The Enneagram and the Theater

Ever since the Meyers-Briggs personality test surged in popularity, everyone’s known their 4-letter code and shared it everywhere from facebook post’s to tinder profiles. We high-five our friends if we match or mockingly glare them down when we’re opposites. We then look up celebrities with our types and imagine us living their glamorous lives.

I am an INTJ and for the longest time growing up this was part of my identity. As a shy teenager I imagined myself “fulfilling my destiny” as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Isaac Newton or maybe even Vladimir Lenin. Years later, having evolved from brooding programmer to actor/entrepreneur who talks to everyone people laugh when they learn…. Peter’s an introvert???

Meyers-Briggs is popular for a reason but it gives us a limited picture of ourselves because it is static. We change overtime and the fine lines that MBTI promises us blur and become nothing more than an exercise in vanity. All personality tests are over-simplified models and a model is only as good as it is useful. The model I’ve found most useful over the years, particularly for improv is known as the enneagram.

The enneagram gives us one of nine personality types – called the dominant type. We already see the dynamic nature of the model as this type represents how we primarily act, but not always. The test also gives us a “second side” in the form of a “wing” type. Combined with our dominant type, this gives us a fuller picture of our personality. The influence of the wing varies by person and even over time, typically growing stronger as the person ages and incorporates the balance brought by life experience.

More importantly – we move around the types. Each type has an associated type representing how one acts under stress and, oppositely, a different type that represents your direction of growth.

What does this look like in practice? Personally, my dominant type is type 7 - described as “spontaneous, versatile and scattered” (make sense for an improviser? ;) but my stress type, type 1 is “self-controlled and perfectionist.” That is, under stress I become more rigid and strive to portray only the best parts of me, of course leading to the worst parts actually being displayed. And this stress position is death to an improv performance and overcoming this reaction has been the core of my personal journey the past few years.

This journey has taken me in my direction of growth - for me type 5 which is “perceptive and innovative.” In other words when I’m in my healthiest, my scatteredness becomes structured enough to inspire lasting creations –Red Ball Theater.

The dynamic nature of the enneagram says that as we develop and age we move around the 9-pointed star in the direction of growth and acquire the best qualities of each type.

As an improv teacher it helps to understand people’s stress types so I can transform the stage from a place of stress to a place of growth. It is our job as actors to vibrate on stage – to remain our healthy selves amidst the stress and project the best into the world.

A typical person lives their life in two or three types, never fully experiencing the beauty of all 9. By understanding and experiencing other ways of being, we appreciate those around us and take new qualities into our personal growth. In a workshop coming in December we’ll explore and inhabit all 9 of these types and see what happens when they interact with each other – either in conflict or in cooperation.

Until then, keep growing -Peter

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