Performing has been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. That doesn’t mean that I’ve always found it easy; there are lots of obstacles that we face as performers that, without help and guidance, can feel impossible to overcome.
When I turned 13, after four years of performing publicly in front of substantial audiences, I suddenly developed crippling stage nerves. The thought of performing in front of anyone terrified me. I still loved to sing, I was just scared of the audience, the potential failure, and constantly questioned everything that could possibly go wrong.
One concert, something did go wrong, and I felt like I would never sing again. In the middle of a song, I forgot the lyrics to the next line, and the panic hit me. Oddly, I just kept singing the line I was on over and over until the lyrics came back to me. I’m not sure why to this day that was my response to the situation, but luckily I had a fantastic accompanist who recognised my panic and made it sound a bit more intentional! When the concert ended, I dreaded speaking to the audience members, incase they picked up on my error. No one mentioned it, and instead gave me lovely compliments. I could not help but feel like they were purposefully avoiding it, as we both knew something had not been quite right. I let that concert play on my mind for years. My stage nerves worsened ever since that incident, and it has always been something I had just put up with, thinking that is was not something that could be helped.
It was not until a few years ago that I began to seriously consider my options – just ‘getting over it’ wasn’t working. I sought out help from a local hypnotist that I found on Google to help combat my stage nerves. In the space of a few weeks, she taught me grounding techniques similar to those recommended for someone having a panic attack. I was sceptical, but practised the exercises that she set me religiously. I had an upcoming concert, and felt that little feeling of dread in my stomach that I had felt all those years ago.
The day of the concert came, and after several weeks of repeated practice, the exercises worked; I stood on stage and had total control over my breathing and my previously uncontrollable shaky legs and face. I was so focused on my exercises that my brain didn’t have time to worry about what could go wrong!
In conjunction with the exercises I have learned to change my biological responses to performing, I have also come to realise that audiences do not care as much as we think they do. Audiences are actually quite understanding; they know that you are a human being, and cannot produce a mechanically perfect performance. More often than not, they are more concerned with how present you are in your performance, and how convincingly you can put across the emotion or character of your piece. Focus your intentions on the performance of the song, the character, the emotion, the setting and the purpose, and your focus will automatically shift.
I began to look at my performances as a duty. That I was providing a service. I focused my attention on the audience members rather than myself. I questioned why they had come to see me sing, or hear the orchestra play, or the choir perform; what did that person need from the music? An escape from daily life? An outlet from a stressful or tragic event? Something to nod off to? Whatever it may be, I made the conscious thought in each performance that it was my duty to provide what they needed. By changing my perspective of my role as a performer from it being so centred on myself, to being centred on my audience, made an enormous impact on my mindset and nerves both before and during any performance.
If you are interested in learning more about the techniques that I use and teach to help my students and myself combat their stage nerves, please feel free to get in touch!