a cool day in April last year, I participated in the local accordion club
by playing a song. I wasn't aware of feeling particularly anxious until
I began. Once I was onstage, my heart started pounding as all eyes were
focused on me. I was determined to plow through my anxious feelings and
proceed. However, one mistake led to the next. "Watch out. Here comes
a difficult part," my inner voice said. My mistakes took on lives of their
own. I started and stopped, like a sputtering car. Finally, somehow I
reached the end of my song and hung my head low, feeling humiliated and
embarrassed in front of my teacher and peers. "OK, I said to myself, either
you find a solution to this stage fright problem or you throw in the towel
and not perform in front of an audience." I knew I had to make one last
desperate effort to find a solution.
When I arrived home, I sat down at my computer and typed "stage fright"
in my Internet search. Less than 15 seconds later, the website "Showoffs
Studio for Performers" was at the top of the list. What kind of organization
would be called "Showoffs," I wondered, as I remembered my parents and
teachers warning me, "never be a showoff."
Art Nefsky is the director of Showoffs Studio for Performers in Toronto,
Ontario, Canada. He is also a performance coach, singer, actor and all-round
performer. His method of helping people stand up to stage fright and overcome
fear and self-consciousness is through singing. I stopped singing in high
school when the choir teacher threatened to fail me if I sang the songs
or pass me if I mouthed the words.
Singers, musicians, public speakers and others who wanted to feel more
comfortable while performing participated in the workshop. All experienced
sweaty palms, shaky knees, or a multitude of other symptoms while performing.
The bonds of fear of being judged and making mistakes connected us all.
Art was a perceptive and intuitive teacher. He utilized a variety of exercises
geared to the students' unique problems. Singing in front of the class
was the method used to do these exercises. Students learned to focus on
and connect with the audience. Mistakes were not only accepted but also
encouraged. One of the exercises that I was given was to sing off-key.
When I wasn't singing enough off-key, Art got on stage and helped me.
I learned to attach no judgment to singing off-key or making mistakes.
Singing off-key was not right or wrong, good or bad but merely singing
off-key. Art also provided different personas to act out while singing.
For example, I was to act as though I was a pompous superstar (something
totally out of character for me). We all learned by having fun and sharing
humor in a playful atmosphere. Another portion of the workshop helped
us identify, clarify and visualize our dreams for the future.
Overall I learned many lessons. One important lesson was the realization
that when I share my gift of music with others, the audience is not analyzing
it technically but is there simply to be entertained. Another lesson was
the importance of group process and support. When I saw others struggling
with the same issues as mine (particularly, perfectionism and fear of
making mistakes), it made it easier for me to deal with my own problems.
Upon returning to Denver, I continued to play my accordion and perform
in front of audiences. I felt like a "new person" and people commented
on how different I was. Further evidence of the benefits of the workshop
for me was receiving six trophies at the annual music competition.
And for the first time, I recently sang two songs at karaoke, "What a
Difference a Day Made" and "I Can See Clearly Now". Now that's progress
considering I hadn't sang in public since high school. What a difference
a weekend made and, as a result, I can see clearly now-and that's more
than just song titles! They're my new theme songs.
For more information about the Showoffs Studio for Performers, contact
Art Nefsky at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his web site at www.showoffstudio.ca
or call the following toll-free number: (877) 781-4044.
Kate Kelsall is Coordinator of Volunteers at the University of Colorado
Hospital in Denver, Colorado. In her leisure time, she plays the accordion-solos,
duets and in two accordion bands. Kate can be contacted at KateDenver@aol.com