There is virtually no case of stage fright that can’t be lessened with proper preparation and relaxation. Many articles I’ve read, and professional performers and public speakers I’ve talked to, suggest that having material well memorized and rehearsed will significantly lower stress levels. Also high on the must-do list is a proper vocal, physical, or musical warm-up. I agree that knowing your song or speech well, and knowing your own body well can be the difference between a fantastic or failed performance. But what if these tricks are not enough? There are times when the stress of the job can dominate even the most prepared person.
Last weekend I performed in my first barbershop harmony competition. Although I’ve been singing professionally for about seven years, this competition was a little different. I’m used to solo National Anthem gigs, or singing in front of a rock or jazz band; those situations don’t even faze me. But for some strange reason, singing in an a cappella quartet is a whole different ballgame. Although we’d rehearsed our two contest songs to the point where we could sing them in our sleep, the pressure of leading such a tight group got to me on our first performance. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as smooth, strong, and confident as it could have been.
So what’s to be done if the old preparation and relaxation tricks don’t cut it?
Many drug companies are researching whether some of the classic “chill pills” like Prazac will work for people who suffer from severe and chronic performance anxiety. (I mean the kind onstage guys!) The most common medical answer to our periodic freak-out moments, though, is a little miracle called propranolol. I’m not normally a fan of taking medication for ANYTHING! Not allergies, not a headache, and certainly not for a little stage fright! BUT, when it came down to the nitty-gritty, on the afternoon of my quartet’s first competition together, I have to admit it… I was glad I took the pill. After only six weeks of rehearsal, we won the fourth place medals at the Sweet Adeline International (SAI) region 13 competition!
Me and the girls with our 4th place medals on
So how does it work?
It’s called a beta-blocker. When you take the medication an hour or so before that fear is going to kick in, it fills in your body’s stress hormone receptors with fake stress hormones. That way, when you get flooded with real stressors, they have nowhere to go. Pretty slick, huh?
I’m not saying that these drugs are the perfect answer, in fact, far from it! Unfortunately, they can be a little addictive. Although there are usually no side effects mentioned for beta-blockers, it’s easy to get psychologically hooked on pills that will give you a better performance!
I recently went to an audition that should have been EASY for me to nail. I’ve been performing at this theatre for over a year and I’m friends with the directors, the accompanist, and the stage. Unfortunately, I spilled coffee on the skirt I was going to wear and had to go up there in my blue jeans. It may sound silly, but that little stressor sent me spinning. After the easy, relaxed competition performance I’d had just a few days before, I felt overwhelmed by the audition situation. OH, HOW I WISHED I’D HAD A PILL TO TAKE!
Looking back on the three minutes I was up there, it went… not great. These people are my friends, so I hope they won’t hold one bad performance against me. But the advice I’d like to pass on to you readers is this:
Be aware of the side effects that aren’t on the label. Know yourself and how you react to taking them, and to NOT taking them. Learn from my goof-ups! 🙂 And have FUN out there!!