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On Performance Anxiety, or Back In The Saddle Again

Posted in Waxing Philosophical by unboundpage on April 25, 2012

Well, look at that. I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet after all.

I haven’t posted anything in a while in part because I have been very busy with projects and improv, but also because I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence. While this has made wonderful fodder for a long string of comic scripts that may, one day, actually get drawn, it has done very little for my sanity.

In May, I will have been in Austin for one year. The past year has been overloaded with new experiences, new people, new places. I’ve been trying out new projects with varying levels of success. I’ve been auditioning for both improv and scripted shows to disastrous effect.

Long story short: I have been doing a lot of new things, and with a less than 50% success rate overall, I’m feeling a tad emotionally bruised.

Short story long:

Somewhere during college I was beset with a really awful case of performance anxiety. I’m talking sweaty-palms, dry-mouth, stomach-in-knots, every-muscle-goes-limp-and-my-brain-just-shuts-down stage fright. My voice goes all wibbly, my vision blurs, and I’m pretty sure I turn a bright shade of pink.

I know I haven’t always been this way, because I have distinct memories of getting really amped up and blowing performances out of the water in middle school. In eighth grade, I walked into a region band audition with so much confidence I made other people in the room nervous, and I took first chair without breaking a sweat.

Frankly, I think I was just young and dumb enough to not recognize how freaked out I was, so I could fake my way past it.

In the latter half of high school and into college I gradually lost that confidence, and became practiced at being anxious in front of an audience. Now anything that even remotely looks like a performance – improv shows, auditions, work presentations, conversations with more than two people – triggers an automatic nervous response.

(Seriously, folks. I’m getting Pavlovian jitters just visualizing a stage as I write this.)

This isn’t just a fear-of-strangers thing. A few weeks ago I was told by a very nice doctor who I’d only met minutes before that the weird spot on my nose that I’d been ignoring for two years was actually a mild form of skin cancer.

I faced that conversation with infinitely more grace and dignity than a musical audition the same week.

It should have been a slam dunk. I walk into a room with four people I already know, read some scenes from a show I love so much I’ve effectively memorized it, and sing a song I’ve known since I was ten.

I can say with some confidence that that was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve done in the last year.

A couple of weeks later, I thought I had a chance to redeem myself. One of my favorite improv friends invited me to perform a very silly set with him, three people I’ve been dying to play with, and a former classmate that I terribly missed playing with. I spent the vast majority of our 25 minutes becoming intimately acquainted with a corner in the wings where I could completely hide from the audience and most of the stage.

I even jumped back into a couple of short improv classes that, if anything, have left me feeling even more inadequate as a performer. This is not by any fault of the teachers, of course (though taking the elective where the teacher is intentionally mean to the students was probably not my best idea ever) – this is just me at my most paranoid and self-conscious.

This crisis of confidence is even bleeding over into my crafting. I haven’t been posting lately because the new things I’ve tried have not all come out perfectly on the first try, and I’m feeling that performance pressure as I write up the posts.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

So for my own sanity, I’m trying a different approach to my creative efforts for the near future:

I’m only doing things that I’m good at.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, because one thing I am exceptionally bad at is sticking to plans once I’ve shared them with others. I’ve already tried a few new things since I first decided I wouldn’t be doing new things (yes, I’ll be posting about them – promise!), so clearly I’m full of crap. But my ego needs some TLC, and my craft cabinet is taking over my home, so for the near future, my goals are very simple:

I’m only doing things I’m good at, and I’m finishing projects.

Sometime later, when I’m feeling cocky again, I will charge back into the unknown. But right now, I have loads of things I want to get done that I know I can do.

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