At our band’s first show, I had stage fright.
Those who know me in real life probably have trouble believing this, but I have always struggled with stage fright. I’ve never let it hold me back significantly – I’ve performed my whole life, though I never went for many leads or solos in theatre or choir. There has always been, for me, a distinction between performing with an ensemble and being a distinct voice. I might be the tallest and loudest and most brightly-attired in the ensemble, and people could, in theory, be staring at me, but whenever I’m in a group, I’ve always managed to convince myself that nobody is *really* looking at me.
Yes, I realize how delusional this is, my desire to both be a performer and to have nobody looking at me.
MAYBE I’M JUST TRYING TO DANCE LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING!
So we’re setting up for the show, and there is this stage, with these bright lights, and these monitors (speakers for the musicians to hear each other’s instruments) which are incredibly hot (loud), and the stage is large so everyone else in the band feels incredibly far from me. It’s nothing like playing in a circle in our rehearsal room with the flourescent lights, cracking jokes and wandering around when we’re not playing.
I try to play it cool. I casually walk up on stage, move around the instruments so they’re ready for me, chat and joke with a few bandmates, glance at the crowd, tell myself that it’s only 100 people (it was more like 300, though I didn’t know that until much later) and I can totally handle it.
I step up to the mic, feeling like I’ve somehow managed to psych myself out of this stage fright, and we hit the first notes. But as soon as I open my mouth to sing, I’m thrown out of my body. Why are those lights so bright? Why is my voice so loud? Oh crap, I’m having anxiety! But the show just started, and I MUST KEEP GOING. Don’t freak out. Just focus on the words, and singing them, and playing the instrument in front of you. WHY IS MY VOICE SO LOUD, why does it sound so weird, and can everyone else hear the way it’s shaking? Don’t focus on the shaking, or it’ll just get worse. Sing the words. Look at John. Smile. Look at Austin. Smile. Look at the crowd. Grimace? Eh, that’s good enough for now. Look at your instrument. It’s okay. You will get through this. This is NOT going to kill you. Take a deep breath.
As we progress, I’m still feeling a lot of adrenaline. I hear my voice shaking and straining more than it does during rehearsals. I’m sad that I’m unable to sound my best for all these people. I try to look out and find individual faces – people who came to see me, and who are my biggest fans no matter what – but mostly I’m just trying to hold it together. My mouth goes completely dry. My lips are sticking to my teeth, and between lyrics I’m trying to resolve that. I probably look like someone with dentures. During my one-song break, I drink some water. It doesn’t help much. I’ll just have to learn how to anunciate without any saliva. I can do this. At least, I think I probably should be able to do this.
This is seriously what was going on in my head. I was singing words I’d thankfully memorized, and trying to remember to smile and be welcoming and to not look like I wanted to run away.
I refused to give up. I wouldn’t let it get the best of me. Because THIS IS MY BAND AND I REALLY LIKE THEM ALL AND I DON’T WANT TO DISAPPOINT THEM. Also, I like our music. And one of the reasons I’m in a band is to keep challenging myself to do things that scare me. I was going to prove to myself that I was tough enough.
And I did it. Somehow, amazingly, I made it to the end. After our last note, I had no idea what to do – we’d discussed walking onto the stage, but not exiting. I knew we had no more songs to pull out for an encore, so I just picked up the glockenspiel in front of me and marched off.
I’m told the show was good, and that the crowd loved us. I still don’t remember much of it. But I’m gearing up for the next show, which will be smaller and will feel much more intimate, though I now expect some stage fright, and I’m going to tell it to shut up and let me sing.