I have a problem that sometimes irks people – I don’t get stage fright. At least, I don’t get stage fright the same way other people seem to get stage fright.
The last time I remember it being an issue was when I was at college and I was a minor character in a play (one of several minor characters, really – it was an all-woman cast and fairly equally balanced in terms of speaking roles). I was backstage before the one and only performance and just felt this overwhelming emptiness. Essentially, I just waiting for the show to start. One of the other actors said that it was “weird” that I wasn’t jittery like the rest of them, so I started pretending that I was scared about what was going to happen to us all in around half an hour’s time.
Then I realised that I had no idea what my first lines were. Eventually I tracked down a copy of the script, which belonged to one of the stage managers and was covered in lighting-cue scribbles. If there was one thing that shook me, it was knowing that I was going on stage and completely screw up the entire production before anything had started. Once I reviewed the lines, I was blank again.
After the production, I was a mess and I remember finding a quiet place to shake off the massive rush of adrenaline and distress, before joining everyone else for the cast party. Since that time, it’s been pretty much the same – whether it’s the Global Atheist Convention, or the New Zealand Skeptics Convention or even a job interview or dance exam, I just feel coldly blank and in need of a refresher of what on earth I’m supposed to be doing, until afterwards when it all comes flooding back and I have no. idea. what. the. hell. I. thought. I. was. doing.
Experiences like panic attacks on bridges and in traffic tunnels are different, there I probably feel what everyone else does in terms of hyperventilating and being afraid. But stage fright eludes me and it was only during TEDxPerth recently that I experienced someone feeling dismissive of me for not feeling upset or worried about talking without notes for seven to eight minutes in front of a live, simulcast across the country and recorded talk.
I have no idea what I said. I remember seeing the electronic timer on the stage flick from counting down minutes to seconds, at what seemed a furious pace – and I stopped talking when it said 0:05.43.
But like the time I was performing in a play, I did blank on exactly how to start my speech and found a quiet corner over at the Dolphin Theatre to look over how the presentation started. Thankfully the stage crew were busy setting up banners and chairs and didn’t mind someone rustling around with scraps of printout to recite the first few lines that they had to say in twenty minutes time.
After it finished, I felt an overwhelming sense of uncertainty as to how it went and really wanted to see everyone else’s presentation, to cheer them on. One of the most wonderful things was having an audience member introduce themselves and their wife (and little baby!) to say that they listened to my show and felt a connection to my work as the wife was a former student of a school I taught at. Then it was a little difficult not to be overly emotional, as I hardly had any people in the audience who knew me and it was really encouraging to know that they looked forward to hearing the presentation.
One question I blanked on was the name of the lucky bear that I have with me to help me with bridges. Truth it, bears don’t have names, at least not ones that they they tell me. They’re just “bear”. Or songs about bears, or the words ‘bear with me’ that I can chant when I feel my pulse rate rising and palms sweating and feeling of vertigo. I occasionally call my cat “Pooh Bear”, but that’s because she has a bell around her neck that is in the shape of Winnie the Pooh. And because she has a habit of getting her fat arse stuck when she’s trying to scrabble into small spaces.
A kind-of-superstitious thing I did do prior to doing the speech did occur to me this Sunday. I had brought a rug a few weeks ago for one of the rooms, to replace one that got wreaked. Unfortunately I had picked one that was the wrong colour, as it was all rolled up – round and silver-grey instead of red.
Because the TEDxPerth talk was going to be presented on a round, red rug, I held off on getting the correct rug. What if I completely and utterly messed up my talk and had a round, red rug to perpetually remind me?
So, on the Sunday, I got my replacement rug. It is round, bright and red. And I might not look back online to see how well my speech went (as it was recorded), as I am my own worst critic – but I don’t feel upset about the new rug.
I wish I got to see all the presentations, even those who didn’t make it to the stage. I’d like to see more talks next year. And even if people didn’t know, or didn’t care that I did this talk, I was glad of the opportunity to add skeptical material to the TEDx collection and promote the work of people like Leo Igwe and Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. The people, especially my coach Luke and all the volunteers, were just brilliant, wonderful and overwhelmingly supportive and really made the whole event go fantastically well.
I wish I did, however, got more of my homework and podcasting completed this week, as I was a little overwhelmed by everything I had to get done and I’m still very much behind on blogging and being ready for class… but I don’t regret the opportunity. It does, however, feel like that’s the end of the exciting things for the year and I’m just waiting for Christmas. I could use the break, quite frankly.
Books I suggested as a part of my talk:
- The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
- Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart A. Vyse
- The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs by Bruce M Hood
- Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst
- Beyond Belief: Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal by Martin Bridgstock