Performing in any field means exposing yourself to others’ judgment. Yet TV shows such as The Voice and the X Factor – with their bank of cameras, savage judges and audience of millions reveal the particularly harsh reality of the music world.
I’m told by vocalists, there is not much more exposing than standing on a stage in front of an audience of 1000’s with just a microphone and a backing track, several judges, and cameras to film the entire process. As far as auditions go, you can’t get much more exposing than this and for many contestants this will be the first time they have ever auditioned in a setting that even comes close to the degree of exposure!
But before there were reality TV shows to throw people into instant stardom or rejection, building up a history of live performances was where people “earned their chops”, an old phrase from the jazz world that refers to a musician’s technical skill that develops through much practice and repeated performance.
Any performer doesn’t achieve success without the opportunities to hone their craft and I would argue the development of the right attitude and psychological edge.
The majority of artists we deem to be successful have taken a road that doesn’t involve televised auditions, but instead many years of practice and performance that give opportunities for learning, success and failure.
Persistence is the order of the day… there is no room for giving up after the last knock back. The passion and the commitment to the experience of performance and the opportunity to connect with an audience drives performers beyond what non performers are able to understand, in the face of incredible discomfort sometimes.
Right now as we speak 4000 performers are participating in the Adelaide Fringe Festival and are facing the excitement and challenge of performing and showcasing their talents.
Some are facing their first show ever at a festival and the possibility of a dream come true, while others are seasoned performers travelling the world or local and interstate artists, some used to travelling on the festival circuit. All of these performers, no matter what level of experience have similar challenges.
When speaking to a musician who has been performing in the Adelaide Fringe for a number of years running, she made the point that not only are the artists expected to perform at a high standard, but they also have a number of other issues to face that may add a unique stress in this festival environment. Some of these include:
- How to stand out in such a diverse massive program and attract enough people
- How to market the show successfully and find the resources needed to do so
- Dealing with fatigue and the pressure of an intensive rehearsal period
- How to keep consistent high energy and performance quality when the show has a long season
- How to come back from a bad show or a bad review and face the next audience
- Dealing with external factors such as hot weather, rain that affects both performers, logistics and audience attendance
- How to cope with reviewers and social media discussion
- Missing family and partners if away from home
- Disruption to usual daily routines
- How to channel the adrenalin after a great show and the need to pace oneself to get ready for the next
- How to cope when the festival ends and the performance adrenalin stops
- How to cope with post Festival blues
Is it any wonder that some days it all feels too much and that they question why they decided to participate? These issues are all in addition to the standard performance pressures that every gig demands.
As psychologists we know that the anxiety that we observe people going through before, during and after a performance is relative to the level of pressure that people are put under in this environment and the additional prospect of public humiliation or instant stardom (which can be just as confronting for some) takes performance anxiety to huge heights for some.
Adelaide Fringe artists have the opportunity for great enjoyment and excitement, while also facing intense discomfort.
The good news is that all of these feelings are very normal and with the right help from a psychologist trained in understanding and working with performance anxiety you can learn to befriend and channel your anxiety, anxiety that you need to achieve your best and perform to your potential. Beyond that performers are able to learn to have more enriching enjoyable performances that are memorable.
Being willing to cope with discomfort, success or failure is critical for every performer. Performance is a complex task requiring multiple technical and mental skills to achieve peak performance.
As a psychologist specialising in working with performers, here are some of the top tips that I discuss with performers every day in my practice.
- Prepare – You need to have mastered the material in order to be completely confident and comfortable in any important performance, exam or audition. If you are well prepared and therefore perceive what you are performing as simpler, your anxiety and stress will be lower. When you are under prepared or perceive the music as highly complex you are likely to experience higher levels of stress.
- Set a routine – Establish a pre-performance routine that includes good nutrition, rest, appropriate physical activity and then warm up mentally, emotionally and technically.
- Maintain perspective – Each performance is not life and death. One poor performance does not spell the end of a career in your field. It does not make you a bad performer. There may be more shows and there will always be other opportunities and other festivals.Focusing on what will happen if you get it wrong will interfere with your ability to be in the moment. As performers, it is easy to focus your attention on things such as “What will happen if I stuff up? “What if the reviewer hates us? or “Will I make a fool of myself?” – let these thoughts go and come back to the task at hand.
- Manage self-talk – Be aware of what your mind tells you before, during and following a performance. Performance coaching allows you to learn how to detach from thoughts that undermine confidence, interfere with your focus and affect your ability to get into the music.
- Get physical – An increase in heart rate, escalated breathing or a rush of adrenalin are signals that your body is preparing to perform. These sensations are not an enemy to battle against. Accept and manage these physical changes, using deep diaphragm breathing and mindfulness techniques in order to maintain optimal focus and enjoyment.
- Connect – Remind yourself to focus on expression, the emotion, style and character of the performance and connect with your audience through this. If your thoughts start to focus on your physical symptoms or on whether the audience or reviewer likes it, your performance will suffer.
- Be ready to recover – Prepare emergency recovery strategies so you know what to do if the performance starts poorly or mistakes are made. It is not helpful to dwell on slipups. Aim to do as top performers do and let that moment go, regain focus and move on.
- Scout around – When performing in a novel environment, get there early enough to familiarise yourself with the environment and reduce the sense of threat. Notice possible sources of distractions and be prepared for them.
- Enjoy – Playing music, singing or performing in any field should always be enjoyable. Do your best to get into the performance so that you can lose yourself in the moment and enjoy what you are doing, regardless of what the outcome is.
- Be prepared to take risks.Always take up opportunities to perform. Create opportunities that both simulate the performance experience to better prepare yourself for it. Do not avoid challenging performance situations or auditions, as avoidance will lead to an increase in the fear attached to these situations.
In summary, managing performance anxiety and enhancing a performer’s potential is all about understanding and accepting anxiety as part of the life of being a performer and knowing how to channel it effectively rather than being frightened of the feelings. Top performers learn to let go of the struggle and the judgement of the feelings as bad and learn to befriend their anxiety.
Peak performance is more than just the outcome of excellent technique and talent and requires an understanding of the mental component to performance success. A psychologist trained in understanding performance is able to help you achieve your potential by overcoming any barriers in your way and support a path to enjoyable, optimal performance.
As Artist Support for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, I look forward to assisting many performers with whatever barriers are getting in the way of their ability to achieve peak performance and to enjoy the Festival.
Contact us today at [email protected] or on the Fringe Direct Line: 08 8166 7160 if you or any performers you know could do with support. You may also contact us at reception on 08 83617008.
Have a fantastic Adelaide Fringe 2015 and remember to let anxiety be your friend, not your enemy. Enjoy!!
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