“You can go onto that stage every night, and it’s always the equivalent of going onto the topmost diving board, and you don’t know if there’s any water in the pool” – Glenda Jackson
Stage fright occurs when a knowledge of the work being performed is replaced with a self-conscious awareness of the staring crowd and their expectations. Once it supersedes a performer’s confidence, it is difficult if not impossible for them to perform live again. Then the crippling flight response we’re all aware of comes into play.
Many celebrities suffer from it. After forgetting the lyrics to a song during a 1967 performance in Central Park, Barbara Streisand didn’t perform to a paying crowd for 27 years.
Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac said this:
Abba’s Agnetha Faltskog also had a tough time with the dreaded performance anxiety.
Even Adele, the biggest star in the world, has had her problems with it.
“I’m scared of audiences,” Adele revealed to Rolling Stone magazine. “One show in Amsterdam I was so nervous, I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”
So what causes stage fright?
The infographic above begins with “inadequate preparation”, so it’s blaming the performer from the off. That’s unfair, even the most meticulously-prepared performer can forget lines and seize up in the glare of the spotlight. The mind goes blank and recall disappears through no fault of their own.
What the list really misses out on is the prime cause, I believe: a lapse in concentration. That’s all it takes, it may just be for a split-second. That’s when the displacement of focus takes place from the internal memorised words to the external presence and demands of the audience. Essentially, the performer has become a mountaineer who is suddenly aware of how high up they are and, crucially, how far they are capable of falling at that moment.
So, while the fear begins in a rational fear of failure and embarrassing yourself in public, the fear itself can become the irrational focus which can lead to panic attacks, sleepless nights and the problem becomes a clinical condition.
Perhaps we should leave the final word to William Shakespeare, himself an actor:
© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.
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