Performance Jitters and NeurOptimal®
Henry Fonda, famous American actor, is known to have vomited before stage performance due to performance anxiety, right to the end of his long career.
Singing, acting, dancing and instrumental performances demand dynamic relaxation and total present moment awareness. Without being able to achieve the Relaxation Response while in front of an audience, you cannot be spontaneous, easy, have fun yourself (after all – so necessary in sustaining a career over time) and masterful. Virtuosity is our goal, even if rarely reached. Virtuosos are both vulnerable and yet, remain really present. And this level of skilled ease can take years for some performers given the natural level of anxiety that performing for a live audience provokes.
Doubt it? 75% of Americans who responded to the American Psychological Associations Stress in America Survey said that their stress levels are so high that they feel unhealthy. Add to this having to get up in front of other humans, exposed to your live audience and then perform! Yikes! Who wouldn’t want a bucket on standby in the wings?
I am an actor-singer and have performed for live audiences all my life. Just because I can ultimately get up and perform doesn’t mean that it is ever as easy as falling off a log. It isn’t! It can be torturous at times, depending on confidence levels at the moment, feeling vulnerable during different phases in your life. Who escapes family issues, illness, unexpected bereavement, financial insecurities and all the other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? They can leave you less than resilient; yet, as always, the show must go on!
Getting ready for a concert in the summer of 2017, I was being accompanied by two musicians in Colorado. The material covered a wide spectrum of musical compositions from jazz to contemporary to Broadway; an absolutely beautiful range of material. I had a landmark birthday that year and I hadn’t performed in a full one-man show with live accompaniment in some years. I had transitioned professionally to passing on to singers what I had learned in my 40 years as an actor-singer. I had enough experience performing to know that you simply put your time in, until you no longer have to think about the material, until you have embodied it cold. We had rehearsals for 6 months prior, in order for all three of us to be very familiar with that material.
But even that didn’t preclude some natural nerves. I decided to do an experiment, given my 15 years of experience using NeurOptimal® Dynamical Neurofeedback® brain training with my clients. I decided I would receive a Session every day for 10 days before the concert. Historically I had a tendency to stress levels increasing as I would get within a few days of performance. What I noticed this time was much more focus, staying in the present, and not wasting energy being anxious about potential negative consequences. (This latter is called ruminative catastrophizing which simply stated, is performance anxiety.) Plus, staying power: Singing for an hour and fifteen takes skill and stamina; and I am not 30 anymore. It’s an athletic event frankly.
Long story short, the concert was well received, I had fun, and the audience was engaged and responsive. I received the best compliment: “Such an interesting mix of material”. When you get this sort of feedback, you know that you have done your job. Why? Two reasons: Because being present ironically makes you invisible and when you have chosen material that is beautiful and meaningful to you, the love you carry for the music you sing gets transmitted to your audience. Not your jitters!