It’s a dark and stormy night. The winds are howling and the beating sound of the rain hits the window as if a giant was rapping his fingers on it. The lights go out except for one in the center of the room. In the center is a creaky uneven staircase leading up to a stage. Long dark tentacles hang off the backdrop surrounding the stage and above are hanging lights enclosed in a barbed wire like casing. You slowly climb up the stairs, but the nightmare has only just begun because as you take that center spot, you look out into the audience to discover you are surrounded by clowns. Laughing, with their disfiguring makeup, unruly red hair and big red noses. They’re roaring and rolling on the floor laughing so hard they can’t stop.
It’s only natural to have some fear, apprehension or sense of unease before going up in front of an audience. Everyone gets nervous at some point or another and it’s okay. It’s actually a good thing. It’s energy that if channeled appropriately, can give you that extra charisma that makes you stand out. The hard part is knowing how to control that nervous energy so that you don’t fall into a panic when the worst happens.
Last night I went to a show. There was a dancer who sauntered onstage with real strong confidence and fearlessness. You could tell she was a seasoned performer because she commanded our attention without forcing us for it. As she danced she pulled two fan veils out from behind her, whipped them around her head and captivated as we all were, no one missed it when one of her fan veils got caught in the hanging lights behind her. She could have panicked and pulled harder on the veil to try to “unstick it” and in the process pulling all the lights down with her, but she did not. With the calmness of still water she let go of the stuck fan veil and continued with her routine with the remaining fan veil in her other hand. Smoothly transitioning to an improvised routine as if she had planned it all along and gracefully finished.
When I was a baby dancer one of my teachers told me that it’s okay to fake confidence when you don’t have it. You feel silly doing it, but you have to pretend to believe you are something more than you are. Hey, even Queen B had “Sasha Fierce”! It’s easier said than done, but with practice it becomes easier and you learn to quiet that nervous energy by pretending to be that confident alter ego. The more often you do it, the more second nature it becomes. At some point the confidence begins to feel so natural that the exercise of playing pretend is no longer necessary.
I meant to do that! Every now and then a video emerges of a pop star performing onstage taking a huge tumble. Falling into the audience, tripping down stairs or stumbling on their high heels, almost always the performer picks herself right back up and continues with her routine as if nothing happened. Someone once told me, if you get caught in an unfortunate situation onstage, act as if nothing happened. Just, move on. If you don’t make a big deal of it, no one else will. It’s better to leave the audience with the memory of a strong finish.
Sometimes even with all the best intentions, planning and training things just go wrong. Spins, loosely hanging tinsel on the backdrop and a small stage really made for a nightmare evening for another dancer in the show last night. The turbulence in the air brought up by the spins raised the tinsel on the backdrop as if it were tentacles on a giant squid. When she spun, the tentacles reached out and grabbed her. She broke free. But the squid wouldn’t give up! it caught her a second time and this time it wouldn’t let go. The more she struggled to break free the more it gripped. There was nothing to do but to stop mid routine, untangle and move on.
Sometime ago I came to the realization that the audience doesn’t want to see you fail. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The audience is there because they chose to be there. They want to be entertained and they want to see you perform and succeed. Allowing a series of unfortunate events to throw you off, doesn’t give the audience what they came out to see. The applause following the dancer caught by the tinsel was huge.
Last night’s show was a big success and not just because it was a full house, but because the performers in the show last night were inspiring. They showed that even when there’s a nightmare stage, as long as you have confidence and control you can still have a great show and that the only evil clowns that exist are those in the movies…well maybe ;)