Fight the fear, take the stage

Feb 19, 2013, 11:18 IST | Ruchika Kher

Last week, tabloids were abuzz with news of multiple Grammy Award winner Adele admitting to shelling out a monthly rent of �47,000 to rehearse in isolation at Sir Paul McCartney's old LA mansion, to overcome stage fright. The 24-year-old, who is scheduled to perform live at the Academy Awards, has been visiting hypnotherapists to help curb this fear. Ruchika Kher spoke with psychologists and celebrities to understand this phenomenon, and if it's possible to keep it under chec

When you watch your favourite performers on stage, enthralling you with their pulsating acts, you would never think about the effort and the anxiety that goes behind it. But in today’s world of cut-throat competition, stage fright has become a common phenomenon, not just with upcoming celebrities but also with the most established and seasoned stars.

British singer-songwriter Adele performs on stage at the BRIT Awards 2012 in London on February 21, 2012. Pics/AFP

“Stage fright can happen to anyone. In fact, bigger the star, more the expectations. So, it’s not that only people who are relatively new face the fear of stage. Bigger celebrities go through it too,” says psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria. “I knew an actress, who had a huge fear of performing on stage because she knew that there are no retakes there. So, each time before a stage show, she would experience a lot of anxiety. At that time, everyone was told to stay away from her because she would get very stressed.

Barbara Streisand Lady Gaga

Only her very close friend and her hair stylist were allowed to be with her. She would even pop pills to relax before the performance,” reveals Chhabria. The doctor explains the condition of stage fright as optimum anxiety, which is required for a good performance. “When people are nervous or anxious before a show, it helps them perform better because they want to fulfill all expectations and hence give their best,” she adds.

Salman Khan Sonu Nigam
The famous face it too
Singer Barbara Streisand, artistes Lady Gaga and Sonu Nigam, and Salman Khan have admitted to stage fright

Citing more reasons, Chhabria informs that anxiety, which results from stage fright can be genetic and can also be a learned behaviour. If one has an anxious mother, there are huge chances that one will be an anxious person too. But it usually happens when one has fallen at some point in life and the memory of that time keeps bothering the person.

Not just one
Singer Sonu Nigam, who has been singing in films and performing on stage for almost two decades now, classifies stage fright into three types. According to him, the first category is when one feels that one won’t be able to give his/her best because of any physical ailment that one is suffering from.

“I’m a singer and my my throat is my machine. If my voice is damaged, there is not much that I can do. This has happened once, when just before a show, I felt that my throat wasn’t sounding fine because of fever, or cold and cough. Those have been times when I have felt nervous, because I know I won’t be able to give my 100 percent,” says Nigam.

The second, he says, is when one is performing in front of seniors or colleagues who one respects. “You don’t want to falter in front of such great people, hence you feel nervous and experience stage fright in such situations,” he explains, mentioning that the third type is the chronic fright, which needs psychological help. “Sometimes, I experience the first and the second type of stage fright but I don’t suffer from the third,” he

Take a chill pill
The occurrence of stage fright has become so common in today’s times that most people, who regularly use the stage, term it as something that is normal and easy to deal with. Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor, who posses excellent oratory skills and often takes to the stage to address huge crowds, believes in this stance.

“Stage fright is normal because you always doubt whether you are prepared well-enough. It disappears once you start speaking and feel connected with the audience. And, if you speak often enough, you will know when you are prepared enough, and so, be less afflicted by stage fright before you take the podium.”

Stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant seconds Tharoor’s stance. According to him, the advantage that stand-up comics have is that if they feel nervous, they can start chatting up with people, while a singer or dancer cannot do that.

He reveals, “Whenever I feel nervous before a show, I feel like sleeping - that’s my response to deal with a crisis. I have been pretty frightful at times, but one needs to get used to deal with it and it is not that difficult.”

Alien concept
However, there are few, who are totally removed from the feeling of stage fright - people born to be on stage. Singer and performer Sona Mohapatra belongs to this breed. “Give me a stage and I’ll make it mine! It’s a blessing considering that now I am a singer and performer and do this for a living.

But, even through school and college, be it for music, drama, elocution or debates, I’ve been free of this alien concept called stage fright. I never feel more alive, invigorated and turned on, than when I have an audience in front of me. The bigger, the better,” explains Mohapatra.

Even Sir Viv Richards wasn’t spared
The great Sir Viv Richards, had a problem getting big scores on his first tour of Australia in 1975-76. In the second half of the series, skipper Clive Lloyd decided to send him as opener and he prospered. It was discovered that Richards was getting too anxious while waiting to go out to bat in the middle order and that phase didn't do his mind any good. Of course, he returned to his middle order duties after that challenging Australia tour.

Before you make that speech...
> Remember that top performers face stage fright too, so if they can disguise it and give their best, so can you.
> Prepare well in advance, so that you are confident.
> Minutes before the performance, don’t talk to anyone, relax in a room, have water and don’t think about the performance. Divert your mind.
> Go out there and give your best without thinking about anything else. As it is, people won’t know if you have missed anything.

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