The difference between “real” stage fright and what I call "little" stage fright

The difference between “real” stage fright and what I call “little” stage fright

While surfing on the Internet and visiting several musicians' forums, I noticed many times that people with stage fright problems asked for help.

I appreciate people who give sincere advice and try to help, but I imagined how those people suffering from stage fright must have felt when I read the vast majority of the answers.

I must say that this is what prompted me to write this article to clarify a fundamental parameter, essential to understanding the problem.

It is necessary to differentiate “real” stage fright from what I call “small” stage fright.

What stood out the most in the answers was:

  • that stage fright is inevitable,
  • to "deal with”,
  • that you have no choice and that you get used to it in the end,
  • even that stage fright is necessary because it is this emotion that will allow us to surpass ourselves,
  • that the greatest artists, musicians, actors ... have had stage fright all their lives and that this has not prevented them from making the magnificent career they have made,
  • etc. etc. etc…

And it is true that we have often heard famous artists say, after 20 or 30 years in the business, that stage fright never let go of them and that in the long run, they eventually got used to it... over time.

And very often, it is at that moment that Sarah Bernhardt's famous phrase is quoted, in response to a young artist who boasted that she never had stage fright: « Don't worry, my little one, it will come with talent! ».

One day, I was giving a lecture in the auditorium of a major conservatory and on the front door was written in large print: « Lecture by Michel Ricquier - How to get rid of stage fright ».

So I began my lecture and no sooner had I started speaking than a person in the front row raised his hand to ask to speak.

I was quite surprised because, as usual, I had announced that there would be a question and answer session at the end of my talk, but nevertheless, I interrupted and gave him the floor.

This woman gets up and says to me, emphatically:

« Sir, I am a professional singer and I don't understand why you want to get rid of stage fright! Stage fright is really necessary, even indispensable, to me as to many artists: it is thanks to it that my performance will be much better on the day of the performance than during rehearsals! ».

Well... It's true that I could have answered him:

« But madam, if you don't want to get rid of stage fright, you shouldn't have come into this hall, because on the front door, it is precisely written “How to get rid of stage fright” ! »

But of course, I didn't give him that answer, I told him this:

« I totally agree with you, but we're just not talking about the same thing, we're not talking about the same stage fright at all!

You, you're talking about the little emotion that will make you actually be better in front of the audience than in rehearsal.

I'm talking about real stage fright! That stage fright that causes these so unpleasant symptoms (such as trembling, palpitations, a lump in the throat, a lump in the stomach, abdominal pain, lack of saliva, sweaty hands, mental confusion, memory lapses... etc.) and that makes you lose 50, 60, even 70% of your abilities!

This stage fright will certainly not make you better, quite the contrary, and I doubt there is a single person in the world who would like to keep it, or feel it ».

Our singer agreed with me.

I am absolutely convinced that people who suffer from “real” stage fright would never have gotten used to it, and I think they would not have been able to hold on, either psychologically or physically, because their bodies would have suffered too much from undergoing these physiological changes on a regular basis for so many years.

So as I said at the beginning of this article, if I put myself in the shoes of people who suffer from “real” stage fright and who read these messages saying that we must get used to it, that we must “deal with it”, knowing full well that it is impossible!!! It is enough to discourage them forever!

Far be it from me to criticize the people who made this answer, it was a good feeling since it is in a way their experience; I understand them and in their place, I would probably have answered the same thing.

But here it is, stage fright, the "REAL” stage fright, I know, I lived it, I suffered terribly from it!

It's a real problem, very frustrating, very devaluing, difficult to live with, physically and psychologically.

For many, it is the cause of repeated failures, and for some, it has been the cause of failed careers.

Even if, with enormous effort, we manage to cheat enough so that the audience doesn't notice too much of our discomfort, the pleasure we have in being on stage, in performing music, in acting, in short in sharing with our audience, disappears completely to leave the place to the desire to run away.

This is what I have personally felt many times during public performances.

I have terrible memories where, among other things, during a series of concerts in which I played a work as a soloist accompanied by an orchestra, my heart was already beating at more than 120 beats/minute when I entered the stage. When the heart beats fast, breathing is accelerated: try playing a concerto on the trumpet while being out of breath before you even start playing?

I wouldn't tell you about the vibrato; I had both legs shaking so much that it wasn't a vibrato anymore, it was a kind of ankle twitch that I was trying to hide by swinging (discreetly anyway) from one leg to the other.

If at that time I had been told that one day I would give lectures, that I would participate in radio shows!

I was lucky and honored to have been invited by Gaëlle le Gallic on France Musique to present my works, to develop my pedagogical concepts, during four one-hour programs, and then in other local radio stations as well...

But never before would I have agreed to go "talk on the radio"! I would have been incapable of saying two words, of answering questions without having my throat tied, without having the panicky fear of babbling, of having memory lapses!

And all the more so: TO EXPLAIN HOW NOT TO HAVE THE TRAC, then, for me, we would have been in the middle of science fiction!

Nothing is more frustrating, more discouraging, than to have worked a lot, to have prepared properly, to know that you have the possibilities to succeed ... and to miss everything.

Frustrating to realize that reasoning and willpower do nothing about it, that it can't be controlled, mastered at all.

You have invested yourself completely in your performance (concert, performance, exam, competition, sports competition, etc.), you have prepared it carefully, you have worked hard to get it right...

And here we are, on D-Day, at the moment of proving what you are capable of accomplishing, it's a disaster! Because of that damned stage fright!

Other advices, such as breathing, relaxation etc., were also given in these forums, but we will see in a future article that these methods, if they can be efficient for "small" stage fright, will not be powerful enough, not efficient enough for "real" stage fright!

Other articles about stage fright:

Overcoming stage fright, managing stress, the solution is within us.

What led me to research and find solutions to eliminate stage fright

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