This week’s post is going to be geared a little more towards artists who perform live. I think though it is a good thought to keep in mind for everyone though. The thought is: Play With Your Eyes open. First, a little backstory, and this backstory is going to sound horribly pretentious and name-droppy but it’s where I got the idea from.
In 2007, through a strange series of events, I lucked into a spot opening for “Weird Al” Yankovic on his Straight Outta Lynwood tour. I found out about the gig the DAY before the gig was to happen, so I was instantly whipped up in a state of nervous energy that could have been harnessed to power the state of Rhode Island. The main thing that had me whipped up was that this would be, without a doubt, the largest crowd I would have performed in front of to date. About 5,000 people. That’s a lot.
In my flurry of getting ready to drive to Northern California, where the gig was at, I spent some time promoting the gig on social media, which back then, was MySpace. I sent out an MySpace Message blast to all my friend who lived in the radius near the gig, I even sent one to Tom. But while looking through my list of friends I came across the page for Steven Page, then lead singer of Barenaked Ladies.
I know he didn’t live anywhere in the vicinity of the show but a thought flashed in my mind. If anyone could give me a little advice about performing in front of that many people, he could, so I sent him a MySpace message. I never really expected a response back, I mean, he’s a busy rock ’n’ roll star but later that day I got a simple reply back that said, and I’m paraphrasing here:
Congratulations. Just take a deep breath before you start and play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. And say hi to Al for me.
At the time I didn’t quite get what he meant by ‘play with your eyes open’ but I thought it was incredibly cool that he wrote back.
Flash forward to the stage at the Konokti Harbor Amphitheater in Northern California. I had just finished my first song, Living @ Home, and the audience loved it. And when I say finished I mean, raced through my first song at about double the tempo I normally play it. My hands were shaking, my pulse racing and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Then, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Steven’s words flashed through my mind. “…Take a deep breath. Play with your eyes open. Enjoy it.”
So, I took a deep breath and it seemed as if time slowed down. I was in control. I could do this without panic. Without rushing. And most importantly, my eyes were open and I was actually aware of what was going on. I could actually ENJOY the amazing experience I was in the middle of. The rest of the set was better than the first song and ending with ‘Debbie’ brought the house down.
After all this time, I still remember Steve’s words, especially if I’m in some big, high pressure performing situation. I remember to take a deep breath and just enjoy it. I’m getting to do what I love, in front of people. It doesn’t get much better than that. This is especially true when I get to perform with The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up!.
In late 2013, I performed with them in Toronto and there was one moment where I had a puppet on my hand in front of a packed house of people. The scene I was in was getting big laughs and, because I was playing with my eyes open, I just got a big, uncontrollable, smile on my face. Not because I was breaking because of the scene. It was because my ‘eyes were open’ and I was instantly aware of how much fun it is to get to do that. It’s a moment I have not forgotten.
So if you are about to step on stage and perform, no matter how big the crowd, stop right before you do. Take a deep breath and when you step out there, play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. Don’t get so focused on the set, your playing, or acting or your material that you completely forget to experience the fun you’re having.
Even though is more applies to artists who perform, I think it could be applicable to other areas of artistic disciplines as well. If you are painter, right before your gallery showing opens (no matter how big or small) take a deep breath. Enjoy it. If you’re a writer and it is the night before your book goes on sale, take a deep breath. Enjoy it.
Most of us create art because we love to do so. No point in doing it if you can’t take a deep breath and play with your eyes open.
How do you deal with high pressure artistic situations? Do you have any techniques that get your through? Let me know in the comments below.
Recently I received a scheduling for a puppet audition through The Jim Henson Company. When I was first called about it, I was initially pretty confident I could go in there and nail it. Then, I received the script and all the information about the audition and I was even MORE confident I could go in their an nail it. The character was something I could hit out of the part really easily, the script was funny (something I usually find is quite rare in these situations) and it would just be a tremendously fun project to work on.
Then, just a few days before the audition, I found out something that rattled my confidence completely. Just completely dashed that sense of ‘I got this” completely. The good old Negative Brain took full control. In one instant, I went from confident to a complete mess. “I got this” became, “Not in a million years.” In fact, my negative brain, as if does, started telling me, “Just don’t even do it. That way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get it.”
Now, my negative brain is not strong enough for me to make majorly stupid mistakes. I completely understand the consequences of not showing up to an audition that The Jim Henson Company has scheduled you for. So, there was no way I was going to NOT go to the audition.
I began thinking about being nervous about something big in your creative career and how it can completely play with your mind. In situations like that you have two choices. Don’t do it, as your negative brain would have you and play it safe. Or, as the old Nike ad says, “just do it.” And really, there is no choice. Just do it.
Nerves are nothing. They are just a holdover from that primitive brain we’ve talked about before on here. They are there to keep you safe. But when you think about things logically you’ll see that nerves can sometimes misguide you.
Being nervous while swimming in shark infested waters is probably a good idea. You could die.
Being nervous when going into an audition, or unveiling your recent painting, or stepping out on stage to play a new song, recite a new poem, read a new story, etc., those things re not likely to kill you. You’ll be just fine. Sure, you may blow the audition, receive criticism, get booed, but is it going to kill you? Probably not. And in the unlikely event that those things happen (how many people really get booed anymore?) they will all be incredible learning experiences of what to do or not do the next time you are in one of those situations.
So, when it came to this audition of mine, there really was only one choice, do it. I studied the script harder than anything I had recently. I worked on my puppetry even more to be spot on when I went in. Part of the audition would be riffing/improv so I thought of things I may say in different situations that may pop up. I made myself completely ready for this audition.
Was I still nervous? Yes.
Was I going to let that nervousness stop me? No way.
Will I get the part? Who knows? But I’m more likely to get it now that I didn’t chicken out and not go to the audition.
If you are nervous about something, just do it.
How do you deal with being nervous about big events in your creative life? Has the nervousness ever won out? Or did you battle is successfully?