A First-Hand Report on Stage Fright

I'm doing a one-man show tonight...for the first time.

Posted Aug 07, 2016

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

There are countless articles on how to overcome stage fright and, more broadly, on how to overcome fear of making an important presentation.

But to my knowledge, there hasn't been an article that, in real-time, described, how a person who has written about stage fright tried to minimize it in preparing for, during, and after such an event.

I will try to remedy that here, in hopes that the advice, rather than puffing about what should be done, describes what the writer actually did and the embedded lessons about overcoming stage fright. So here goes:

Tonight, I'm doing a one-man show, Odd Man Out, for the first time.  And I'm nervous.

The opposite of procrastination. I knew I'd be nervous, and, for me, the best way to reduce it is to do the opposite of procrastinate: get working on it right away.  So in June, when Barry Martin and Taylor Bartolucci asked me to fill an empty Saturday night slot at their theatre on Aug 6, I started creating my show that day, no, that minute.

Per theatre's symbol--happy and sad masks--I listed my life's happiest and saddest moments, put them in chronological order, inserted piano music that was appropriate (I play the piano,) and then, for comic relief, had my wife sit in the first row and pop up periodically to annoy me. And because I've done a lot of piano-accompanying in my life, I recruited a great singer, award-winning Dani Beem, to sing a few show-stoppers.

Don't script. I completed all that within a few days. I deliberately did not write a script for any of the scenes, because it would take too much time to write and memorize and because it wouldn't be as human as if I simply told the stories, with ums and ahs. That may be a useful takeaway for you. Scripting not only takes more time, it adds sterility. As bad, if you're delivering something memorized, it's easy to forget something, which can throw you off badly. By simply having a list of the stories and piano pieces (which I taped to my keyboard) as a security blanket,) if you forget something, you're less likely to be completely thrown off.

Get to the border of over-rehearsed. Then I started rehearsing by myself--in my home, when driving, when hiking. After a while, there only were a few rough spots so, to make the most of my rehearsal time, I focused only on those, again and again and again until I felt calm about even those hard parts. I had three rehearsals with the singer and my wife. Now, I feel confident enough that I've even removed the cheat sheet from my keyboard. That somehow feels liberating.

The takeaway here is that, at least for me, the best antidote to fear is to be well-rehearsed, on the border of over-rehearsed. I didn't want to over-rehearse because that could make it memorized and more sterile.

Aim for the stars but accept you may only reach the moon..or even crash. For the hour or so before the show and the moment before the show begins, I remind myself that while I want to do a great job, I can survive if I make some screw-ups. What will matter is the overall impression. And if I give my all on stage, the overall impression should be at least good if not great. And if it's not, I can survive.

But I will try to be--what I call "fu**ing amazing." I always strive to be best-in-the-world. I have nothing to lose by aiming that high. Performing to just avoid mistakes ensures that I'll be only good at best.

Arrive early but not too early. I'm leaving for the theater 15 minutes earlier than I need to, to allow for common traffic delays but not so early that I have too long to stew at the theatre before show time.

Right before the show.  I felt grateful for the opportunity to do the show and expressed that to the cast and crew. I also told them what I always tell my actors before a show: "Life doesn't get much better than this. Savor the moment."

During the half hour before the show, I was completely calm. I didn't expect that.  So much so that I didn't go over the show or practice anything. Two seconds before I came on stage, I just said to myself, "Milk every moment and don't rush."

During the show. I was in the zone, and the full, appreciative audience, of course, helped. I wasn't nervous at all. I focused completely on connecting with the audience, one person at a time, and, when I was playing the piano, trying to make every note as wonderful as possible.  In one song, I screwed up one chord, which got me nervous and made me screw up three more in a row until I could get back in control, but the singer swore she couldn't tell. And it seems the audience didn't mind. We got an eruptive full, immediate, standing ovation. The takeaway: You reap the benefits of all that preparation. Now, you only need to stay focused yet relaxed.

After the show. I've spent the last hour with my wife and the singer reminiscing about the performance and planning our next one at the Koret Auditorium in San Francisco. .

Before the show, I really wasn't sure how it would do and was prepared to tell you I bombed. But here is the review of the show in the local paper.

The takeaway

Do you want to try any of the stage-fright prevention tactics I mentioned in this article?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.