When Performance Anxiety Steals the Show
Monday, October 23 2017 Cheryl Slavin
Performance anxiety may prevent me from living my dream of singing professionally. Since junior high school, choir teachers and audience members commented on my anxious stage presence. I loved to sing with other people in unison or harmony, but when it came to solos, I was a nervous wreck. I was the recipient of the “Every Which Way but Loose” award in high school choir because onstage, I simply couldn’t relax and enjoy performing. Performance anxiety was front and center at every concert, and it often stole my spotlight.
Performance Anxiety Affected Every Performance
Because I was a vocal performance major in college, some students and professors accused me of being a diva. They had no idea how severe my performance anxiety was when it came to actually singing in front of anybody. I used all the traditional tricks for conquering performance anxiety. I would picture everyone in their underwear or stare at a point in the back of a room and try to ignore the crowd. Nothing helped, and my performance anxiety reigned supreme. I would nearly vomit before opera performances, and during concerts, I would appear nervous or shake profusely.
Critiques and Cutting Comments Complicated Performance Anxiety
As if having performance anxiety wasn’t enough, a few professors in college dashed my dreams of singing professionally with cutting comments. Once I sang a solo in Handel's “Messiah” exactly the way my voice instructor told me to, even though it gave me extreme performance anxiety. My choir professor once remarked in rehearsal with much disdain, "We aren't here to watch you listen to your pretty voice." So, on top of already having the pressure of performance anxiety, I also felt humiliated.
Another extremely controlling professor greatly increased my anxieties about performing. She kicked me out of a choir when I had the audacity to keep my solo piece in the original key, instead of changing it to the key she wanted me to sing it in. She told me the real reason was that I needed to work on my voice. This woman caused psychological trauma for many of her students, and she was particularly good at discouraging some from continuing in the program. Having her around certainly did not help my performance anxiety.
Performance Anxiety and the Dashed Dreams of a Defunct Diva
These professors didn't understand that performing was both a passion and a burden for me because I suffered from severe performance anxiety. Because they taught me that performance art was unforgiving, I abstained from performing for many years after I graduated. Now, I rarely perform because I do not even like being out with the general public. My anxiety has taken over many aspects of my life and performing is one of them.
I still have performance anxiety nightmares that I am forced to perform without knowing the song I am about to sing. I wish I had been born with a different temperament, but it seems performance anxiety is not something I was meant to conquer. And the dream of singing professionally, even though I have therapy and medication now, will forever remain a dream.