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The inevitable stage fright
I am sure you have heard many stories of people throwing up, passing out or choking on stage. Don’t worry, this is a very rare occurrence. If you do happen to be one of those people who gets extremely nervous before performing, don’t eat before you sing and you should be okay. It is normal to have some butterflies before going on stage, but they go away relatively quickly. The energy you get from a case of the butterflies can be great.
If you happen to choke on stage don’t show it, just patiently wait and come back in singing when it’s comfortable and makes sense. Nine times out of ten the audience never knows. If you lose your place at an audition do the same thing. Do not stop or apologize, just keep going. I would never stop an audition piece unless the director stops you or you were never able to begin in the first place. If you do need to stop do it quickly and start again. Most people are forgiving and understand that sometimes nerves can get the best of us.
Stories , advice and true tales of the stage from some old friends
Don’s Story of Going Blank
This is more an acting than singing story.
It's the summer of 1991 and I'm doing a play called "Sarita" at the second stage of The Berkshire Theatre Festival. I'm a fresh-out-of-grad-school, young, Caucasian actor playing a 75-year old Cuban man named Fernando whose solo number is a song called "I'm Lonely."
The Mainstage theatre is right down the road (this short dirt road) from us and they have a show running at the same time as ours. But for whatever reason, one night a week their show starts an hour earlier. So we get into our performance groove during the first week and things are going pretty well. But on the first night the Mainstage starts earlier, their show finishes earlier too.
So I've got this touching monologue in the second act where I'm telling the young Sarita what it was like growing up at my parent’s home in Cuba. And in the middle of my monologue, on that first night the Mainstage finishes earlier than us, I start to hear the cars. I hear the cars leaving the parking lot of the Mainstage theatre and driving past our theatre, on after another, on that old dirt road. And in the middle of my monologue...as I'm telling Sarita why I am the way I am, or how I make sense of the world I live in...trying to pass on whatever wisdom I might have to this young girl, my mind starts to say to me, "I wonder why those cars are driving past the theatre. They've never driven past the theatre this early before. They must, oh yeah, they must have let their show out earlier..."
And before I know it, I'm UP. I'm right out of the scene and into my head (and into the parking lot) and I have NO IDEA what I was saying to Sarita and I have NO IDEA what my next line is, because I was so caught up in these cars driving past the theatre that I lost myself.
So what do I do? I do what any self-respecting young actor playing an old Cuban man would do. I just sit there. I sit there and I look at young Sarita who seems to be asking herself in her mind, "Did he just go up? Oh shit...did he forget his line?" or "Does he even KNOW that it's his line?" And I just continued to sit there. I still had NO IDEA what my line was. And so I just...I just SMILED. I smiled at the young Sarita and I probably...well I think I nodded my head knowingly at her - maybe trying to let her know that yes, it was true, I didn't have a clue what my next line was. And so the two of us just sat there, in this uneasy but peaceful silence for...who knows how long.
And I let her do it. I let that sweet young actress bail me out of the bind I created for the two of us by losing my focus. She just jumped to HER next line in the scene. And it was a beautiful thing, it really was, to just let go, to just watch and wave good-bye to the second half of my speech. It was just ...gone. And so I pretended like nothing happened at all. And I was grateful, grateful to be bailed out by this girl.
And I learned a great lesson, a great many lessons from that experience. Don't be afraid of silence. Silence can be a profound experience onstage - and very moving I think.
Also...what we think of as mistakes are really GIFTS. If someone goes up on stage, if they lose their lines, or if I lose my lines, or something else goes "wrong" it's a GIFT. It's the gift of something REAL happening on the stage (which is what we all want anyway). And I truly believe that the audience can feel these moments when they happen. They might not know exactly what's going on, but they can feel it.
And now, I say that I embrace these moments onstage and even hope for them. Not that I would ever go out of my way to cause problems for my fellow actors or myself. But these things are going to happen, so why not celebrate them and embrace them when they do? I used to be terrified to go up on my lines, and now I'm not. These real, awkward, unplanned, spontaneous moments can be like flashes of light in what can often be the dark tunnel of a tired, staid and boring performance. Whatever they are, these moments, they are magical. And if life were just a string of them, tied together, one after another, what a life that would be! Break legs my brothers and sisters. Don Carter (2006)
The only stories I can think of relate to having a short attention span and forgetting the words to songs, and of course the joys of having Tourette's Syndrome and attempting to sing in a large chorus of Carmina Burana. When it got hot under the lights and the tension grew I got twitchier and twitchier - eventually my entire body jerked, setting off a chain reaction like dominoes resulting in someone falling off the risers. . .
Most of the stories that are coming to my mind are of me peeing my pants on stage, or wigs falling off, and then there was the time my boob popped out of the top of my costume in the middle of a number..I'll have to think about the singing part!
My advice to any actor/singer would be to be prepared, do your best, and then let it go. The casting process has little to do with our actual abilities. Getting a job, or not getting the job, rarely means that the individual hired was the absolute best person for that role. Getting the job usually means the person hired happen to fit all necessary criteria for that specific situation in time.
Criteria created by people with budgets, personal visions, and their own human feelings to fit in the equation. There will always be someone taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, older, younger, and more or less attractive, who has an equal amount of talent with us. Sometimes they get the job. Some of those people have less talent than us, and still get the job simply because they did or didn’t look like somebody’s ex.
The point is that as long as you know you gave your all whenever given a chance, that's all you can do. THAT is your job, not the role you may, or may not get as a result. Everything else is out of our hands. Losing sight of what should be our true goal can lead to loosing many more important things. Nothing is worth loosing self esteem, or even a good night's sleep over.
Our power as performers is in knowing we can simply show up and create a special moment in time. At the drop of a hat, a song, or scene, can create a new reality! How exciting is that! If things, in a particular moment, don't go as well as you would have liked, BUT you know you did everything you knew how to per that situation, then you win. You have the power. Don't ever give that power over to someone else simply because they might cast you in something. They are an audience, and you are the performer. It's up to you whether you create something powerful in that moment, not them. It's up to you to share your gifts, and be grateful for the opportunity. Plus, when you do happen to get a performing job, it's an added bonus, not your dream in someone else's hands.
Now, break out into song...shall it be "Climb every Mountain", or "Believe In Yourself" as I believe in youuuuuuuu!!!!!
Ron's Advice to the new actor
It applies to singing as well.
Acting is a passion first, then a profession.
When you get your first taste of acting, in a class, in front of a camera, on a stage, and you succeed there, you want more, you want to make a career of it.
It is very possible, probable and realistic to make it as a successful, working, paid actor, regardless of what anyone says.
If you love it, if you believe in yourself, and if you are willing to DO WHAT IT TAKES to make it, you can make it.
It takes many things; talent, planning, goal setting, a headshot and resume, persistence, love of the craft, energy, unwavering self-confidence and many more things.
The first thing one needs to do is learn the business and how it works. Search this info out and then get a good understanding of what you need to do to get started. Then, do it.
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