I've spent the last two weeks in California - Berkeley mostly - on a gig. I knew about 90% of the cast before I arrived, and having grown up in Northern California, I even knew the area pretty well. The only thing a little different was that it wasn't actually my gig. I went with my boyfriend Michael, who was singing Collatinus in the Rape of Lucretia with the Castleton Festival, featured at Cal Performances, UC Berkeley. Michael pretty much stopped singing before I even met him, but he had this one contract that he had agreed to do awhile ago, so he decided to go ahead and do it.
For me, it really did feel like I was going on a gig - I packed up my stuff, took a taxi to the airport, arrived at a hotel, and the first night there had dinner with a couple of singers that I knew well from previous gigs. Except I had none of the stress of actually singing. And the funny thing was that even though Michael hasn't done a singing gig in awhile, and even though he WAS singing, he was probably less stressed than I was. I kept comparing what it was like when he visited me in Berlin for two weeks (and what a basket case I was) compared to how normal and non bothered he seemed by being the one having to remember words and music and staging. Even on the two performance days (because there were only two shows, which was a pity because it was a great production) he seemed like his normal self - not nervous or jittery or anxiety ridden like I become.
I made a joke at one point that he should probably be the one who keeps singing and I should try to get a job in technology, not the other way around - because he was obviously not all full of nerves and anxiety the way I can be. I also visited with a friend, Nick Phan, who was singing with the San Francisco Symphony while I was in Berkeley. I came with him to his dress rehearsal, which happened to be the morning of his first concert. After his rehearsal, we had a leisurely lunch, where he too seemed relatively unphased by the fact that he was about to stand in front of a lot of people and sing later that night. And the fantastic tenor in Michael's opera was busy taking his wife to see Alcatraz during the day before one of his performances. I couldn't help but wonder why I couldn't just be more cavalier like all these guys?
One reason I get nervous is that I obviously put way too much pressure on myself. Okay, I know I do that, and I try to get better about reminding myself that nobody but me cares whether I sing every note perfectly or not. But also, I seem to have developed a real nervousness about being nervous. I never used to get nervous before performances. Then I started getting really nervous. Then I sort of talked myself out of being nervous WHILE I sang, but I still got terribly nervous before. And now, I kid you not - I have anxiety about the anxiety I'm going to feel before I perform. How can I be so crazy???
Performance anxiety is normal, of course. Even people who are able to go about their days casually and visit prison museums and have lunch dates sometimes feel nervous. But the brain is fascinating, and it can certainly hold us hostage to our fears. Which sucks because performing can actually be quite fun - wouldn't it be more enjoyable to actually look forward to it instead of dreading it?
I don't know the answer to this one, honestly. I think that there are definitely a lot of people who hate that feeling of performance anxiety, and as a result, find something else to do for a living. And I do hate being nervous, but there are a lot of things I love about being a singer. So I am constantly searching for a way to become calmer, more like the guys I mentioned above. I'm sure the answer lies in re-programming my brain somehow. I'm just not sure quite how yet.
Oh - and in case you were wondering - the opera went very well, Michael sang beautifully (even got a good review) and I was very proud to just be an audience member and a supportive partner. It turns out gigs can be very relaxing - especially when you're only job is to applaud at the end.