Last week I did something I’ve never done before. I went to the theatre, alone. I know, shocker right? People don’t do that. But it was the Shakespeare Schools Festival, I was interested, and nobody else I knew was. So I decided to fly solo.
I’ve always had a mindblock about doing certain things by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty major introvert and need regular alone time to recharge my batteries, but there are a lot of social situations where I just don’t feel comfortable without someone beside me. Eating in a restaurant is one. Going to the cinema or theatre is another.
The restaurant complex I can rationalise; I treat eating out as a social occasion and enjoy mixing food with good conversation, which is pretty hard to generate when all you have to talk to is the wall. The cinema thing is harder to explain away. Going to the cinema entails simply sitting quietly in the dark and watching a screen – it’s actually one of the most antisocial activities out there, so why does “one ticket please” sound so unnatural?
Social pressure plays a large part; when everyone around you is in pairs or groups it’s easy to feel conspicuously alone, even when engaging in an activity that doesn’t require group participation. It’s easy to feel like all these incredibly social, popular people are looking at you, wondering what you could possibly have done to have so few friends that you’re forced to venture out alone. The big revelation? They’re not. In fact, they’re so wrapped up in their own thing they probably haven’t even noticed you.
Understand that I’m not proclaiming this from some pedestal of enlightenment. Even having done it, I would not say I faced my solo excursion with confidence; I was initially perturbed that my theatre seat was in the middle of a row, and consequently arrived early to avoid having to disturb half a row of people as I struggled to my lone chair. I fiddled obsessively with my phone as I waited for the performance to start, and loitered uncertainly at the interval. I would usually have sat comfortably at the bar discussing the first act over a drink, but with no companion or conversation a large G&T seemed out of the question.
But if you want to talk about the performance itself – I loved it. I loved watching alone. By turning a cinema or theatre trip into a group activity, the watching also ceases to be an independent experience; I realised that even when I really enjoy a performance or film, there are always moments when I’m looking to my companion to see their reaction, or I’m aware of them doing the same to me. This time, I was free to absorb myself completely in the performance and focus solely on my own experience, and it was strangely therapeutic. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
Would I do it again? I’m not writing it off. One of my favourite things about seeing something amazing is discussing it afterwards, so I did miss raving about the ‘West Side Story meets Baz Luhrmann’ mash-up of Romeo and Juliet on the way home, and I also missed my interval drink. But I like to think I’ve shook off some of the ridiculous insecurities, and in the future I won’t let a lack of an interested second party stop me from seeing something I really want to see. Here’s to being the lonely weirdo at the cinema – now if only I could raise a toast to myself…