The Fright’s The Thing.
Last year I found myself backstage at the Garrick. As the minutes ticked by it was coming closer to that moment. The moment I had to go on stage. I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t go home. This was for charity, The Pakistani Fund relief. Jemima Khan and Eva Schloss (Holocaust survivor and the women the play is based on) were in the audience. So were my friends. My mind started to race, my heart felt as if it would explode. I would do anything at all not to go on stage. And yet, I knew I would. I briefly thought that if someone came up and shot me, I wouldn’t have to perform. I could bow out without disgrace. Just not with my life.
So why did I put myself through that? Well, it’s my job. When I was 16 and our end of year production came up, not even a year of drama training stopped me from shaking so badly backstage that my colleagues stared in horror. I had to fill in at the last moment for an actress who had not turned up. I had two hours to learn my lines. I was bambi, staring at a truck. I though I might die. But it ended in good reviews. It usually does.
I came across a quote from Judi Dench on twitter whilst rehearsing the play: “If I’m not nervous I’m not working.” In an interview Kirsten Scott Thomas declares that “It’s not butterflies in the stomach I get but elephants.” And then she elaborates when the interviewer asks her why she puts herself through it: “I may be frightened but I am also very brave.” There it is. I got told it after the play all the time: You’re so brave! It wins out. I get on stage for the same reason I write: I don’t know how not to. I have the British sense of talking yourself down but I always allow myself one complement. I am brave.
Toby Stephens talks of seeing both of his parents throw up before performances. It didn’t stop him becoming an actor himself. You see, it’s because, art will out. Every time. I took my fear and used it in my performance. I asked my colleague to throw me onto the stage. I was playing a Jewish mother, brutalized by the Nazis who sends her son to safety. I also played an SS officer and a member of the Gestapo. In the end I started to collect quotes on stage fright. A few are below. I hope you like them.
“If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?”
“It so amazes you how much stage fright you get. I’ve been in front of cameras all my life, but that first tee, standing over that ball that’s not even moving, it’s scarier than doing a movie.” Michael Douglas.
“Fame: an embalmer trembling with stage fright.: – Henry Louis Mencken
Do you have any?