Saturday, July 31, 2021

Overcoming Stage Fright


Director, Faye Nepon and I after the Sweet Dreams Performance

Another month comes to an end. This month I've been focusing on my performance with the Musical Theater Group at the Lafayette Center for Musical Arts.

I performed with this group in the summer of 2019 as part of my 60 until 60 project. It may have been my most challenging goal because I suffer from serious stage fright.

However, I remembered how excited I was to perform 2 years ago, so I signed up again this summer, thinking it would be easy, now that I was "experienced."

It turned out that the first few weeks of rehearsals were not at all easy! I was filled with anxiety..  shaking and sick to my stomach at every rehearsal. I was very tempted to quit. Why was I putting myself through this? Singing on stage is not a necessary life skill!

But I really wanted to see if I could accomplish two big things:

  1. Improve my singing
  2. Calm my anxiety and overcome my stage fright
I fully believe in the "growth mindset" and that we can improve any skill if we focus on it.. even skills we think we're lacking in natural talent.

I also have been very interested in the psychology behind anxiety.  I needed to put myself in a situation that typically causes very high anxiety to see if I'd be able to learn how to control it.  Singing on stage is probably the scariest thing I could do that imposes no physical danger.

I kept asking myself why I got so nervous! What was behind this uncontrollable shaking..  this upset stomach.. these feelings like I was on the verge of tears?

  • Part of the trigger may have been childhood embarrassing "failures" when I couldn't get through a piano recital.  As a child, my stage fright was so unbearable that I quit piano, even though I liked playing.  Just not for an audience!
  • I also think I've always been a bit of a perfectionist and never wanted to perform, knowing I'm much more likely to make mistakes when people are listening. Even though, intellectually, I know the audience would not be "judging" me negatively, I'm my own worst critic.  I've never had formal singing training and feel embarrassed at my relative lack of talent.  If you sing on stage, it's as though you're saying, "Hey Everyone! Come be entertained by me!"..  and then think they're thinking, "Does she know she's not good?" So, yeah...  embarrassing..
  • And then the final problem is being afraid of the anxiety itself! The more I do NOT want to tremble, the more anxiety I'm feeling and the more I tremble!

In the first 3 or 4 weeks of practice, I felt like my anxiety was getting worse rather than better.  But then there was a turning point a few weeks ago.  Rehearsals got easier and I didn't even get nervous!

And tonight, I did it!  I wasn't perfect, but I was happy. My singing and acting had improved and I was hardly nervous at all!

What was the key? Here are some of the reasons why I think I was able to overcome my stage fright for the performance tonight:

  • I took a private singing lesson with Faye. We changed the key and I felt more comfortable with the lower key. I gained confidence in my singing abilities.
  • I practiced my song until I could sing it without even thinking..  it was committed to muscle memory. This also improved my confidence.
  • During the early rehearsals, I'd also been worried about my eyes..  I was having unexpected difficulties post-surgery, so I think the anxiety from that was contributing to my nerves about singing.
  • The monologue I wrote was about my friend, Craig, with ALS and his courage. I realized that singing on stage is such a silly thing to be "afraid" of.  I was reminded how much I take my voice for granted.
  • I practiced mindfulness and deep breathing and was in a safe space, surrounded by supportive people.
  • I knew audience expectations were low because we were an amateur group and there was no cost for the show.
  • One of the more experienced singers in the group said something like, "The audience enjoys the people who are having fun, even if they aren't talented."  So I made up my mind to just have fun! To smile and enjoy the experience! And that's just what I did!
Here's a link to my rehearsal. Hopefully, soon, I'll have a link to the actual performance!

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