CMU School of Drama

Monday, September 26, 2016

Is Stagefright Taught?

Music Teacher's Helper Blog Music Teacher's Helper Blog: Do teachers contribute to stagefright? Can we help students avoid it?

Stagefright seems to happen when performers focus too much on themselves–what people think, whether they’ll get through a tricky spot, whether some unforeseen problem will throw them off, whether they’re deserving of being out on stage.

It seems to me that when the focus is on the music, rather than the performer–when a performer has something musical he or she really wants to say–there’s much less of a chance for stagefright to take hold.

13 comments:

Helena Hewitt said...

I think there can be no question about whether or not stagefright is taught. It definitely is. Some children may be naturally more shy than others but I think that stagefright is something we develop the more unpleasant situations we associate with talking in front of people and performing. In my personal experience I attended a school where the arts were a very important part of the curriculum so I was performing in school plays and concerts from a very young age. However, in high school I began to develop really bad stagefright when it came to presenting in front of a class. At the end of eighth grade I remember giving a 30 minute presentation where I was perfectly comfortable onstage and not worried about it for a minute, but during my time in high school it got to the point where I couldn’t get up in front of a class without my whole body shaking. The more unpleasant experiences my brain associated with presenting the more I dread getting up to talk and the worst it went the next time. Encouraging children to invest in the material and the ideas rather than focusing on the importance of the performance would help them move past the fear of appearing foolish.

Jason Cohen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Cohen said...

At my high school everyone was required to take a speech class. In this class you would get the opportunity to practice your public speaking skills in a variety of circumstances. One of the biggest things that we worked on in speech class was how to deal with our stage fright. My way of dealing with it is very specific to me, and probably would not work for most. However, what I think is important is that everyone finds the thing that works for them. Just because of the weird ways I think while I’m speaking in public work for me does not mean that they are going to work for you. It is also something that you can be taught. There is no formula, but there are suggestions. Once you find something that clicks you will know it and it will stick with you forever and ever, and that’s it.

Brennan Felbinger said...

I'm not quite sure if stage fright is taught. In the earliest years of my education, namely kindergarten and preschool, I feel as though I was nurtured to be all about performing and singing songs and getting up in front of my class. That may not be the experience that everyone has, but I think that everyone can agree on the idea that there probably aren't many kindergarteners with stage fright. I think where stage fright probably comes from is just societal pressures. In every day life, it's not particularly accepted for you to be "performing" in front of a group of people. In fact, if you were to do it on the street, you would need to license to do so in some major cities. I think our culture teaches us stage fright, not our teachers. Now, teachers may influence us to accept cultural standards and values, but in that case they're not creating a new standard, they're simply passing on the preexisting one that they are also subject to.

Lucy Scherrer said...

I was pretty skeptical when I read the title of the article, since it seemed like the kind of baseless argument that has more to do with people's individual personalities than whether something is learned or natural. However, while I still don't necessarily agree with the argument, the author did seem to have fairly solid reasoning. Education that revolving around fixing all the things that could go wrong rather than focusing on the form itself and the beauty behind it does seem like it would foster an attitude of fear and anxiety. Practicing something over and over to fix all the little things could potentially be more harmful than teaching holistically. However, I feel like this is a over simplistic and doesn't actually address the reason for stagefright. I'm sure there are some performance teachers out there who teach in such a way that fosters fear of failure and focus on what could go wrong, but I have yet to meet many. I think asserting that stage fright is "taught" assumes that teaching to fix problems inherently correlates to fearing those problems more.

Alex Talbot said...

I think this is an interesting view on the topic at hand. As a technician, I've never really had a problem with stage fright, but I think that this article offers an interesting view--that teachers often put too much weight on performance, which in turn transfers to a fear of disappointing the teacher. I agree with the author's push towards teachers to really immerse their students in the work and the music would help and is also a much better way to teach--to immerse, not just tell them they need to learn it. However, I'm not sure that this is all that is required in order to avoid stage fright--the teaching methods are not nearly the only cause for stage fright. I think that many kids are more outgoing than others as a general rule, and that in many cases have this problem not just onstage but in everyday life. And I think insinuating that stage fright is a bad thing is a bad way to look at the problem--I don't think a more introverted lifestyle is at all a bad thing. I think teaching should instead of making stage fright a bad thing is a bad way to look at it--instead of making students who don't like being onstage go on anyway, teachers should give them other responsibilities but stress the importance of these along with the onstage portions. Because not everyone is meant to be onstage.

Michelle Li said...

I think stage fright comes from the natural urge to want to be liked and to be seen as appealing in front of peers. No one likes to be embarrassed and certainly not in large crowds of people, even people who you're comfortable being around. I think the concept of stage fright and it being a learned thing is plausible because if you were a naturally shy kid to begin with, there would have been a less likely chance of you being called up to go on "stage". I know that some people may have been enrolled in public speaking classes and things of the sort and I know people have learned techniques to deal with stage fright but honestly, I don't think it gets any easier. I'm pretty okay at public speaking and presenting but I don't think that necessarily means I'm not nervous every time I have to go up and speak in front of a class. It has more to how you deal with the situation, appear more calm, thus eventually becoming more calm. I'm sure that TED speakers still get stage fright every time they walk onto a grand podium. It's only natural to feel like you might forget everything and that a lot of things are on the line. I also find that many times, this feeling of fear arises when you feel like those who you're presenting you are either equally or more as talented/qualified than you are. No one wants to look like a fool!

Natalia Kian said...

From elementary through middle school I spent eight years total in orchestra classes and private lessons, playing the violin. What started as a fun, interesting opportunity for my second grade self to learn a new skill and to get to have class with a great teacher quickly turned to a chore when I entered the sixth grade. My middle school orchestra class was fine some days - other days, it was an hour and a half of cowering at the back of the second violin section, listening to my teacher berate us for how little we seemed to be practicing, how unpolished we were, how everything was just so, so wrong. To help me stay in orchestra out of fear I wouldn't fit in anywhere else if I had to drop it, my mother enrolled me in private lessons outside of school. Despite her best intentions, the lessons only made me hate playing the violin more as I now had two insufferable voices telling me I was never practicing enough. More so, because I hated the rigid rules spelled out by composers in sheet music, I would often try to play pieces in a way that I liked to make them more fun for myself. This resulted in my private teacher literally laughing in my face. Playing the violin became humiliating under her eye, and even after I got a better private teacher and our school got a new orchestra director I could never regain a sense of joy in playing the instrument. I got more and more nervous performing and would cry after every recital whether or not I did well. Eventually, I avoided it at all costs until I was finally able to quit. Playing the violin was never scary to me until my teachers made it a life or death affair. I never had nerves until I was no longer doing it for myself, because up until the sixth grade it was just a fun school-time activity I got to do with my friends and teachers. Luckily, a year after I quit the violin, my mom enrolled me in private vocal lessons as an outlet amid my school's intense theatre design program, and my whole perspective on performing changed. My teacher taught me the joys of telling a story and connecting with an audience, and suddenly not only was I less nervous - I liked the nerves I did have! I no longer dreaded the butterflies, I felt thrilled by them. My vocal teacher taught me that worry was a misuse of the imagination, and I found that by enjoying myself and focusing on storytelling I became technically better by default. There is so much to be said of artistic mentors and teachers who help students to focus on the beauty and fun of the art they make, rather than perfection. It makes logical sense when you think about it: perfection doesn't exist, it can't be attained or measured, so pushing your students to achieve it only sets them up for failure. In the end, art always functions best as what it is - a chance to create. Ambition is one thing - impossible standards are a wholly different, stupider animal.

Claire Farrokh said...

I do not really get the point of this article. I think as we grow up, we generally get more self conscious, and that is what leads to stage fright. I think everyone deals with stage fright to some degree, even if they are a very good or very experienced performer. Over time, people, especially in peforming arts or in business, get a little more desensitized to these pressures, simply because they perform or present in front of large groups of people so often. However, the idea that a lot of people are watching you, and just you, is still going to be nerve wracking. I do not agree that stage fright is taught, I think it is just an intuitive part of our nature. When people are watching what you are doing, you are far more conscious of what you are doing, and therefore are some degree or nervous about what you are doing. The article talks about how focusing on content more than performance can be helpful in overcoming stage fright, and I definitely agree with that. If you are more focused on what you are talking about than how you are talking about it, the idea of the presentation seems a lot less about you.

Kat Landry said...

This is certainly an interesting theory. I imagine that, yes, learning to understand and appreciate music and the act of playing it would make the performance less about the student's ability to play it, and more about the music itself. If this is true, however, are we then also robbing children of the pride they might otherwise have in their work? I think if you're truly going to remove any sense of self from the work children do, you absolutely will get rid of some of the fright, but you will also remove the rewarding nature of presenting something well. I also believe that this would not work well in the first place. Children are (and should be) given ownership of the things they do from a young age. They are applauded for taking steps, saying words correctly, learning to count, etc., and simultaneously chastised for doing wrong. If we wanted to "remove" a child's stage fright, we would have to have taught them from birth that they are never being watched or judged, and also never reward or punish them. It is not just teachers who have expectations for their students, either: students have expectations of each other, parents have expectations for their children, and therefore children have expectations for themselves. Any and all of these expectations are likely to come through in a performance even without an audience. If ridding a child of his or her expectations for his or herself is preferable to nervousness, then be my guest, try it. But I cannot imagine it would go over well.

Evan Smith said...

From the get go in my first school play in Kindergarten I enjoyed acting. I was good, then working my way up towards receiving my first lead role in the 4th grade as Tex Glitter, I felt confident in my abilities. Of course sometimes it takes a little repetition to make sure I’ve got the lines down; but I have noticed in my time some that just want to blend in with the crowd, and some that decide to have a voice and be seen. There have been a few times that I wasn’t as prepared as I should be that I would get nervous about making a mistake, but everything sometimes manages to work itself out. Having the encouragement of my teachers in high school helped me push forward in it, and led me to where I am today. Those experiences however disastrous and enjoyable have shaped and developed some habits, but also my willingness to not hide in the box, but to get out and to have some freedom here and there and make new friends.

Daniel Silverman said...

I’m not sure that stagefright is taught. I think it is something natural that everyone feels at some point. For lack of a better term, I think ‘performance anxiety’ is a human issue. Everyone, at some point, has a fear of making mistakes, imperfections, and critique or criticism. In this particular instance, I agree that teachers should be encouraging musical freedom, creativity, and interpretation, but technical expertise is also important. And for those who go into music professionally, those things don’t go away. I’ll admit, I’ve had my own battles with stage fright. For me, it comes with memorizing scripts. No problems with giving speeches, but if I have to recite something written by someone else – I freeze. While stagefright can be debilitating and cause people not to perform, it is something that people must deal with in order to become a better performer. As far as I’m concerned, the only two ways to overcome stage fright (or any kind of performance anxiety) are experience, practice, and technical expertise.

Emily Lawrence said...

When I was in high school, I was taught the Meissner method of acting and I think it really did help me with stage freight. My director constantly told me that all my focus should be going towards my partner/partners onstage rather than on myself. He would say that if you start to go in your head about lines, blocking, etc., that you were doing something wrong. Looking back on this teaching, I realize that he left no room for stage freight to occur. Yes, we would get nervous, but when we began to perform that was something that would slip from our minds. I think it is important for people to get over stage freight, but to also never forget about it. Everyone makes mistakes and it is hard when there is an audience watching you, sometimes looking for those mistakes specifically, but most of the time they will not notice. The audience does not know the work you are doing nearly as well as you do, so a little flub will not be the end of the world. I do think that stage freight is not something that can be taught how to avoid, but something that if you are teaching correctly will be avoided naturally.

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