Impostor Alert

Never in my life could you have made me believe that I would teach anyone anything. Yet, here I find myself suddenly handed the authority to educate sixty eager young minds, to illustrate “how-to”s to professional actors and managers, and to lecture patrons more than twice my age and certainly twice as wise about Shakespeare’s plays and staging conditions. As I work through my notes, trying to remember to speak slowly and clearly, my panicked little brain is screaming, “Who put this authority here? I didn’t ask for it? Somebody else must have dropped it? Surely they’re now looking for it, this misplaced authority, because it’s definitely not mine? Right? Someone take this back.”

Hi! I’m Adrienne Johnson, the American Shakespeare Center hired me as the new (as in the position has never existed before) Company Manager and new (as in this position definitely existed previously and I’m a new hire.) Camp Life Coordinator in April of 2016 after I completed my second Masters in Shakespeare (because one definitely wasn’t enough). However, it seems that although I have these two incredibly specialized Master’s Degrees, I still suffer from what clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzzane A. Imes coined as “Impostor Syndrome.” In her book Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Imes defined the syndrome as the inability of a “high-achieving” individual to accept the success of their accomplishments and a “persistent fear” of being exposed as a “fraud.” While I wouldn’t say I’m exactly afraid of being exposed a fraud, I can’t say that it’s high on my giant list of things to-do today.

When my “Company Manager” job was first pitched to me, it didn’t really have a job description as recognized in a usual hiring process. I got a short email from one of my supervisors with a list of duties that could be (and probably would, and now are) on my plate if I accepted this job. It included managerial things like maintenance and facilities of all of our apartment buildings and of the playhouse, arranging the housing and hospitality of all of our visiting guests, and tacked on the end of the list was “ASCTC Camp life duties.” I’ve been a stage manager for years and had been the co-company manager of my MFA company, and so felt nicely qualified for the new job that the ASC wanted to create. Prior to my position, all housing duties were tacked on to our Tour Operations Manager, even though it really didn’t have anything to do with her job. I was happy to help lighten her load and happy to have a job right after graduation. I accepted the job and felt fully qualified to do it. Additionally, because I had been a counselor for ASC Theatre Camp twice before, I felt qualified and excited to help the new ( “New” as in the position definitely existed previously but she is a new hire and they changed the title!) College Prep Programs Manager, Lia Wallace, run ASCTC this summer. What I wasn’t ready for was having to dive right into something I never even really wanted to try.

TEACHING.

 

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Photo by Maddie Buttitia

Although the part of my job that involves the ASC education department technically only happens for six weeks of the year (two three-week long sessions of summer camp), I found myself almost instantly observing the workshops and learning how to teach them, meeting with the other brilliant education artists weekly, and constantly discussing, brainstorming, planning, and executing great marketing for all of the ASC’s educational programs. This is when it became very obvious to me, but apparently to no one else, that my impostor-ism was showing. Any day now, I’m sure, I’ll be leading a workshop or giving a student feedback and they will laugh in my face and expose me for what I really am. A calendar-making, facilities-managing, hospitality-organizing fraud. I’m not a teacher! Look at this tool bag! No books in there at all! I can’t write on a board and talk in front of people at the same time! Delegate and don’t do all of the things myself, you say? No way!

 

In spite of my panic though, no teaching artist ever interrupted, “Oh hold on, you definitely can’t teach that workshop. Just kidding.” No parent ever complained, “My child learned nothing from you, they’re never coming back to camp again and it’s definitely your fault.” No Road Scholar ever scolded, “you’re definitely not Sarah Enloe! We want our money back!” But instead I got notes about how clear and personable I was during lectures, that I was a “model teacher” that responds thoughtfully to questions, how passionate I was when I really liked the topic, and how thankful our campers were for calm and individual guidance. In my four and a half months with the company so far, I’ve observed almost every workshop that we offer, taught and been approved to teach three of them, helped to develop one entirely new workshop, and helped to organize advertising and recruitment goals for both camp and other educational programs. But education can’t be my job… right?

 

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Photo by Lia Wallace

The great thing about being hired in a Frankenstein-position that never existed before means that I get to design what my job description looks like and what my daily duties include. So far, I’ve been pretty active as both a company manager and a full-time education artist, at my own pace, motivated by my own desire to not be exposed in this teacher-suit I find myself wearing more and more. Even though I’ve been “teaching” every age student we get here at the ASC for months now, I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I’ve taught. I’ve learned that even the best teachers say “um” sometimes. I’ve learned that our students want to learn from us, and that they will listen and ask questions to motivate the conversation. I’ve learned that doing and showing is always more interesting than talking. I’ve learned that group discussion is fun and exciting. I’ve learned that everyone has to teach a workshop with no prep sometimes. I’ve learned that teaching a workshop with no prep sometimes isn’t actually that scary. I’ve learned how to cook three meals a day for forty people. I’ve learned about HVAC units and how to do minor plumbing tasks. I’ve learned how to coordinate the comfort, lives, and education of any combination of thirty staff members and sixty young adults.

 

While my tool bag still has a multi-tool, plumbing tape, and a flashlight, it now also has rhetoric flashcards and cue scripts. I don’t need to write on a board to teach a lesson. Although I never planned to be a teacher, I’m in a community that trusts me and values my expertise. They want me to succeed and they encourage me to extend my comfort zone. And mostly they try to make sure I never feel like an impostor. I literally get paid for the thing I insist I “can’t do.” And I am so grateful to all of them for that love. (And that paycheck, amiright?)

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Photo from peopleiveloved.com 

Final Thought: As I was procrastinating writing this article by scrolling through Facebook, a friend’s post popped up on my newsfeed. I like to think it was serendipitous to come through my feed when I needed to see it most. I saved the picture (right) to my desktop, logged out, and continued writing instead. Writing the damned thing is a milestone for me and not just another educational duty I get to cross off of that ever-growing to-do list.

 

–Adrienne Johnson
ASC Company Manager & Camp Life Coordinator

About adrienneamericanshakespearecentercom

Adrienne was born, raised, and educated in the commonwealth of Virginia. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance and a minor in English with a self-guided focus on British literature from Longwood University in Farmville, VA. In spite of her degree in performance, Adrienne has worked professionally as a technician and stage manager with the Virginia Theatre Association, the Santa Fe Opera, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. She returned to the Blue Ridge four years ago and enrolled in Mary Baldwin College's Shakespeare & Performance program where she received both her Master of Letters and Master of Fine Arts. Most recently, the ASC hired her as the new Company Manager and ASC Theatre Camp Life Coordinator.