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My Experience with Stage Fright

For the past few weeks I’ve been writing articles about ND Show Some Skin, which was a huge success and attracted a sell-out crowd each night (thanks ND community for all the support!). However, there’s one more story left to tell, but this isn’t about the producers or other actors or the show itself. This is a bit more personal.

For those of you that attended the show on Friday, February 27th, you might remember the incident in question. If you attended on Thursday or Saturday night, you may find it hard to believe this happened at all. And for those that didn’t see the show at all, allow me to paint the picture.

For my first monologue on Friday night, I honestly didn’t feel all too nervous as I stepped onto the stage, my socks brushing against the cold floor of Carey Auditorium. I had one performance under my belt, one performance where the audience laughed at every joke and nodded along with each heartwrenching confession. My hands might’ve shook, and I might’ve flubbed exactly one line during “South Bend Mom,” but hey, no one seemed to notice. So for all intents and purposes, I was already a seasoned performer, ready to take the next night’s crowd by storm.

I made it through the first few sentences, and then panic struck. I stammered over a line, and the road in my mind went blank. You see, directors often advise nervous actors to breathe and look for lines later in the monologue to recoup and save face. And had I been thinking straight, this would’ve been my go-to method, the one I’d used on Thursday night to make it through the performance. However, this time, the stress built up in me and I couldn’t see the words ahead, not a single one.

“Because this is my dichotomy, the lines I cross without my knowledge…tethered…tethered…”

And I bolted. Picked my feet off the stage, half-sliding down the steps, staggering across carpet and struggling to open the auditorium doors. There, safely offstage in a matter of seconds, I crumpled to the floor and sobbed, both for myself and the show. It was wrecked, ruined, destroyed beyond belief – on the day the monologues were being recorded for the world of YouTube to see!

Things improved from there. First to my aid were Deandra Cadet and the production team, who soothed my hysterics and assured me that the show was going on as scheduled, that the next performer was already on stage. In a few minutes, director Lucas Garcia was by my side along with the only person more tense than myself, my boyfriend. My boyfriend had bought tickets to all three shows on the off-chance that I’d need moral support. This was that off-chance.

Lucas gave me a hug and some encouraging words and let my boyfriend take over. I mopped my face with Kleenex, rehearsed my second monologue over and over until the words dribbled out of my mouth like foam. 

“You sure you want to go back out there? It’s not giving up if you’re not ready.”

“I’m going out there, Ryan. I have to. For everybody.”

Those of you that have read some of my articles in the past may know that I struggle with perfectionism and self-esteem, as do many Collegiettes. In fact, the issue of stage fright is a common one for people of all ages. Sure, the common depiction is little kids at violin recitals or spelling bees, but many adults deal with public speaking anxiety on a day-to-day basis. The added pressure of a stage and strangers just amplifies things. I could offer the common advice – joining Toastmasters, practicing in front of a mirror, picturing audience members in various stages of undress. But the fact is, I don’t have that sort of advice to offer. All I can say is keep trying.

I wanted to quit after my meltdown on stage, not only for the rest of Friday’s show but all of Show Some Skin, maybe acting in general. But when the rest of the cast enveloped me in hugs and tears during intermission, I found the strength. When my boyfriend made me repeat the opening lines to “South Bend Mom” over and over until my tongue went numb, I found the strength. Knowing no one expected me to return, I found the strength.

So I returned to the stage for my second monologue, moving smoothly through the words and basking in thunderous applause for just a few moments. It was twofold applause, for the quality of my performance and my gumption to return. That moment, at the end of my monologue as I sped backstage, was the most triumphant moment of my life.

Later that evening I met the eponymous South Bend Mom, who took my hands and thanked me for sharing her story with the Notre Dame community. I cried tears of joy. Had I not returned, had I let myself be caught up in my own shortcomings and neglected the show as a whole, the South Bend Mom would have been robbed of the opportunity to experience her story. Even more so than my time on stage, I knew that I had made the right decision.

The message of this article? Keep trying. No matter how bad things get for you Collegiettes, keep trying. Stage fright, test anxiety, whatever it may be. Only good things come from perseverance. 

Also, the underwear thing? It doesn’t work.

 

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