Stage Fright

... a random wander around some hints that might help it go away for you

Stage fright can be totally debilitating or just slightly annoying and it can come and go completely unpredictably. The great actor Sir Lawrence Olivier had a visit from stagefright only after he'd been on the stage for years!

The border between a useful degree of nervousness and incapacity can be a fine one. Only you can judge what's acceptable for you. A degree of nervousness is useful in getting you gee'd up to do whatever it is especially if there are some demanding things to be done. It's interesting though that for example with something like lightning fast playing, some people like to get themselves so hyper they could thread a running sewing machine and others can do the same thing with their heartbeats at 60. There's no right way but I guess you're going to do it longer if you can be a little relaxed.

Some people cope by being doped or drunk most of the time. This suits some styles of music better than others! It's not a one way road down that way but it can be awfully hard to get back so ... over to you.

Relaxation is a key word here and anything that helps you feel at home and at ease is a good thing. One trick is to go to the place where you're going to play beforehand and learn where everything is - walk the walk you'll need to do to get from the waiting area to the stage. Get on the stage and visualise the room full of people (or visualise four or five people!).

And, know your equipment really well. Last minute technical disasters really can make a bad experience of the whole night. Some disasters will happen no matter what you do but all the basic things can be covered. Do you actually have a method of packing up your stuff if you're feeling brain-dead that day? Lists are good here. Devoted roadies are even better but they don't usually come at the apprenticeship stage and if they did then they would probably need a list. In any case, if you've done the prep properly and know you have, it's one less thing to be concerned about.

A good example to watch close up are some classical artists who have a routine for going through everything and a calm focus on small details that seems very zen. It's like the voyage through the small things keeps the big things at bay.

One technique of dealing with fears is to work through them. What will happen if you screw up? You'll look silly but you've seen people look silly on national television in front of millions haven't you? OK, there are some gigs where you might actually have to fight your way out the door but most of us don't go there. If the gig is a career make or break one then working through your fears is probably not the best technique for the moment.

Back to relaxation. If you're prone to being anxious then a program of making your whole life more relaxed is worthwhile. This involves your environment - what and who you see and hear and how you excercise and ... how you eat. Dealing with all of that in detail would take a book or two so we won't! (Publishers' offers welcome.) An aside first though - if you're an edgy urban artist with angst and attitude you don't want to be turned into the Zen Master or some charicature of a Marin County laid back person. It is true; you could change your identity and how you view the world in quite fundemental ways... but not overnight and not by surprise. If that's a worry you can focus the techniques on the particular places where you think they are needed.

If you're doing the whole thing, look at each aspect of your life and think how it could be improved in the sense of being more relaxed or comforting. You might need some help though. Sometimes people actually organise their living spaces to be full of irritants and sometimes it takes someone else to make suggestions. One technique is to take yourself through your daily tasks and try and look at them as if you were explaining to someone from Mars what you are doing. Why do you have that table around a corner and under there if you always take that thing from there and put it there?

Some people might use the rules of something like Feng Shui as an outline to get them started and others might go straight to minimalism and throw everything out and buy ... one thing! Just kidding. Minimalism is actually quite hard and expensive to do. It's hard because you have to be a bit ruthless with your life and the lives of those close to you and it's expensive because as a look it looks pretty awful unless all the materials and surfaces are of tip-top quality.

One easy thing to do is to have at least one thing that inspires a feeling of calm. If you don't have something like this, go out for a hunt now. It might be a picture or a knick-knack, or even a piece of furniture. Buy it and look at it when you need to. Will it wear off? Maybe. Buy something else - it doesn't need to be expensive. You can also look at things that give you that feeling without buying them at all just by going out into the world and seeking them out.

Food and music are other areas to look at. Some food and music just are more relaxing than others. Regular eating is good too! Hearing is more than music though. It's all the aural things that happen in your life. People who live in places with high levels of background noise for example are usually stressed by it. Sound proofing is expensive - moving might be cheaper. In any case, there are some things we have control of and a lot we don't so a good idea is to just work with what you can control.

Excercise is good stuff. You should get a reasonable amount of it. Just walking a half hour or so is very good stuff. Walking until you get a little tired is ideal. Special excercises called Relaxation Exercises are also very good. There are many variations but one is to lie down on something comfy with your arms by your sides. Start at your feet - point them away (tense them) as you breathe a small easy breath through your nose (heavy breathing is not good for this). As you relax your feet, breathe out gently through your mouth. Then you could do the same as you press your knees together and then relax them and work your way up to the top of your head (sort of scrunch it up and then unscrunch it). For some people this set of excercises works immediately and for others it takes a little practise. They are magic though and worth persisting with. When I learnt them as part of a program I found all kinds of things went away or were made a lot better - things like nervous stomach aches and headaches. It took me about a week to get the excercises working.

If you're not trying to change your life but just small parts of it, like not getting stagefright, then all these techniques can be used in a micro way in the environment or at the time they are needed. A lot of them don't work as well when used that way but they do still work.

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