I’m off this evening to play and sing a few songs in Susan Egan’s “Broadway at Pomona” concert at Cal Poly. Those of you who know me personally know that I can play for anyone else without even a quickening of my pulse, but the minute I’m asked to sing in public I get so nervous I feel like I might pass out before I make it to the stage. It wasn’t always this way. It used to be worse.
One year in college, I got so freaked out during my piano juries (which are like final exams for musicians) that I lost track of where I was in the middle of a Bach fugue. It’s exactly a performer’s worst nightmare — forgetting your lyrics, forgetting the next chord, forgetting where you are in the music. You might as well be naked on stage. So, I did what any composition major would do. I made something up. I just improvised in the style of Bach until I got myself back to some place I recognized, and then I played out the piece to its end. My piano teacher’s jaw hit the floor, I’m sure. Everyone in the room EXCEPT ME knew how it was supposed to go. The comments I got on my jury sheets (which ultimately constitute your grade for a semester of piano lessons) said things like “very creative” and “who knew?” Ugh. If I had been considering a career as a concert pianist, it went out the window that afternoon.
When I’m coaching singers on their audition material, I tell them what I believe: that if you’re truly acting your text, if you’re talking to the right person and your objective is clear and you’ve done your homework in terms of vocal technique, then you won’t be nervous. Or, at least, your nerves will be manageable. I think it’s part of why actors say they’re never nervous when they’re actually doing the show — only when they’re auditioning to be in the show. It’s all about where you are inside your head, and if you’re fully connected as your character and you’re trying to accomplish something, you don’t have room for the self-criticism that might otherwise fill your brain. Trouble is, when I’m singing my own songs, my character is usually me and my objective is to sing my songs well enough that someone might be interested in buying my album after the show. You can see why I prefer to leave it to the professionals.
That said, every time I sing in public people tell me that there’s nothing like hearing a composer sing her own work, and having seen other composers do the same thing, I know it to be true. I had one very very very famous musical theater composer (not my husband) tell me that he takes drugs before he has to sing in front of an audience — and then he told me where I could order the … we’ll call it an herbal downer … online. And I know there are other songwriters who simply won’t do it — though they confess to be just as nervous sitting in the audience knowing that people are listening to their songs and judging them accordingly. Oh, it’s so hard to be a performer. Why on earth do we do it?
If you’re in LA and you want to come witness me torturing myself in public, I’m performing with Susan Egan and Kevin Earley in Santa Monica on Saturday, November 17th at 7 pm. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the details I can give you now are that this is only a 99-seat house and the only way to make a reservation is to call and put your name on a list. If this thing sells out (and since it’s FREE it won’t really sell out, but you know what I mean), hopefully it will lead to me having a kind of residency at this theater — a standing gig maybe once a month where I bring in special guests to sing my music and other fun theater tunes. So, let’s overwhelm them with calls so they know that there’s an interest in LA for contemporary musical theater. Especially mine. Call 310-434-3414 and tell them how many seats you want. The address is The Stage at Santa Monica/Second Space, Santa Monica Blvd and 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.
All right. I’m off to warm up. And drink some tea. And figure out what to wear. And completely freak myself out. Here we go again.