She had a point.

People in show business do shows that generally involve other people – fellow creatives, the audience, theater staff, etc. So, why does someone like me who has problems with people work in a “people business”?

When I first fell in love with the business of show in the 80s, I didn’t have social anxiety or depression. I was the guy who created theater companies and hosted cast parties. I relished rehearsals, auditions, and meeting others. Then, in 2007, I had my first huge flop – a high-visibility West End musical that I wrote and conceived; that I hoped would put me on the map. The day after it opened, the whole world read the scathing reviews. It closed after a month. And BOOM – my first bout with crippling depression hit. My dream was dead. I had nothing to live for. It was in a coma of depression for over a year.

This depression thing was totally new to me. Yeah, I’d gotten depressed in the past, but this feeling was new. And severe. My body was achy and sore. My brain was cloudy. No motivation. I tried anti-depressants. They worked so well! They made me not care about being depressed…or eating well, or exercising, or applying for jobs, or writing, or leaving the safety of my bed. I stopped taking them. I could barely leave my apartment other than to see my therapist, where I’d burn through a box of Kleenex in 45 minutes. I couldn’t ride in the elevator with a neighbor – that I liked! I’d cross the street if I saw someone I knew approaching. I stopped going to events. I had so much shame about myself and my failure that I just wanted to hide from the world. So, like many artists in pain, I wrote a solo comedy about the experience – and that show became a hit, running for over two years on three continents. Great! No more depression! Until two years later.

I was bored telling my own story, even though I’d unexpectedly affected so many strangers who also suffered from depression. But, I didn’t have another story to tell. Again, the things that brought me joy – writing and performing, were over and I felt like I had no reason to go on.

I fell into another deep depression that lasted for one long, sweaty summer. Luckily, I was house-sitting at two different beach houses. Every morning, I’d dutifully feed the pets and plants and venture to the shore with my notebook and sunscreen, ready to create my next masterpiece…and I’d just stare at the foamy waves, thinking about what a loser I was. I managed to fill a notebook with about a hundred random ideas. I was lost again. But somehow, all those ideas came together and I created another solo comedy featuring an optimistic but deeply flawed show-biz character. This I could relate to. I booked dates at theaters so that I’d be accountable for finishing the show. And I did. Depression gone! The show ran for over a year. Then…BOOM. I was bored with it. And my shrinking finances got the best of me. And several projects I was involved with fell through the cracks…and I had no more ideas and…yeah, I fell into another completely unanticipated, deep depression.

I knew I had to create another show, judging by past experiences. But I was terrified of failing and writing and memorizing and…ugh. “Why can’t I just show up and make a show happen?!” And that was it. I’d do just that. I decided the show would be an improvised solo show based on the challenging and enlightening life-changing experiences of the audience. But that didn’t feel like enough. I emailed my director Michole after writing late one night – “The show has taken a dark turn. I hope you’re OK with it.” And that turn was peppering the show with my own challenging, life-changing experiences. And me “coming out” as someone with social anxiety and depression. I wrote honestly and boldly…everything from why I don’t often attend parties, weddings and funerals to why I leave right after another performers’ show. And why I appeared to ignore people or forget I’d ever met them. I freely wrote about how frightening it can be to live and grow old alone. I admitted the need to be doing something all the time or else I’d spend the day/week/month watching TV shows about aliens. Yes. I’ve done this too many times. Somehow, I created something during another period of deep depression. And it was funny!

I performed the show at various venues. I heard “That’s MY story you’re telling up there,” more times than I can count. And they weren’t just talking about the improvised part. So many audience members also had some kind of social anxiety or suffered from depression and anxiety. People thanked me for being so honest, vulnerable and authentically “me.” The thing that held me back became the thing that empowered me…and the audience.

I hope that I can make a difference in others’ lives because I’m being transparent about who I truly am: a flawed, socially-anxious, self-deprecating, yet hopeful human being. Just like everyone else.

I’m still socially anxious. I totally am. But I’m not alone. Showing up isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that doing it is often easier than thinking about doing it. And yes, I’m happy to do the dishes at your party. I’m waiting for my invitation.

Photo Credit: Alicia Levy

Peter Michael Marino is a NYC-based performer, producer, writer, director and teacher. He is the creator/co-producer of SOLOCOM, which has launched over 400 world-premiere comedies at The People’s Improv Theater. His internationally acclaimed solo comedy “Desperately Seeking the Exit” chronicled the unmaking of his West End musical flop “Desperately Seeking Susan” – receiving 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, and a London transfer. His 2015 solo chat show spoof “Late with Lance!” played everywhere from NYC to London. Directing credits include: Amy Marcs’ “Nice T*ts”, Mark Demayo’s “20 & Out”, and Mark Giordano’s “Mad Man.” His production company credits include “David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet,” David Mills: Shame!, Charles’ “Moby Alpha,” and “Joe’s NYC Bar.” More info at: www.petermmarino.com

Peter can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter