I performed yesterday in an event that featured a wide range of folks who were at various stages on their journeys as artists. Some of those who presented their work were still unclear about how to deal with anxiety and nerves in front of audiences. Luckily for them, they were in a supportive space where they were able to experience the feeling of stumbling in mid flow, only to be picked up by the listeners, who encouraged them to soldier on. This was a gathering that came together with healthy intentions, since those nascent artists will be able to reflect on the process they were involved in, hopefully realising what they need to do to raise their games in the future.
Observing the proceedings made me cast my mind back to my early days in performing. Was there ever a time that I was scared of the audiences I faced? I didn’t feel any stage fright as a child performer, or even as a teenager. There was a point however in my early adult years, when I struggled with worries before facing audiences.
What was it all about? I think it had something to do with feeling the need to be validated by audiences with specific tastes. Eventually I sorted the issues out with a therapist and reached a point where I was almost too relaxed on stage.
Are these issues addressed enough in formal performance training institutions? I remember attending a lunch time concert once at a London conservatoire that featured a student cellist. A significant number of teachers were in the audience. Was the student being assessed? I’m not sure, but I could feel her nerves in the performance – there were several moments when she seemed to lose focus.
The question I ask myself in situations of this sort is this: Why do we wish to face audiences in the first place, if we can’t enjoy the process of performing to them? Self knowledge should be a hugely important part of our tool kits if we want to perform in public.