The Performance Anxiety

I’m not sure what you thought this blog would be about.

If you googled “performance anxiety” and you are looking for a “quick fix” to an intimate problem, you’ve come to the wrong place*.

(*I am sorry that you have that problem, and I’m not really sure what to suggest. Perhaps google “performance anxiety” again, and then don’t click on my blog).

I’m writing about a different kind of performance anxiety… the kind of anxiety that comes from performing on stage.

I suffered with performance anxiety (and how!) a few years ago, during my brief stint on Vancouver Theatresports’  “Farm Team”, which was (in their words: not mine) “75 minutes of cutting edge improv performed by a fresh crop of performers”. (They called us the “farm team” because we were “fresh” – not because of any resemblance to animals.)

I digress.

I had trained with Vancouver Theatresports for a few years, and then heard about their rookie league (AKA, “Farm Team”). I decided to audition and (surprise, surprise), I got in. At one of our first practice improv jams someone mentioned our first show… I immediately felt sick.

I found it hard to sleep in the days and weeks leading up to the show. I tossed and turned, wondering: Am I funny enough? Am I good-looking enough to be on stage? Is anyone in the audience going to laugh? Will they be laughing at me? Or, with me? Is my British accent British enough (or is it South African)? What if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of a scene? Can I just go, or do I have to ask permission? 

I’m not the only one who has anxiety about performing in front of people. Most people don’t enjoy public speaking. In fact, statistics show that most people would rather die than speak in public. People would rather not live than speak before a group of people (which seems like the people surveyed didn’t think that through).

I definitely fear death more than speaking in public.

I started taking improvisation classes because I wanted to challenge myself, and confront my fears (FYI: I won’t be confronting death anytime soon). Turns out, it was pretty fun, and it allowed you to be silly and laugh a lot. I auditioned for the “Farm Team” because I thought, “why not?” but performing in front of a group of strangers was another ball of wax.

The day of the show arrived. I thought about calling in sick, but I wasn’t sure who to call. My pulse was racing, I had a dry mouth and tight throat. My lips were chapped (this could have been unrelated, and more to do with the amount of kissing I was doing). I had sweaty palms, my legs felt shaky, and my stomach was in knots. I had “performance anxiety”.

Our call time drew nearer. I looked online to try and find some tips for managing anxiety. They suggested things like limiting caffeine (too late, I was five cups in), getting prepared and practicing (impossible, it’s improvisation!), closing your eyes and imagining the audience laughing (tried it, only saw dark), avoiding thoughts of self-doubt (too late), taking a walk (I own a car), and breathing deeply (which I did, and which did not help).

I opted for a cocktail of red bull, dark rum, and Pepto-Bismol**. The show went well (I think).

After the show I said to myself, “Self, you did well (I think). You got out there, in front of people, and you spoke in an English accent (or was it South African?), and guess what? You didn’t die!”

I overcame my “performance anxiety”, and you can too. May I recommend an effective cocktail?

** Now referred to as, “The Manky”.

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