Posts Tagged ‘stage fright’

On August 25th I’ll be trying my hand at live performance again.  Playing solo shows has been a mixed bag for me.  My brain slows everything down to a sickeningly slow pace as my inner critic steps up to narrate in excruciating detail every wrong move I’m about to make: “Here comes the chord change . . . quick, what key are you in?  You don’t even know, do you?  Which chord are we playing – B or B minor?  B or B minor?  B or . . . oh it should have been minor!  Did you even practice?”  Sometimes my brain just breaks it down in terms of probability: “76 keys, 10 fingers, average of four to six notes played at once in varying tempos and patterns. What are the odds of you hitting all the correct notes in the correct sequence for half an hour?  Pretty low.”

So I’ve started  to visualize being in front of an audience while practicing.  What amazes me is even in the privacy of my own practice space, just thinking about people watching me makes my playing considerably worse.  So I’ve begun looking at the way I practice to make sure it’s effective and I’ve also started researching techniques to get past this performance anxiety.

A lot of the techniques I’ve read about are for public speaking and focus on keeping the body calm (which is important), but I came across one list specific to performance and I have found it really helpful.  Carmi Levy, a senior writer at voices.com,  offers these 8 tips, originally published here. Even though this list is geared towards acting, I feel it can also be applied to singing/songwriting performance;  compelling musical performance conveys emotion and often tells a story.

1. Remember who the performer is. The audience is there to see or hear you. And only you. It’s your gift, your expertise, your unique ability to make the role yours that got them out of the house on a rainy night. Of all the people in the room at that moment, you’re the one who knows more about this character, this performance, this work, than anyone else. Let your mastery of the moment be your guide.

2. Forget the stakes. You could be in front of 20 people in a repertory theater or thousands in the most prestigious of performing arts facilities. In the end, they’re all the same. Too many performers allow the supposed importance of the performance, of the night, of the people in attendance, to affect their mindset. Don’t. See above: You and you alone are the key performer. Whether they’re wearing tuxes and gowns or overalls and sundresses is irrelevant. The audience doesn’t matter. You do.

3. Performance over audience. In a related vein, what you’re delivering matters far more than who you’re delivering it to. Maintain focus on your performance, to the exclusion of all and everyone else, and you’ll be well-insulated from any audience-related fears. That said, if you find it helpful to make eye contact with a few friendly members of the audience, follow your heart and make that connection early on. Some performers find it helpful to get that little bit of extra visual feedback and support.

4. Be a temporary broadcaster. Television and radio are excellent proving grounds for actors and other stage and performance professionals, because they allow you to practice your craft without the physical distraction of a visible audience. I know it sounds overly simplistic, but getting some studio time with a camera or a microphone can help you develop the mindset that can teach you to naturally ignore whoever’s in the room so you can focus on your performance. Spend enough time staring into an unblinking red light, the theory goes, and you’ll never even know who’s sitting behind the bright lights after you transition to a real stage.

5. Practice like you mean it. The deadliest mistake performers can make involves never feeling the weight of a performance before they have to deliver it for real. If you don’t perform at full volume, at full cadence, and in the venue where you’ll be delivering it, your body and mind will never have the chance to feel what it’s like, or to adapt to the very different reality of a live, in-person performance. Reading your lines at half-volume into your bedroom mirror doesn’t count. Replicate the intended space as closely as possible, and get used to the unique cues associated with practicing as if you’re actually performing.

6. Visualize your mistakes. It may seem ridiculous to pre-plan your errors, but expecting the worst is good practice for managing yourself when the inevitable occurs. Because, let’s face it, you will make mistakes. My recommendation: Don’t even call them mistakes or errors. Accept the fact that they’ll happen, and instead focus on how you’ll instantly respond to ensure you can continue with a smooth and consistent performance. Set up specific speedbumps within your practice sessions to help you learn, innately, how to roll with the punches. By the time you get to a live performance, none of this will seem like much of a big deal at all.

7. Slow down. We tend to speed things up when we’re nervous, which can increase the likelihood of tripping over our own tongues. Or worse. To counter this, use clocks, timers, or even metronomes during rehearsals to control your speed and force your brain to keep to a workable pace.

8. Buffer the performance. Try to put as much time and psychological space as possible between the real world and any given performance. Arrive at the venue early—and preferably either alone or accompanied by supporters who understand why you need your space. Settle in slowly and disconnect from those around you. Turn your smartphone and related electronics off. Use the time to review your lines or notes, have your favourite non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage and get into your performance mindset. Over time, build personal rituals that make sense to you and help you achieve comfort and balance before you’re scheduled to perform.

What I really appreciate about this list is the emphasis on performance as a craft and an art.  Remembering that I’m the performer, I’m there to be watched as I deliver my music, that’s my focus for my upcoming show.  In the past I’ve tried to downplay my role in my solo performance as a way to stave off my anxiety and it didn’t work.  I also hope to stay mindful of  number 3, performance over audience.  I’ve often tried to tailor my delivery to the audience based on the number of people there (ex. “oh – there’s only a few people, I will be super casual like I’m your friend playing in your living room”), and again it diminished the performance.

If you have any tips for overcoming stage fright/performance anxiety, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in the bay area on August 25th, please don’t come to this show because it will  make me super nervous! Ha!

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It’s amazing how bogged down we can get with our own anxiety and self doubt. I woke up this morning and mentally ran through all the possible failure scenarios for my show tomorrow night at the Hotel Utah.  Just a month ago I was impressed by my ability to do what I’m doing and eager to share it with an audience.  This morning I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking when I decided to do this show.  Do you really think you can pull this off, asks that nagging little voice in my head. And the truth is, I don’t know.  It will be what it will be.  But I do know that running failure scenarios serves no purpose, or does it?

My oldest son is starting junior high next fall.  Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in kindergarten, his early school years were rocky to say the least, but at the transitional IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting I attended this week, the teachers and administrators declared him a success story.  Later that same day he and I attended an orientation meeting at the junior high for all incoming students.  As we walked out of the meeting I knew that look on his face.  He was worried.

 “What’s wrong,” I asked.

 “I think I’m going to get bad grades and detention.  It sounds like it’s going to be hard,” he said.

 I know my son pretty well, and while my impulse was to give him a big ol’ “Oh, you’ll do fine!” I knew that a blanket of soft, fluffy platitudes wouldn’t even begin to cover his anxieties. Instead I decided to break it down. What if he did get a bad grade, what could he do? He could work harder on his homework; he could ask for help from his teacher or his parents. He could make sure he understood what was expected of him, even if he had to ask a lot of questions.  Why did he think he would get detention?  Which school rules seemed hard to understand or follow?  And so it went all the way home.  At the end of the talk I told him about the IEP meeting and how his teachers spoke highly of him; he’s been getting good grades, seems to excel at math and has even developed a few friendships.   He seemed pleased to know his teachers liked him and he even gave himself a pat on the back for being a good math student.  Did this dispel his anxiety?  Not completely, but it seemed to assuage his fears in that moment.

Getting through a short set at Hotel Utah is about a zillion times easier than navigating junior high (and I’ve already done that, so there’s a whole different perspective on the situation).  Still, I’m nervous and so I’m going to follow my own lead and run some of those failure scenarios and figure out what I might do should any of them come to pass.   

As far as I can tell, rock and roll is all about swagger, getting your super ego blotto and taping directly into your inner wild child, the id.   There’s not a lot of swagger to my plan.  But then, my inner wild child is 42.  Perhaps creative problem solving is the new Jack Daniels of the middle aged synth pop set.

Or not.

I’ll let you know.