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Saturday, February 04, 2006

stage fright

1. I have no idea why I suddenly decided to be in the sixth-grade talent show. I played the flute in band and was first chair, but I decided to sing. True, I was in chorus and had been for years. But anyone could be in chorus. All you had to do was have good grades and be able to keep up with your schoolwork. Could I sing? I don't think I ever gave it a thought. I'd been singing for years and I liked it well enough, so I figured, why not sing a solo?

And then the song I chose! I did get some help from Mrs. O'Kelley, who taught chorus and was in charge of the talent show. She pulled out a file of "popular" songs and started leafing through them. Most of the songs we sang with Mrs. O'Kelley - both in chorus and in the regular school music program - were medleys of TV songs and commercial jingles. Most of them were outdated, so it's odd that to this day I can recall the words to commercials from my parents' generation, commercials I've never seen. So when the theme song from M*A*S*H flashed in front of me I stopped her. "That one. M*A*S*H," I said. I had never known there were words to the song, and I imagined how impressed my peers would be at my knowing them.

"Suicide is Painless" is not really an appropriate song for a 6th-grader to sing, especially if she doesn't even sing all that well. I learned the words to the song pretty easily, and I was familiar with the tune from TV so I didn't see the need to practice. There was a rehearsal but the equipment wasn't set up. It was more of a run-through for timing. Somehow I still avoided hearing my voice.

When it was time for the show I confidently walked onstage. Even though I'd heard, after my name was announced, a titter of dismissal amongst the popular crowd I still held on to the idea that I'd wow them all by knowing the lyrics. (And I need to mention that while memorizing the words, I'd failed to grasp their meaning.) For the first time in my life I started to sing into a microphone and booming from the speakers was a thin, warbling, crackling voice. Was that really me? And that thin, warrbling, crackling voice was singing, "...suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please." What? That kind of song is this? Then it launched into, "..without that ever-present hate, but now I know that it's too late..." This was awful! This sad, dark song and my terrible, sickly voice - kids were laughing and I could see their faces, their expressions of derision and contempt and there was nowhere to go. I had to just stand my ground and finish the song.

2. I was in Toastmasters in Idaho, when I was in my early twenties and new to the area. It had been a wonderful way to meet people and to stretch my writing skills. As soon as I learned that writing a speech was... writing, I was in love with the whole arrangement. I even learned to get over my fears of public speaking and I got to be fairly good.

When the annual contest came around I worked really hard on my speech. I wrote a cute little essay for the "humorous speech' category called, "How to Name a Cat." I worked in French writers, 80s TV shows and even my brother's regrettable method of having named his cat. I won at one level, and then another, The next level was a dinner to which I invited our best friends and my brother. I had been basically reading my speech, although I knew it well enough that I was not glued to it. I was getting good at eye contact and gesturing and could see that I wanted to take it to the next level. No papers in front of me. No podium! I would memorize the speech (which I pretty much already had) and move around a bit, really wow them with personality.

And I did great at first. I had them right where I wanted them. I paced, I gestured, I smiled and charmed. And then I came to the end of one sentence and my mind went completely blank. I just stood up there, staring at the audience. I saw the faces of my friends, turned expectantly and joyously towards me, poised for the next laugh. I saw my husband, my brother, all... waiting. As soon as I'd realized that I'd lost my train, I could feel an expression cross my own face, one of panic and horror. I couldn't stop it. It just pulled my features of its own accord, took over my face. As soon as the audience sees that expression, that fear - their faces change, too. From expectant, confident enjoyment their expressions change to ones of anxious pity. Regret. Expressions that say, Damn! She was doing so well, too...

It all passed in about five seconds and then the next line came to me. I pulled myself together and finished the speech as well as I'd started. And ended up taking second place, which I was happy about but the first-place speech hadn't been nearly as well-written as mine. But the audience really wants to trust the speaker to be in complete control and I had lost their confidence for five seconds.

Comments on "stage fright"


Blogger Diana said ... (1:45 PM) : 

Oh, please let this one stick...


Blogger ell said ... (9:49 AM) : 

Seems to have stuck. :D

On the one hand, I can't believe you picked "Suicide is Painless", but on the other, it has such a pretty melody that you'd never guess it was about suicide. I imagine it was very popular in non-English speaking countries. LOL


Blogger Rozanne said ... (7:19 PM) : 

You know a thin, warbly sickly voice is probably exactly the kind of voice that should be singing a song with those lyrics.

Get this: When I was in 7th grade our chorus teacher actually picked that song out for us to sing!!!! An adult did that. What was she thinking?

Like you, I was surprised to find out that there were lyrics to that song and on some level I processed them and thought, "Why is a group of 7th-graders singing a song like this?"

Bizarro. I did go to a very, very weird and semi-experimental junior high, so maybe that explains it.

Hey, I'll bet you really related to that story in Parched, where Heather memorizes her speech and then chokes and ends up with a book by Rudyard Kipling instead of a big-ass trophy.

Great detail about how you felt your face change and then saw the faces of the audience change. I could totally picture that.


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