Playacting, Performance Anxiety and Leadership Lessons
|March 7, 2012||Posted by M. P. under Management|
It has been well over 25 years since I boarded a bus for a half day of drama and vocal studies after morning classes at my hometown school, and yet I still get a moment of vicarious pleasure when in the audience of any production – large or small. A friend of mine, a gifted performer and teacher, recently sent me the post 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success by Tom Vander Well at his blog Wayfarer which sent me on a jaunt down memory lane around my own performing arts education and the impact it had on me. I sincerely hope he doesn’t mind my riffing on the topic of the lessons of leadership found in arts training with my own my two-minute monologue:
Lessons on life and leadership learned (and then promptly forgotten) in performing arts school:
If you don’t believe in you, why should I?
False humility may be annoying, but it is socially acceptable. Low self-confidence on the other hand, is poison, especially in a world based on living up to high expectations (the only kind in theater). Not to get all dime store psychologist, but if not recognized and addressed in a healthy manner, a chronic lack of confidence can lead to a years-long pattern of self-sabotage, usually recognizable to everyone but yourself.
There is a significant leap between knowing your limitations and not believing in yourself – know the difference. You are more ready for your breakthrough role than you may think.
It takes years of hard work and study to make it look easy and fun.
Tap always looks like loads fun – lively, bouncy, kicky and sassy – who doesn’t want to learn to tap dance?! Then you actually take a class. I don’t know why I was surprised that my “dedication” to the ½-an-hour weekly ballet classes that mom signed me up for at the Girl’s Club when I was 7 didn’t translate to the dance studio years later. Needless to say, my dreams of ever hoofing it up as the leading lady in a Broadway production promptly fizzled. I am glad I only borrowed the shoes.
Better to be the standout in a small role than to not be in a production at all.
There are no small parts, just small actors, right? Well, there is no bad position at the place you always dreamed of working if they are hiring and you are available. There is no shame in commuting to a small college close to home rather than carrying an $80,000 debt into an entry-level job. There is no job beneath you if you switch careers and have to jump in and learn as you go while taking orders from people 10 years your junior.
Where you are now is the perfect launching pad to where you want to go.
The importance of professionalism – do not underestimate the quiet power of comportment and class.
One of my teachers was the epitome of elegance and austerity. Only years later would I discover that this intimidating ice queen of an instructor was a passionate, poignant vocalist whose wisdom was likely wasted on us. She was trying to teach a bunch of know-it-all teens to begin the exploration of our potential and take the first shaky steps toward mastery of the craft, to have integrity as artists. We often repaid her by showing up under-prepared and gossiping during class. Inexcusable. Unacceptable.
Learn all you can from those who have done what you want to do and are willing to teach you.
Introspection cannot start early enough.
Why are you doing this? There are no wrong answers to this question, and yours may be fluid over time, but those on the stage know why they are devoting their time, money, sweat and tears to a craft where few make it big – and by big I mean they can pay the bills doing what they love for a few decades.
Are you doing what you love – and if not (yet) – why are you doing this? I don’t think we should ever stop asking ourselves that question.
Adversity makes the oddest allies.
Bad reviews often make the best of friends. Healthy teams (or casts), even those with the largest, most diva-esque egos among them, band together and become stronger in the face of criticism, in fact, some shows benefit from a disparaging review. Unfortunately, when whispers, finger pointing and plans for under-the-bus-tosses are the standard response of your cast and crew to external bad news, the biggest problem you have may not be the bad news.
When dread outweighs desire – it may be time to move on.
I had known stage fright. I had known the panic of blanking on a line in the middle of a performance for what seemed like hours, but then picking right up again just a beat late, a gaffe hardly noticed by the audience. But, I had my first real anxiety attack in the wings just as a dress rehearsal was starting. It should have been my first sign that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for a life, or even a serious hobby, on the stage. I performed after that but always with a heavy knot of dread in my stomach. I soon opted to return to an all-academic curriculum and left the dreams of the spotlight behind.
Even great leaders feel that cannonball of dread in the gut from time to time, but I bet when it accompanies their morning coffee for more than a few consecutive days, they reassess their priorities AND their options.
What life/career/leadership lessons have you learned, and then promptly forgotten, only to realize years later?