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Stagefright: Whip ::The Willies::
By: Lois Sprengnether Keel

(posted 1/2008)
Written by Lois Keel

To avoid stage fright I believe in networking. It can show flaws you’d later wish you caught and also spark ideas you wouldn’t get otherwise. I value those people who understand what I want to achieve and don’t get upset when I don’t take ALL of their advice. As to talking to myself, I always enjoyed the concept that I was talking to somebody who understood me.

Workers in the arts need positive outlets to avoid feeling alone, unable to find the way to resolve problems, and to grow. Yes, working with others can be aggravating at times, but it also can lead to progress. If it proves to be a toxic combination, get out of it, learn from it, and keep looking for others who create that positive outlet for you. As performing artists, we especially can become sharpened by such contacts. A book I recommend, even though I have some major quibbles with its ending, is Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway. It does a great job of helping you feel confident you can handle anything that comes up. It also points out that even the most seasoned pro feels nervous whenever they try something new.

One of the really freeing things about storytelling, as opposed to acting, is abandoning memorization. Storytelling requires a knowledge of the structure of the story. Sometimes I’ve gotten caught up in another facet of the performance & left something out only to slip it in later. With storytelling you can do it; with memorization you’ll get egg on your face. The other elements you must know are the characters & the setting. If you know those, you can create the story anew each time. In fact, you should be living in the story each time you tell it. I’ll admit not everybody relishes improvisation, but with the structure, characters & setting, you can take a detour or pratfall & still get to a successful conclusion. If memorizing chants, songs or other recurrent phrases give you problems, avoid that type of story. I have a terrrrrrrible memory, so I think long & hard about the amount of that sort of story element before choosing a tale. (I’ll never do ’Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep’ for that very reason, even though I love the story.)

Some storytellers worry about their energy level. Speaking as somebody who tends to have overpowering energy, producing it is never a problem for me. If you have difficulties having enough energy, I wouldn’t have a clue about how to get more. On the other hand (& I usually try to involve both my hands, feet, mouth & body. . . the trick is to keep the feet out of the mouth!), if you are feeling nervous & agitated, there are some things you can do.

Warm up your body -- I find T’ai Chi helps me because of both its movement and its breathing -- & your voice as if you were a singer (especially if you will be doing various voices & involving a lot of variety in pitch) . . . don’t worry about how it would sound to a singer, just be sure to work thoroughly at all pitches, also work on articulation, too. If there’s no time to warm up your body, you can still do your vocal exercises while travelling to a performance. Now you’re there. Get to know the performing area, but even more importantly study (& talk with) your audience. Remember Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are? His magic trick that tamed all the Wild Things was staring ’into all their yellow eyes without blinking once!’ Make that audience contact. Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the group. Each audience member is still an individual there for the program. While you’re watching them, & right before you see them, remind yourself they’ve come to have a good time & you’re going to see that they get it. Actually the larger the group, the more response they can give you. That can really boost your energy while you’re riding it. (Later you may feel drained, but shouldn’t while telling unless you have ’flopsweat’ or are really straining in some unnatural way.) Performance begins; concentrate on your story elements; & go with the flow of whatever happens. Your audience is rooting for you, so don’t worry if something doesn’t go the way you want it. Direct your nervousness, just as a karate chop is directed.

If this still feels impossible, perhaps you need a location willing to serve as your "laboratory" in trying out new material. You also probably need further training. I’d recommend improvisational theatre rather than regular acting. Some movement & vocal training might help, too. Additionally some storytellers swear by the Alexander Technique for helping eliminate strain. Search the internet under "Alexander Technique" to find the nearest teacher if you still feel strained & tense.

Remember when you were a teenager & thought everybody noticed every tiny flaw in your appearance? They didn’t pay attention to half of what you worried about. Your audience will be so involved with the stories they probably won’t notice your brief verbal stumble unless you call it to their attention. On the other hand, if it’s a doozie of a mistake, it shows you’re human & they can be very sympathetic. Telling to your peers is when ’The Willies’ are most likely. The best you can do is keep on doing it. Another storyteller, Papa Joe, said it best ’To be a storyteller, tell stories; to be a better storyteller, tell more stories.’

P.S. Be careful not to compare yourself to other performers. Another benefit about storytelling is we’re all unique -- or should be -- & we’re always learning.

LoiS(l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y exhaling)

Author Information:
Name: Lois Sprengnether Keel
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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