Sunday, January 23, 2011
THE COURAGE TO STAND...ON STAGE!!!
When someone stands in front of a microphone, who are they?
When someone stands in front of a microphone, what does it mean?
When someone stands in front of a microphone, how did they get there?
When someone stands in front of a microphone, why?
I was watching Oprah's All Stars on the OWN network tonight. There was a young talented woman, who sought Dr. Phil's advice about how she could get over her incredible stage fright. As she spoke with Dr. Phil about her concerns, she began to cry. She talked about how frightened she was. She described the physical changes that she not only went through, but the changes that actually took over her to the point where she simply couldn't perform. And then she got to the real truth: she was self-sabotaging herself because she was afraid of the "what-if's". What if I fall? What if I forget the words? What if I sound bad? What if my voice cracks? And the ultimate and most debilitating one: What if they don't like me? What if I'm not good enough?
Even if you're not a singer, you've experienced that "what if" feeling. It may be when starting a new job, or when presenting a crazy, new idea to someone at work or in your own family, when you have to give bad news to a loved one. You know, deep down, the fear is essentially about rejection. We all want to feel accepted. We all want to know we belong, that we feel validated...and as simple as it sounds...that we...are...liked. That is how the majority of people experience these thoughts and fears in an average every-day setting. So take that one step further, and imagine feeling all that and then having to stand in front of strangers, sometimes thousands of strangers...what do you feel now?
The microphone, in my eyes, is actually an audio version of a microscope. It picks up EVERYTHING! I've heard people say many times, "If I can just have a microphone, I will sound better." That is such a false perception. The mircophone will simply magnify what is already there. So if you are nervous, that EXACT nervousness seeps into that microphone through the wires, and out to the speakers for all to hear. If you are off key, it not only sounds off-key, it sounds loudly off-key. Ah, and then there is the spotlight.
So if the microphone is a microscope, what is the spotlight? That's right. The spotlight is the magnifying glass. It ENLARGES everything that is there. So if you are nervous, if you are shaking, if you are sad, if you are happy...that spotlight makes it that much larger! Oh yes, and the spotlight makes the truth more visible. If you are sad, if you are insecure, if you have ANY doubt about who you are, about what you can do, the spotlight will swallow you alive like a nuclear cloud!!!
And the stage? The stage is a blank canvas. When that person walks out onto the stage, it is a blank canvas for that person to write on...what will they create? What feelings will they evoke? What impression do they leave when they walk off? And when your performance is over, that's it. It is permanent...and just like yesterday, you cannot do it over again.
Think of all these things. And for a moment, make believe you are standing off stage, there are 10,000 people out there waiting to be entertained, and you're listening to the emcee say, "Up next...put your hands together for..." There is applause, but it's polite applause because no one's ever heard of you before. So you take that first step toward the microphone. As you walk, are you shaking? Is it in your legs, or your hands? Is your heart in your throat? Are you having doubts? What's going on in your head?
When I first walked on stage to perform No Reason to Cry, I felt all those things. But mostly, all I kept thinking was 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God! How am I going to do this? My heart. I didn't know my heart could be so loud. Have you ever heard your heart beat louder than the external sounds? You will NEVER feel more alive, nor will you ever be more afraid. Think about a time when someone scared you, caught you off-guard and threw you off so unexpectedly that your soul literally jumped out of your skin. That is how I felt. I walked out onto the stage. I had waited for this moment for 17 years, and I had a chance to finally do what I dreamed of doing. I walked out onto the stage, and there they were: these strangers called an audience. They weren't people - at least it didn't seem that way - they were just eyes...eyes everywhere. Eyes looking up and down, hopeful eyes, curious eyes, judging eyes, scary eyes. And I began to talk into the microphone: "(Ahem) Hhhhhhiii." Holy crap....what am I supposed to say? The music started. I began to move side to side to the beat, and I opened my mouth. HUH? What the hell was that? Oh, NO! That's not me?! That cannot possibly be me. I wasn't even 30 seconds into the song, and I SUCKED! I sounded too nervous, too out of breath, and I'm almost certain I looked like a deer in headlights! That night is kind of a blur to me. I do remember sitting in my first limousine (it was more like a hearse, but it was black and it had tinted windows and a driver..so it was a limo, dammit!) and I remember crying the entire ride home, while everyone reassured me that it wasn't "that bad."
I continued to perform that way for another 6 months. And finally, I think I Cher-smacked myself, like Cher did in Moonstruck, and I "snapped out of it!" I finally told myself that if I truly wanted this, if I truly wanted to be a recording artist, I had to STOP being so scared. I began to tell myself that the level of nervousness simply reflected how much I really cared. So, I cared a LOT!! I began to tell myself that I was allowed to be as nervous as I needed to be, that I could freak out, cry, doubt myself as much as I wanted to OFF stage. I also learned that a pre-show routine was necessary. My personal choice is a little quiet before the show (I've had a lot of people misunderstand my silence. And they've asked, "What's wrong with Judy?"). I also MUST say a prayer everytime. So if you happen to see me with my head down before a show, I'm not shunning anyone, and I'm not being anti-social. This is what I do...Oh, yes, and I have to have my room-temperature water, lol. The water to me is like the blanket is to Linus of the Peanuts cartoon.
Twenty-four years later, I still get that rush. I still feel my heart in my throat. I still shake inside, and sometimes I will catch that inner monster of a voice saying, "Oh, my God...my voice is not 100% today" or, "What if I crack? What if they HATE the new song?" But I tell it to shut up. Yep, just like that. Shut up!! And I've made a deal with myself many years ago: I told myself that once I greet the crowd...I am not allowed to be scared anymore. And it has worked 99% of the time. Because I have been on stage for more than 24 years now, the microphone feels like a tool for me to send a message of joy,love and good memories; the spotlight feels like a sun warming my skin, and the stage feels like a living room where I entertain my friends!! I have been blessed with good recordings that have succeeded, I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities to hone my talents, and I have been blessed with people in the audience patient enough to watch me evolve and support me during the process. It hasn't always been great - I've fallen onstage, I've had blouses fall off, pants rip, zippers forgotten to be zipped up, I've forgotten the lyics...and all the bad "what-ifs". But you know what? I survived. I didn't shrivel up and die. I've had moments of sheer embarrassment, but I am still here. And I am loving what I do! Why did I write this blog today? I have a favor to ask:
Next time you see someone walk onstage, and you have no idea who they are, or whether or not they possess talent, and you don't know if you will be entertained...
Please remember how scary it is just to walk up onto the stage, how terrifying it can be to open your mouth, and remember that you are part of those gazing eyes that lay upon that person. Just be compassionate. You don't have to lie, but please give that person the benefit of a smile....and if you respect the courage it took for them to stand there...applaud!!!