The following essay was authored by Keith Fields, our lecturer tonight.
I had many comments and emails about my last essay entitled ‘Guts‘. One of them that got me thinking was from Jack C. Caranci.
‘…performing, for me, is akin to flying a plane (long periods of calm interspersed by moments of sheer terror) for me that is where the guts come in – those terror moments when I try something new or better, try an old trick on a new audience.’
Jack refers to himself as an ‘occasional’ magician, and though I am a professional who has performed all over the world, I can deeply relate to his comment.
I clearly remember trying to show fellow magicians a simple trick when I was new to magic. I remember looking down at a pair of hands that were no longer mine. They insisted on shaking and the more I tried to stop them the more unstoppable the tremors became. I knew the trick inside out, I had practiced all the moves until I could do them perfectly. In front of a mirror I was a magical god; in front of an audience I was a bag of nerves… and the real rub of it was that I was doing a self working trick!
I could do moves and sleights with the best of them (when I say the best of them I mean the guys at the local magic club) but I could not do a whole trick or a routine without an internal earthquake – I had a bad case of stage fright.
Back then I did not know what to do and I was too embarrassed to ask people for help. This has led me to the following question ‘knowing what I know now, what advice would I have given me?’
Now let’s jump forward about 30 years.
I had taken a six month sabbatical from performing, to move to the USA, and was back standing on stage in front of an audience of 700 people in a packed theatre, I was half way through a routine that I knew inside out. I had done this routine many times before. I know it is funny and I know it always gets a great response including a fair share of standing ovations. I looked down at my hands and noticed that they were shaking a little. A few moments later my stomach knotted and I experienced what I can only call a ‘flop sweat’, every pore in my body decided to start leaking! I was experiencing another attack of stage fright. During the sabbatical I had lost my edge and now I was sharing Jack’s experience, the problem brought on by a long period of calm followed by a moment of sheer terror!
What was I going to do? Thirty years ago I had a simple coping strategy. I just avoided performing any tricks in front of an audience. But this time it was different, performing was what I did for a living and I had a wife and children who were relying on me, not performing was not an option!
Stage fright can happen to anybody, whether you are performing for two friends or a two hundred strangers. The good news is there is a solution and I guarantee that it works.
So here it is… The big secret to overcoming stage fright. The only way I know that really works. I didn’t know it then but I know it now. Are you ready? You probably won’t like it! I wish I could break it to you more gently but I am just going to have to blurt it out.
Feel the fear and do it anyway!
What would I tell me 30 years ago? I would gently encourage me to go out there and work through it. Even though my hands were shaking and my stomach was knotting. But you don’t have to just jump in at the deep end… you can start by paddling and getting used to the water. Find situations where you are more relaxed. Use those situations to build your confidence. Maybe that means performing to friends and family or you may be better in front of total strangers. Maybe it is in front of kids where you feel safe, or it could be in front of seniors. This first stage is all about confidence building. Small steps and small successes. As you build your confidence you will be able to go deeper into the water and experiment with different audiences.
It isn’t meant to be easy. If it was then everyone would be doing it. But the rewards makes us better people and we learn life skills that will help us as magicians and in many other walks of life. If you really want to be a magician then you have to do it anyway. What is the worst thing that can happen? A bad show with jokes that aren’t funny and magic that doesn’t work. When I taught my children to ride a bike I showed them that the only way to learn was to fall off. You have to learn how to fail before you learn how to succeed, and it is OK to fail. In my last newsletter I said it takes guts to perform – it also takes both perseverance and endurance to be a good magician.
So if you, like Jack, you are experiencing ‘long periods of calm interspersed by moments of sheer terror’ then you can do something about it… you need a bit less calm and a bit more terror!
I truly believe that you can do it. You can overcome the fear and then get so much more out of our wonderful art of magic. I know this because I have been there… twice!
And off to walk the dog again..