I know I'm not alone in this - I know that many people suffer with it, even professional performers. And normally I have no problem walking away from things that make me uncomfortable - where's the rule that says you HAVE to "face your fears"? I believe more in "freeing" them, and if that doesn't work, "flee" them... there's so much more to do in life than battling the "dragons of your psyche".
Trouble is, my passions - the things I really want to do in life - are often tied in with the need, and the desire to perform. I'm a songwriter, I like to sing my songs, I want to tell stories and share them with others... I would love to do theatre. So ultimately I'm faced with my dragons time and time again, and I can't flee them and they don't seem to want to be freed.
So the time has come to face them. I've tried talking to them, naming them, accepting them, but it doesn't help when my stomach is turning and my hands are trembling and sweat is running down my brow and my heart is pumping and my inner voice is screaming..."RUN!"
I did a crazy thing a couple of weeks back - I booked a cafe to give a performance in. I devised a two-hour one-man-show full of stories and songs - I made a poster and posted online inviting everyone to come. The idea alone sends shivers through my body - waves of nervous energy and fear flood my body when I think of it. So why the hell did I set it up? Well, because it's what I want to do - and it's so important to me that I'm prepared to suffer the pain of the fear.
But I'm not stupid... I know the fear is all in my mind, I know the danger isn't real but imagined. I know I'm quite capable of telling stories and singing songs - but I also know that I could give a much greater performance if I wasn't held back by this anxiety - if I felt free to give the performance I visualize in my head. And I long for this freedom.
Yesterday I browsed through a few videos on YouTube on the subject of dealing with stage-anxiety. They weren't much help. But then I watched a video about a research project some guy had done in Hollywood with 150 or more professional performers, to get some real insight into the question. It was interesting to know just how many professional and seasoned film-stars never get over their performance fears, but further than that the results only seemed to confirm that it was common and there is no real wonder cure..."live with it" seemed to be the conclusion.
But towards the end of the video reference was made to the viewpoint of another researcher from the early part of the last century... and this hit home by me. It seemed to hold a key to the essence of this anxiety, and thus to it's transformation from negative experience to positive... from something you want to run away from to something you could even welcome.
So I made some notes, and, after sleeping on it for a night, I spent this day reflecting and writing on this new "perception" of stage-anxiety. And I do believe, by golly, that I've GOT IT! So I'm going to share it here while it's all still fresh in my thoughts... and it goes like this:...........
FORGET the idea that we are flesh and blood and organs and cells... forget that our brains are full of synapses sending electrical impulses to our organs... forget that our organs create chemicals that surge through our bodies via the blood-flow... forget that we are even made up of molecules that are in turn made up of atoms... and so on.
Forget the idea that anxiety is the result of chemicals such as adrenalin that are created when we sense danger, in order to prepare our bodies for fight or flight... forget all this.
INSTEAD... think of yourself in terms of energy. Now if you're up to date on quantum physics theory, you'll already know that science is proving what spiritualists have been saying all along... that matter doesn't actually exist, it's all virtual simulation... and all the matter of the universe (including us) is in fact waves of "potential" in a limitless field of electromagnetic energy (Unified Field Theory). If you're not aware of this, then you're a bit out of touch with reality and I advise you to check it out (Unified Field/Holographic Universe)
So what does this have to do with stage-anxiety? Well I'm coming to that...
As an individual, then, you are not dense matter, but a "condensed field" of electromagnetic energy with a unique and particular wave-frequency. And you are intricately connected within the "field" to everything else... and every-ONE else. Your body, besides resonating within your own personal field, also receives energy from other fields (people, things, events, thoughts...everything that exists actually) and sends out energy into these other fields. It's a constant dance of energy-exchange.
Now, when you're going about your daily business, even within a group or crowd setting, your energy and the energy of every individual around you is not focused toward anything specific, but rather dispersed evenly across a wide area of elements that make up the personal experience of life. Some energy goes to what you're thinking about, worrying about, planning for tomorrow, looking forward to, memories, feelings and emotions etc... everything that you are focusing on with your conscious mind. More energy is directed (unconsciously or consciously) towards the people and things around you... passers-by, the general public, the trees, birds, dogs, buildings, traffic, shop windows, noise, sights and sounds.
The energy that is exchanged between you and everything and everyone else is distributed and "diluted". Your own personal energy-flow is in balance, flows evenly without too much disruption or disturbance from outside - you just go about your day and you feel fine and in control.
VISUALIZE THIS... not in terms of matter, but as lots of swirling, flowing, individual ENERGY-VORTEXES within a vast all-and-inter-connecting ENERGY-FIELD.
GOT IT? Good!
NOW... visualize the idea that stage-anxiety is the result of an "energy-surge" that actually forms when a group of individuals gather in one place, with ONE SPECIFIC POINT OF FOCUS... ...and what's at that point of focus?...............YOU!
So, great amounts of focused energy from all these individuals emanates out into the field, combines to create one powerful energy-vortex which then rushes towards center-stage where it hovers like a vast spinning tornado - and right in the middle of this vortex is your individual energy-vortex-self, trying desperately to maintain it's calm, individual-flow... and not be torn apart and swallowed up by this powerful force. No wonder you feel shaken, that your stomach churns, that you sweat and shake and your heart pumps violently... you're in the middle of a tornado.
GOT THE PICTURE?
So, how the hell do you deal with this?
People who don't experience stage-anxiety do one of two things:
1) They're just not affected by the "tornado". They've built up, naturally or through time and experience, an extra force-field around themselves, whereby outside energy literally bounces off their own field - or that the spinning of their individual vortex is higher than that of the combined vortex - again, outside energy bounces off and can't enter the individual field.
2) They "ARE" affected by the "tornado", but they've learned to open up to it and let it flow THROUGH them... they "CHANNEL" this outside energy, controlling the flow/spin to match their own. In this case, they experience the energy NOT as fear or anxiety, but as EXCITEMENT... and they call it by that name. And they direct this extra energy into their activity (a speech or story or song or acting-role), and use it to enhance and inspire their performance.
Energy is neither good nor bad, positive nor negative... it is just energy. Stage anxiety should NOT be labelled as "fear", nor even as "anxiety"... much better to call it "excitement". Know it and experience it purely as "high-vibrating-energy". It is exactly the same as the energy you feel during an enjoyable performance - the KICK - and at the end of a performance - the "HIGH". It's the SAME ENERGY.
So, instead of looking for ways to dispel it, or fight it, or escape it... EXPERIENCE it as it is, let it run through you, learn to direct it, bring it into your own flow... have FUN with it, ENJOY it. Feel the KICK. Because it's this same energy you can re-direct and send back into the audience so they feel the kick too and become more connected with you and your performance. Use the energy that the audience sends to you, to share back with them so you can all laugh and cry and FEEL together. That's why you're up on the stage in the first place... to share with the audience. And that's what the audience is anticipating, what they desire, why their focus is so directed... and why YOU get the GIFT of SO MUCH of THEIR energy.
So... try this perspective when you next experience stage-anxiety - see what it does with you. The proof is in the pudding of course, and I've got a one-man-show coming up... I'll let you know how I did.