"Do You Get Nervous?" Stagefright and Performance Anxiety

on . Posted in Singing.

Yesterday, 3 times in 24 hours came the question "Do you get nervous?"

Stagefright, a/k/a performance anxiety is very real for many musicians and can be debilitating. Rumors circulate about singers' superstitions before shows, some singers get snippy, others get quiet. Everybody has a different reaction before a show, whether it's business-as-usual or prayer & meditation and every singer's pre-show process must be respected.

There have been 3 stages to this in my life.

First was "Excited Nervousness." In school, in community theater, in college it was always excited nervousness--I was pumped to do the show or sing the concert and I was a little bit nervous. I always knew it was going to be OK and I always knew if I messed up, it was only that one time and later I would do better.

Second was "Can't Stop Shaking & Feel Really Sick" until my first aria or first entrance was done. I mean really shaky. It was not fun. And what I've come to realize was that a lot of it was due to the "marriage" I was in--because if I did anything my ex-"husband" deemed odd, or he was unfamiliar with as a non-musician, not only did I need to deal with processing the concert itself, but then I had to deal with him. This was all extremely unpleasant and was accompanied by his increased nervousness at every one of my performances while we were "married." In his eyes, I was supposed to take care of him before I went onstage...when I was supposed to be focusing on my singing, my collaborative pianist, and our work together. This doesn't just happen with abusive husbands, though, it happens with partners, siblings, parents. We could also call this stage mom syndrome. It can be debilitating. And it can last for years.

I venture to say the good majority of the stagefright and performance anxiety that people experience is other people's projections that we have taken on as our own. (This was very true in my case and the further away I am from that "marriage," the less stagefright I have.) If you think "I have to be nervous for this," then you most likely will be. However, if you think "I need to be the essence of calm and collected for this," then you will be.

Here's the key to counter stagefright:  the vast majority of audience members, conductors, auditioners and other performers actually want you to be successful! Think of the auditioner sitting in a theatre, no windows, for hours on end listening to auditionees who are trained in singing...only no one is really selling it. And suddenly a singer walks in, confident, smartly dressed, with a confident introduction, singing really well. THAT is the woman that the auditioner will hire!

So forget this "I'm nervous" spiel--you're there to be wildly successful and while it is about you, it's not about you--it's about what you can do. So go do it already!

OK, the third phase is this:  Get movin', I am at home on the stage and can we get this show on the road?!

The more you perform, whether it's concentratedly performing at home in your living room when you're prepping for an audition, in an audition, or whatever your creative musical outlet is, the easier it gets. You grow in experience every time you sing and over time you accumulate the emotional knowledge you need to just do what you need to do.