the first time.
Spelling Bee…2nd grade.
It was so long ago that I can only vaguely remember the teacher (though I do remember the excitement of Fridays, when she lined us girls up at her desk at the end of class to give us one spray of her favorite perfume.
I don’t remember the word I had to spell at the Spelling Bee.
But I do remember the feeling of being afraid to get it wrong. My palms sweating,
I could hear my breathing.
…I spelled the word correctly.
I may have even won that one…
The memory is not of the WIN or even where I placed.
It is in feeling the fear and getting through the task at hand anyway.
I remember the elation of that.
The next time I felt stage fright was when I was in the 5th grade.
Real bonafide stage fight.
I was taking the stage at Carnegie Recital Hall in NYC.
I had spent at least one month learning how to sing and tap dance at the very school Elliot Gould went to.
In my private weekly lessons I would sing a song like ‘You gotta be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls” (not my choice of song but it was innocent back then) to the teacher Charlie Lowe, who was on piano.
I’m waiting behind the (higher than the sky) velvet curtains for my cue to come out, walk across the full sized Broadway stage and sing my love song to Charlie. (who was about 70 at the time)….
…but as the stage manager peels back the curtain so I can see my final destination on stage and walk there in my short A-line satin white dress with the sheer full sleeves and my high flat vinyl white boots I see Charlie is not there for me to sing to -like he was in rehearsal…
….instead, in his place, standing right in front and to the side of Charlie (who is on the piano), looking at me with his own beaming awkward smile is a red headed boy my age.
I think to myself, “I’ve been set up’
Charlie never told me I was going to be singing to a boy.
My pulse was racing.
I feel embarrassed- not even sure why…
And……I did it. I sang to him…in tune (you’ll see why I say this in a minute)
I looked in the big black space where the audience was and I could feel them delighted – the audience filled with our families and friends and maybe some random New Yorkers.
And I noticed that the very act of going for it assuaged my fears.
I wish every story of stage fright ended so well.
It didn’t. It doesn’t. That’s not the point.
There was the time in a commercial acting class in LA over 20 years ago that the teacher announced,
“I’ve got a surprise for the last day of class” followed by, “Everyone is going to sing today”
so that if you get an audition where they spring that on you- you can do it.
I watched one person after another walk up the cramped aisle leading to the spot in front of the camera sing with heart, confidence and talent……because we were not in some small town – LA is a town of professional singers…and apparently these professional singers were now taking up acting in my class. Who knew?
Now, don’t get me wrong…I can sing. I’ve had to sing for performances – but I am more of an actor singer – I cannot and should not ever compete with trained singers (the only training I had was that time when I took private lessons with Charlie Lowe in the 5th grade and a failed attempt at a beginning singing class at HB Studios in NYC about 5 years before the debacle in this commercial acting class)
My turn to go up- I couldn’t wait any longer even though my legs felt glued to the floor. I didn’t want to go last. I actually didn’t want to go second to last either. I wanted to melt into a puddle and disappear because I couldn’t fathom saying ‘I pass’ and the humiliation in that.
So I mustered up my false bravado and thought, let me sing a little Billy Joel- I’ve sung enough Billy Joel in the privacy of my shower or even with my mom growing up on car trips so shouldn’t be a problem. I even sounded good at times.
I looked at my classmates and the teacher- actually felt like there was a glass wall between them and me- and I opened my mouth and attempted to sing,
“They say there’s a heaven for those who await.Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t. I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun’
In my head I was belting it out, almost too charming, my peers were smiling, surprised…
but that’s not how it went…
I ‘died’ (a very public death) as they would say in the comedy world. I did not ‘kill’ it.
I knew that I knew how to breath, I’d been keeping myself alive everyday since I was born breathing and yet I stopped breathing…not long enough to actually die (though I wished it at the time), but long enough for no actual sound to come out of my mouth that sounded anything like a tune’
Anyway-you do get the point.
My cheeks flushed I am sure and I can’t really remember what else happened that night except I probably tried desperately to hide my eyes beneath my full head of hair (as if my classmates not seeing my eyes meant I wasn’t there and I wasn’t embarrassed) on the way back to my seat to suffer through the last student’s singing ‘improvisation’
I did not leave that class on a high note. (pun intended :))
And you know what- thank God that did not stop me from continuing to go after my dreams of being an actress because I’ve been asked to sing several times since then…and guess what… sounds do come out- and at times they are more than pleasant- when I focus on my breathing and give it over to a power greater than me and dare I say – set an intention to have fun.
I’ve been on too many stages to remember since then, performing my one-woman show, just me on stage for an hour entertaining an audience.
I had no problem reciting Shakespeare’s monologues on stage in England – just singing in an acting class in LA messed me up. Go figure.
Actually there is a method to the madness and a reason- you’ll see below.
I’ve noticed that sometimes Stage Fright still rears its ugly head though I haven’t exactly gotten it down to a science as to why it does when it does – but I do know how to handle it and experience less of it than I used to and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.
Here are 5 tips to help loosen the grip of stage fright
1. Be prepared when you can. Obviously I didn’t know that I was going to have to sing in that class- but I encourage getting educated, getting coached and doing research when you are up for something BIG.
2. Focus on your breath. Slow and deep. It slows everything down and puts you in the present where you can see things clearly. (Instead of in your head where you can’t ‘see’ over all those voices you are hearing inside it)
3. Stop questioning your very right to be in the room. You have a right to be there (be it an audition, show or meeting just because you are there)
4. Be excellent. I studied Shakespeare in NYC, LONDON and LA with top teachers and at top schools – that’s why I can confidently deliver Shakespeare’s monologues powerfully on stages in my one-woman show, My Brooklyn Hamlet. That’s a lot different than taking one class and 1 month of private singing lessons and thinking I can compete with professional singers anywhere. (Don’t compare apples and oranges- a lesson for another time)
Don’t treat your public speaking or storytelling on stage like a Fast Food meal.
5. When all else fails- love yourself anyway...no matter if you prepped enough, got the help you needed, forgot to breath in the moment…because in the big picture remember…at least you tried. YOU were the one in the stadium (on stage/ in the meeting/ at the audition) – not the bystander (the audience member, the person who was too afraid to make the call or say YES to the opportunity).
Want 20 tips I give to my entrepreneur clients to help them be more powerful speakers? My gift to you! Get it here!