Stories from our international boarding schools

Lights, camera, action! Cue: stage fright

The culmination of weeks and months of practice and rehearsals hinge delicately on a single, fateful night. Sensations of excitement, contraction of elation, and the infection of the ‘buzz’ all around you gets under your skin, into your system. You’re good to go but just as you’re about to take that step out into the spotlight, a thought crosses your mind. It’s fleeting, but you feel it anyway. You accommodate the thought, thinking that perhaps you’re braver than it. “I’m the master of my own destiny, nothing will go wrong,” you try to convince yourself. But you know, you’ve always known. Something could go wrong. Performing live, major mistakes aren’t allowed, and, even if they occur, the show must seamlessly go on with an air of confidence and professionalism. This could amount to tremendous pressure, especially if the performer has stage fright. No matter the individual, we all have something we’re afraid of.

Perhaps you’ll recognize little pieces of yourself within these familiar words. The story which we are about to embark upon is a personal one, of which I am still riding out. As such, I do not know the answers to the problems which may arise as you read on. However, I believe that from the months I’ve spent in reflection of these events, I may be of some service for due advice. Whether you too are a performer with stage fright, a perfectionist struggling to make a start on your work, or simply someone who spends too much time in their own heads calculating the endless possibilities of the future, this is for you. May you find comfort in the knowledge that every single one of us stumbles into this same pit at some point in our lives, and courage in the fact that we have the choice to climb out of it.

There are three events which feed into the bulk of this journey. The first in a sequence of emotionally draining encounters start with EF Academy Torbay Singing Club’s 2016 Christmas Concert. (Gee, that’s a mouthful now that I think about it.) By this first round of auditions early in the year, I hadn’t yet been able to crawl out of my shy exterior. As the months passed on, I watched as the other members practiced their solos every Thursday afternoon at 4:15PM, perched atop a blue chair, listening and thinking.

Sure, I was a part of the closing song in collaboration with the rest of the singing club, but I wanted to do more, yet I couldn’t find the courage within myself to do so. The night of the concert, as I waited in my seat for the final act to spring forward, listening to all the others sing unlike how they’d done within the confines of the club all those past practices before, I felt deeply dissatisfied with myself. I imagined myself up on that stage where my friends were, I pretended that I was all-at-once brave enough to get up there and be myself. But it was all in my head, and I felt frustrated. However, during this excruciating wait, I made a promise to myself that I would sing my solo next year. Therein lies the seed for the progression of our tale.

Later that year, my IB Language Literature Class sought to produce EF Academy Torbay’s first Shakespearean play of Hamlet. Many of the actors who participated in the play were ordinary students such as myself and you. However, they wanted to challenge themselves and be a part of something different within the school community. As none of them had acted before, especially not in front of a large audience, they all had difficulty establishing the mood for themselves during rehearsals. This is understandable, as it is a daunting task to imagine being on stage with hundreds of eyes staring daggers in your direction. The time hadn’t yet come to pass, one simply does not know how to gauge the reactions one would receive and that uncertainty holds people back. My personality and mindset by this time had shifted, perhaps because this was acting instead of singing. I’d always had a tendency of pretending I was in a movie whenever I was alone, and I felt comfortable acting on stage. You see, the thing with acting is that you become a character while the thing with singing is that you lay yourself bare, at least that’s how I feel.

This story kicks in with the departure of our actor of Hamlet, just two weeks before the actual show. The cast was thrown into a frenzy as we had lost our main actor but I managed to jump in as I had been a silent director and knew all the lines. For the duration of the two weeks, we worked hard as more misfortune struck. However, we were determined to keep the show going. Sword fight choreography, synchronization of PowerPoint, music, and acting, and creation of set pieces filled our free time. On the night of the show, even though we had seen so much disturbance from unforeseen obstacles, we performed the play as seamlessly as we could. As applause rose from the audience, you’d think I’d have been over the moon to jump in at the last minute as the main actor. But I wasn’t. Instead, I felt hollow. Immediately, I couldn’t remember the past two hours of which we had been performing. And this led me into a deeper pit, because I hadn’t solved anything for myself and I just felt like I was back at square one.

The last event occurred very recently, it was the EF Academy Torbay’s Got Talent. This was my time to redeem myself and sing my solo. However, I was extremely afraid at times leading up to the actual show. It’s funny because after Hamlet, you’d also think that my stage fright would have vanished. But it was still there, waiting and mocking me. I decided to force myself to stay in the show. Immediately after the performance, I felt terrible as I started to pick out on all the mistakes I had made. However, a few days after, I started to feel better. Proud, even, that I did it and didn’t shy away from the challenge like I had done so many times before. When it’s early days and you’re stuck in your own head, it doesn’t really occur to you that you’re blowing things out of proportion. Life is all about random events constantly colliding with each other in an absurd fashion. The secret probably is that you shouldn’t take life too seriously, you just have to have fun and do what makes you happy. It’s a boring cliche and some people still don’t realize it, no matter how many times they’ve been told. But it does hold true, you just have to be honest with yourself.

 

 

Written by Eugene Tan, EF Academy Torbay IB Year 2 student from Malaysia.

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