Back when I was a drama teacher, there was a story I would tell my kids right before they auditioned for a play.
I perform in a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast. This means that I perform in front of the movie, as the movie is playing. I do this in full costume and work really hard into making my performance as accurate to the screen behind me as I can.
My kids didn’t know the extent of what Rocky was, only that I was an actor and performed in a show called “Rocky Horror”. I thought it would be best to not go into detail about the content of the show.
I’ve been an anxious person my whole life. I am constantly worried about what other people think of me, and when I’m on stage, I’m typically really hard on myself.
I remember once when I was playing Janet, I came offstage during a scene and immediately started crying because I felt like I wasn’t on my A-game that night. That’s what anxiety as a performer looks like.
But the story I told my kids was about the opposite.
I was playing Frank N Furter for the first time. Being the centre of attention for almost the full show, I felt really intimidated by the part.
His first song, “Sweet Transvestite”, completely commands the stage, as he enters wearing a cape, throwing it off to reveal lingerie underneath it.
I left that part out of the story- I just told the kids I was playing a vampire.
Being Frank for the first time was so intimidating.
I remember watching the person who played Frank the week before. She was absolutely incredible, and not only nailed all of the screen accuracies to a tee, but also had the attitude and stage presence that the character required.
She went above and beyond in her portrayal and being someone who held myself to a level of perfectionism, all I could think was “I’ll never be that good”.
For the next week, I practised like there was no tomorrow. I had previously played multiple characters in the show, and I was fairly well-versed in most of the other characters. But Frank was different.
The night of the show, I got to the dressing room early to mentally prepare. Back then, it was required that anyone who played Frank had to host the pre-show activities, something which I immediately declined. The last thing I wanted to do before my debut was worry about public speaking.
In the movie, Frank makes his first appearance in an elevator with his back turned. I got to my place just as the previous song, “Time Warp”, was ending.
I was practically hyperventilating. It felt like the whole show was on my shoulders, and I didn’t know if I could do it justice. I was worried my fellow cast members would judge my performance, and that the audience would hate me.
I was literally shaking at this point.
As the first moment of the song approached, I had to come to terms with what was happening. It was way too late to back out now.
I suddenly remembered something that was said to me backstage of my first high school production.
“If you weren’t good for this role, you wouldn’t have been cast.”
Considering that the casting director at the time was the aforementioned incredible Frank, I trusted her judgement.
If this person who I respected thought I was good enough, then I must have been.
So I took the nerves physically manifesting in my body, and focused on channelling them into good nerves.
Theatre is fun and exciting, and theoretically shouldn’t be a stressor, especially when we’re doing it as a hobby.
I mentally acknowledged my nerves – they were certainly there. But I let myself be excited.
Soon, those nerves became positive energy.
I turned around and started the song. My appearance was immediately met with cheers. And once I tossed the cape off, the audience went nuts. I knew then that it was smooth sailing from then on.
The kids I taught were always super nervous before auditioning. And I couldn’t blame them – most of them had never auditioned for anything before.
My goal as their teacher was to show them how fun theatre is and should be, and telling them this story seemed to calm their nerves a bit (or at least I hope it did).
Ultimately, my anxiety can get in the way of my performing, but having done it for so long now, I’ve learned to manifest my nerves into positive energy.
I don’t cry over shows anymore.
I stay relaxed, I work hard, and I focus on making the show the best it can be.