Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stage Fright

Allegedly, when I was a kid, I used to do things like get on other people's stages and dance around, or sing really loudly at my parents' company picnics. Paradoxically, I also remember being described as shy by some people, so I suppose it depended on my mood or the context or some weird tenant of child psychology.

I never seemed to quite get over my bizarre balance of shyness and desire for attention, but I eventually grew some real self-consciousness, and the balance shifted. I developed some serious stage fright.

I signed up to perform at the Youth Camp talent show one year, and I was so terrified in the minutes before I got in the spotlight that I almost ran off, so I could find someplace to faint or throw up. When I was a junior in high school, I signed up for a talent show that was supposed to raise money for a club, and I had exactly the same problem. Both times, I had friends with me who would have forcibly kept me from disappearing if I'd tried. During my senior year of high school, I tried out for giving a graduation speech, and I was shaking so badly that I had to sit down during my tryout and couldn't look at my audience as I read my speech - which, as I heard later on, may be what cost me the chance to speak at graduation and relegated me instead to Baccalaureate.

The question you should be asking is, "None of those things were required of you. If your stage fright was so bad, why did you do them?"

I like attention. I also resent my irrational fears, and I believed that if I just experienced the stage one more time, I'd get over my problem - as if a single, sufficiently epic stage experience would erase all future nervousness.

It doesn't actually work that way.

I had no problems in certain contexts. When I played trombone with the rest of the band, I hardly thought about the audience. But, when I played for Solo and Ensemble, alone in front of a judge, my parents, and a few other students, I shook badly enough that it was harder to breathe into my instrument. I was in charge of the Japanese Club my senior year and could lead each meeting easily, but when I took speech my freshman year of college, a thousand butterflies spontaneously appeared in my stomach before my every oration. And the shaking. I couldn't stop the shaking. It didn't sound much, if at all, in my voice, but I know I trembled every time.

The last "epic stage experience" that I remember attempting was an open karaoke night at a restaurant. I still freaked out, but I still got up there, did the song, and received applause. It was a decently satisfying experience, and it still didn't get me over my stage fright.

I suppose I may be doomed to suffer the physical symptoms of stage fright for the rest of my life. That doesn't mean I have to avoid the stage. When I was taking speech class, I realized I enjoy public speaking, despite my body's rebellion against it. Nowadays, it even seems my only rebellion against it is physical. Immediately preceding my most recent in-school presentation, I could tell my body was having its usual reaction, but my brain was experiencing no nervous thoughts, no mental freaking out. This time, my stage fright was nothing more than a nuisance.

And so, the idea of "facing my fear" didn't ever work quite as planned, but it seems that repeated exposure is successfully desensitizing me. Whatever works, I guess.

1 comment:

botsfri said...

The cure, based on personal experience: Have an attitude that the audience is merely interesting,'s the product that counts. Therefore, concentrate on giving the best "performance" you can,...and let the chips fall where they may. Perfection is actually, NOT necessary. Some folks are gifted with charisma that further energizes them as they engage the audience. Yet, there are many others that simply "perform" well. Unlike a lot of popular performers, Eric Clapton is one of those folks that worked to be a great guitarist, and HATED live performance. He had to learn to deal with his stage fright to pursue his dreams. Notice that there are very few Ronald Reagans out there in the political arena. So, don't think it necessary to be this awesome orator. In speech, simply focus on the content and delivery of the message, as if you were still just practicing alone in your room. Assume that the message will stand on its own, doesn't matter what the audience may think of us, personally. In retrospect, I wish somebody told me such things earlier in life, so that I didn't have to discover them on my own. BTW, the nervous energy is useful in that it makes 'A'-personality types not take anything for granted, thus allowing them to ensure that they've done their homework,...and 90% of the time end up delivering far more than an audience expects. The trick is to simply not worry about them in the first place...