Performance Disasters

Some of my students have stage fright and don’t want to perform. This circumstance is highly relatable. I thought it might be helpful to share some stories of stage fight and performance gone wrong.

I used to get terrible stage fright. The way I got over it was to keep going on stage, a lot, despite being absolutely terrified every time. As a youth, I got relatively used to playing in front of strangers, but one time, in a youth group, I was playing trumpet in front of my peers and got so alarmed, I couldn’t get my lips to buzz.

More recently, I wrote a piece performed with a gamepad and when I went to perform it, found my hands were shaking too much to play it!

For me, just giving it ago, despite the fear, was got me through it. But, perhaps for some, an exercise in “what’s the worst that could happen”? will help.

Let’s watch a John Cage performance. Do you think the audience’s reaction indicates success or failure?

John Cage performs Water Walk on the TV show I Have a Secret

Ok, so the audience laughed but he said he was ok with that and his performance got broadcast out on national television, so perhaps the exposure was worth the mirth. But did you notice anything wrong with the performance?

Things that I noticed going wrong included

  • The radios were being plugged in. This was due to disagreement in the unions about who’s job it was to plug them in. (The moral of that story is to keep the union on side. Solidarity. Also, if you’re doing something weird, be patient while they go through the normal setup process. They’re used to being talked down to, so don’t offer instructions or suggestions unless their normal setup doesn’t work.)
  • The blender caught fire.
  • The rubber ducky was completely inaudible.

Two of these three things were huge problems. Radios are a key part of the piece. The blender situation was also quite alarming and changed the flow of the piece, as the crushed ice used later on was not available. Cage had to be adaptable and think on his feet in a performance situation that had numerous disasters before and duing.

Most people don’t notice the problems because he kept his cool throughout. This kind of composure is the product of experience. Things go wrong, but the show must go on. For people unused to performance, it’s likely that you will seem nervous. You are nervous. But with practice and experience, you too can keep your cool. After all, what’s the worst that can go wrong?