As I struggle to hit the high B flat as the role of Carlotta in Maury Yeston’s Phantom, I feel the blood rush to my chest and head as my hands get shaky. I almost feel like I’m going to die – or at least pass out. I know the bright red blotches are creeping up my neck, big enough to be seen by the farthest person in the house (at least that’s what I think in the moment). I can thank my Irish genetics for that lovely physical response to fear and anxiety. I didn’t hit that note the first night. Yet, as I continued to gain ownership over the role and completely immerse myself in the character, I gained the confidence and strength to get that high note in pitch the next consecutive nights.
Performing on stage, as a lead, is the hardest, yet most thrilling and rewarding thing I’ve had to do in my life. It feels like you’re bearing your soul, standing naked in front of a million, judging strangers. When I was young, I would perform at solo and ensemble as well as NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) where I was literally judged on my vocal talent against hundreds of other, experienced singers. I’d stand in a small, windowless room, 6 feet away from a panel of teachers who would rate my voice on a 1-5 scale. This is where my anxiety stemmed from, and, sadly, spread to other areas of my life, such as education and test taking. The judging evoked a flight or fight response in me, in which I always chose flight. The instinct to hide myself from assessing eyes completely hindered my ability to get on stage and do what I love.
Overcoming this anxiety on stage was one of the most important experiences/ongoing experiences of my life. My involvement in the arts and creative self-expression pushed me to confront my insecurities with my voice, and really all aspects of myself in general. I learned how to control my anxious response (at least mentally, I can’t really help the physical turning red) and became more aware of what I am capable of with the confidence to do it. I would not have been able to recognize these character traits if I was not engaged in musical performance. The arts made me mindful and cultivated a sense of awareness in me, which prompted me to change the way I perceive myself. I grew and am continuing to grow to be a confident, independent individual comfortable and aware of my strengths and weaknesses, constantly striving to be the best I can be with what I was given. For me, the arts are a way to learn more about oneself and gain the ability to express oneself through creativity.
by Breanne Sommer, Arts Wisconsin Communications Intern