Some people are natural performers. They belong on the stage. They can unselfconsciously transform themselves into a character, completely inhabit a song and lose themselves in their performance. They come alive on stage and thrive in the presence of a live audience. One performer I know says that the safest place to be is on stage. But even the most talented and experienced performers know the terrible fear of live performance. It is often not performing that they fear the most but waiting to perform. Waiting to go on.
It is strange then that performing on stage is what I do for fun. It’s my hobby. It’s been my hobby for 15 years. I discovered in my thirties that I could sing. In fact, it turns out that I sing pretty well and am able to sing for people. It turns out that I am able to perform. It doesn’t come naturally; I have to work at it but I can do it. I have performed in concerts, in musical theatre, in plays and in shows. I have become a competent performer and I love that. I don’t have that elusive talent that dazzles and I don’t “own the stage” but that’s okay. Once in a while I even shine a little bit. I like doing it very much. I love the preparation, the rehearsing and the convivial company of likeminded people. I love to sing or play a character. I love everything about it… except waiting to go on stage.
Waiting starts long before the performance begins. It starts to build in the days leading up. There is an uncomfortable something in my mind and body that I cannot quite put my finger on. In the early days I didn’t know what it was but now after many years I recognise it creeping up on me. This slowly growing sense of foreboding. Then there are the dreams. As the performance draws closer there are dreams of being on stage with no idea why I am there. I know I am there to perform but have no idea what or how and I wake in a blind panic. I have become accustomed to these dreams. I expect them now and I know it’s just part of the waiting.
The day of the performance is the longest wait. The sense of dread builds over the course of the day. The normal tasks of the day provide a helpful distraction but I cannot really concentrate and eating is out of the question. In the evening I go to the venue. I like to get there early. The greetings of colleagues and the preparations; warm up, costume, make up, provide another useful distraction as the waiting continues.
Eventually it’s time to make my way side stage and prepare to go on. Every performer has their own way of waiting. Some bring their script or piece of music and study it intently. Others like to chat and laugh to ease the tension. Some can be seen making the sign of the cross and saying a quiet prayer. I like to wait alone, quietly avoiding other people as the terror builds. I have this habit of sort of dancing from one foot to the other and walking in small circles. The movement helps to control the trembling that fills my whole body. Standing in the wings waiting for my cue to walk on stage is the most terrifying place I have been. It is dark back there and as I wait alone in the dark looking out at the brightly lit stage those last few minutes feel like an eternity.
It is akin, I imagine, to a parachute jump, waiting to jump from the plane. Once you step out there is no going back. Once you step forward you are committed, you are vulnerable, you are free falling. Even though you are told the parachute will open, there is that raw fear that it just might not.
Once you do walk onto the stage and begin to perform, the terror begins to dissipate a little and you become busy with the task in hand.
It’s the waiting, the interminable, stomach churning waiting that I dread. I never feel lonelier, more vulnerable than when I’m waiting to go on. Each and every time I curse my stupidity for putting myself into this hell. I don’t have to do this. I don’t make my living from performing. I do it for fun but what kind of fun is this? What kind of hubris made me think that I have the ability to do this? What kind of arrogance made me believe that I have the talent to entertain an audience. They will hate me. I will be humiliated. I will be mocked for my hubris and arrogance and absence of any kind of talent. I have absolutely no business being here.
I can’t and won’t step forward. There must be a way out. I imagine a multitude of escape routes. I am ill and can’t go on. The power goes down. The fire alarm goes off… or I could just turn on my heel and run away.
How easy that would be… but I stay. Every time I stay. And I wait and I wait…
And I step forward…
And I go on…
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Thanks Ronan. Please keep 'Going On'.