by Sarah McSweeney on October 25, 2015

stage fright 1.nervousness felt by a performer or speaker when appearing before an audience.

It’s that time of year that we see scary faces and put on scary costumes.  But is there anything more frightening than getting up in front of an audience and bearing your soul?!

I have students that tell me they can’t perform because they have stage fright.  My response is always that fear is a normal part of the performance experience.  To this day, after 30+ years of performing I still feel fear before I sing.  Every time.  In fact, most mornings of a performance I will feel deep regret.  I will observe my mind’s inner commentary saying things like; “Why did I agree to do this!”, “This is a terrible idea!”, “ I’m not good enough to perform at this event.”  “ I’m a fraud.” “Nobody is going to like what I do.” etc. and on and on.  At this point in my life I know that this is just fear talking and I don’t feed the monster.  I observe the thoughts and witness the commentary, but I counter those negative thoughts and fear with an opposite positive thought.  I will often tell myself things like, “It’s going to be great, people will love it.” Or “I’ve done all that I humanly can to prepare for this occasion and I will do the best I can do.”  I acknowledge that it’s the feeling that comes across when I sing that really matters.  My intention means a lot.  Audiences, and people in general, want connection and authenticity.  I strive to bring real feeling and vulnerability to every performance, and to the best of my ability connect with the audience.

I recently had an eye opening experience at a book signing event held at Malvern bookstore in Austin.  The book is called “Grendel’s Mother” by talented author (and amazing person) Susan S. Morrison and I was scheduled to sing before her presentation.  I had already read her book and was really moved by her writing.  When I started to describe how much her writing had touched me I felt a catch in my throat and my voice started to wobble.  I felt dred well up in me, as I realized I was becoming very emotional and teary eyed, and I still had to sing!  Rather than continuing to describe her beautiful poetic writing and how deeply and inexplicably it moved me, I quickly summed up by saying that because of her beautiful writing I was inspired to put one of her poems from the book to music.  I then began to sing, thinking that I had ruined the performance by breaking down midway.  Much to my relief and surprise, the opposite happened!  I discovered afterwards that the audience and author were touched by my raw emotion and I heard much praise for my emotional song.  I even got invited by the bookstore to return again for a future performance.

Fear, emotion, excitement, numbness, whatever you feel in performance is part of that unique experience, and it’s a gift to embrace whatever those feelings may be.  It doesn’t mean we should stop ourselves or hold back just because there are uncomfortable feelings.  I think it means we grow and learn from each experience.  I prepare so that I can do the best possible job that I can, but when it’s time to get up there and do it, that is the time to let go and let the performance be organic and real and raw.  That’s the most we can do.  There is no such thing as a perfect performance.  But if you can feel, and express your message through whatever those feelings are, that is a beautiful thing!

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