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Slight Fright (OR HOW TO FIGHT PERFORMANCE ANXIETY)
By Richard Tenace
It happens to all performers sometimes. And it is nothing to be ashamed about. The symptoms vary but often times it can express itself with a lump in the throat, shaking hands, a nauseous feeling in the stomach and a mental block. All performers, from close up to stage get it. I am referring of course to stage fright. There are many that will tell you that there is no cure for it but never fear Dr. Rich is here with a few suggestions to cure this nasty ailment.
Where does this stage fright come from? To answer that question we need to first examine the different types of stage fright. There are two types: external and internal.
This is brought upon by outside elements. These are things that you didn't plan on happening but thanks to Murphy's Law they do. Here are a few:
The client comes up to you as you get to the gig only to tell you that the little intimate show for 40 people will now take place on stage in front of 300.
You are performing at a nightclub and a drunken patron comes right on stage and knocks your cards out of your hands.
Your no fail card control that would have wowed Frank Garcia fails. The ambitious card routine turns into the "I know that damn card was in there somewhere" routine.
You turn around to get a prop and you notice your fly is down. You have been performing for twenty minutes. At least the audience can tell that you prefer briefs to boxers.
Your card on the ceiling routine goes wrong but you now have a great game of 52 pick-up.
You make your rabbit appear for your big finale' at the kid's birthday party. You find out he has died. You, in a lame attempt to save the situation, try to do a spring rabbit routine. The birthday mom is not amused.
This type of stage fright is brought upon by you. It comes from over thinking about a situation. Here are a few:
You start to perform a new sleight only to find yourself nervous to do it.
You worry if the audience is going to like you.
You start to notice the cute blonde in the front row and you find your concentration waning.
Here are some suggestions for you to overcome stage fright no matter where it comes from.
Make sure that you have prepared yourself mentally for your performance. Know that you are a great performer. Believe it with every fiber of your being. You want the audience to think you are good so you must believe it first. Don't care or think if the audience likes you or not during your performance. Some audiences are just very quiet and it is hard to tell if they like you are not. If you tell a joke and it doesn't get a laugh just move on. Act as if it was suppose to happen that way.
There has been one confidence builder that has helped me throughout the years. A clown friend of mine pointed it out when I was still in my teens. He told me that the audience wants to like you. They spent their money to see you and they don't want to hate you. They are rooting for you to be good. Half the battle is won before you even get in front of your audience.
Make Sure You Are Ready To Perform
Too many people learn magic too fast. I use to see people come into the magic shop I worked at and buy their first couple of tricks. Within a few weeks they are out performing birthday party shows. Then when something goes wrong they get nervous and can't cover. Rehearsal and practice can not be overlooked. Know the routines you do so well that you could do them in your sleep. Don't perform before you are ready.
Don't Perform Beyond Your Range
A lot of stage fright occurs because we try to perform something beyond our skill level. How many magicians have bought the Jeff McBride manipulations tape and have fancied themselves sleight of hand experts? Make sure you can do difficult moves and sleights very well before you perform them. Rehearse until the move is so natural that you can do it without thinking about it. I was a lecture one night at a magic club meeting. After the lecturer did a trick the guy sitting next to me said, "Look at his palming. It is so good." I found this amusing. If his palming was so good why did he notice it? Naturalness cannot be overstated and with it you will gain confidence needed to combat stage fright.
Something will almost always go wrong. Expect it. When I was young I saw Blackstone Jr. perform. He had a customs problem and almost all his illusions were left over seas. A lesser performer might cancel the show but Blackstone performed with ropes, rings, coins, and many other items found around the house. Even without the 'big stuff' he was still able to fill the whole stage with his confidence, charisma, charm and talent. Was he nervous at all that he wasn't performing his regular show? I don't know. But I do know he was prepared for just such a contingency and that if he wasn't I bet he would have been nervous.
When you are rehearsing and you make a mistake don't stop and start the effect over. Imagine that you are in front of an audience and you make that mistake. How would you recover from it? Have several escape plans. One time I actually had a drunken woman come up on stage and knock my deck of cards out of my hands. I was so nervous! The decks of cards were preset for a particular routine. I quickly recovered by performing another card effect but I learned since then to have another prearranged deck all set just in case it ever happens again. Now I have several escape plans for other effects in my show.
Expect To Make Mistakes
Sometimes you just can't prepare for everything. Early in my career I was performing a platform show. During a musical set I stuffed a silk in a thumb tip. I waved my hands around in a dramatic manner to emphasis the vanish. The thumb tip came flying off and landed near the edge of my performance area. I was a little flustered. I picked it up and with a shrug I said, "Hey, I'm all thumbs." I don't know what the audience thought about the situation but I quickly put it behind me and went on with my show.
Expect to make mistakes and when they do happen just let it go and move on. If you keep fretting about it you will just make yourself nervous and you won't be able to finish.
Control Bodily Functions
No, this does not mean to go to the bathroom before your show. It means that stage fright will often manifest itself in a very physical way. Shaking hands, heavy breathing, lack of visual acuity, a dry lump in the throat and a "nervous" stomach are all symptoms of stage fright. Most of these things happen before you are even in front of your audience. In order to combat this you need to warm up.
Before every sporting event an athlete warms up. Before you exercise you warm up. Before each show you should warm up. Actors warm up before a show and so do dancers and singers. And so should you. Here are some warm up exercises for you to do:
*Run in place. *Shake your arms and wiggle your fingers. *Run through any sleights you are going to perform. *Open and close your mouth rapidly. Wiggle and scrunch your eyes shut in a rapid manner *Warm up your voice by saying the alphabet or counting in different tonalities. *Do some stretching exercises. *Breathe deeply and hold it for ten seconds. Then exhale slowly. Do this 20+times.
Remember that these exercises are not made to make you look silly (although you will look silly!). They are designed to convert nervous energy into positive energy.
Don't let your mind wander as you perform. Sometimes stage fright occurs because we stop focusing on the now and start thinking about personal things. That is why I am a big advocate of thinking in character as you perform. Perform and think in the now. If your mind wanders just come back to the present and think on the performance. Performance confidence increases when we train our minds to focus like a laser on our performance and to leave our personal life at home.
Stage fright is a very real thing. It happens to all of us. When I was talking to a magician friend about this article he says that he has never had stage fright. I don't think there has ever been a performer in any endeavor that hasn't suffered from stage fright in one form or another. If it happens to you just relax, remain confident, stay focused, and go on with your show. Some people never get over stage fright but they learn to control it. The more you practice and perform the easier it will become.