The Jitters!!!

It’s a familiar feeling….time and again… the assumed rise of body temperature, the incessant thumping in the chest, the parched throat, sudden blankness of the mind and the complete momentary collapse of any confidence in one’s own talent! And what brings this on? For me, it was just an announcement that I have to be on stage and belt out a number to an audience – that was either the school assembly or judges and some strangers at competitions, when growing up, and nowadays, it is more often than not, a bunch of very encouraging and supportive friends and family. Yet, the feeling shows up nonetheless! At a personal level, it’s got to do only with singing – probably because it’s the one sphere where I am most comfortable performing to the walls of the shower! Surprisingly, the other areas where I have ‘performed’ to an audience like oratory competitions or dance shows, only set in an adrenaline rush – mostly brought on by the impatience over the wait before the act begins. But in the case of singing, it’s pure anxiety .However, luckily for me, even in that scary context , once the act picks up momentum, it’s just about me and the music! But ask me to perform the next time – and that seemingly omnipresent ‘performance fright’ re-appears!
Miriam – Webster defines ‘stage fright or performance fright’ as a nervous feeling felt by someone who is going to appear in front of an audience. Irrespective of experience or background, it may be seen among performance professionals and also in day to day scenarios amongst common people in situations like job interviews, stand up projects and class speeches, presentations in the work place etc. It is generally characterised by eminent anxiety – medically identified by physical symptoms like trembling, sweating and an impending feeling of breathlessness, dry mouth and nausea. Although it’s obvious manifestations have been widely researched and documented, the ‘why’ or the reasons as to why it should show up – seem to be more of a personal thing. I have often wondered, if my fright in that particular area has to do with my lack of formal training in that sphere or the fact that I am an amateur who is not faced with this fear on a daily basis? So I decided to ask a few professional performance artists in an attempt to decipher this code.
Jeneva Talwar, former actor, filmmaker and now patissier, says, for her, stage fright was harsher during the days she was involved with theatre than those in front of camera – For obvious reasons, she says – in theater, despite the months of rehearsals, the rush of a live performance always invoked butterflies whilst there was always that option of a repeat take in films. However, she adds that the beauty of stage fright for her was in its complete disappearance almost as soon she stepped on stage- when the audience would melt into a dark void and the world would literally be her stage and the dialogues would flow as naturally as breathing. Mithun Rodwittiya, professional model and actor, says, as a child he would freeze out of fright when faced with an audience and that it has taken him years of constant strife and attempts to slowly build his confidence in himself and his art. It began with learning to be comfortable with his self and the slowly venturing out into public domains hanging on to that self confidence. And now finally, he has reached a stage where that fear completely eludes him and he can perform his best in any situation that he is confronted with. Dipika Vijay, Tribal Fusion Belly Dance artist says she feels nervous mostly when she is unsure of having memorised the choreography well enough. ‘Butterflies’ ( as it is commonly known ) also appear when she sees the crowd and have to do more with the thrill of seeing a packed audience.
Every person – performer or non performer, has his/her own ways to deal with this sort of anxiety. For Mithun it was all about consciously putting himself in situations that forced him to confront his worst fears. He says he would spend hours in front of the mirror and pose and act in front of it to initially get comfortable with his own persona. This then extended to getting his pictures clicked for a portfolio that put him in a scenario that required him to be comfortable in the presence of others. From this to fashion shows that started out at college level and finally led him to Lakme Fashion week – which according to him was the turning point as far as his capacity to cope with performance fright was concerned – ‘being comfortable with being watched’ as Mithun puts it. This is also what set in the acting bug for this young talent. So, basically, it has been a progressive learning experience for him that has now rendered him confident and completely devoid of the stage fright phenomenon. Jeneva says breathing exercises always helped her as did the speech warm up exercises that most actors engaged in, before the play, to get clarity in diction. She adds that with every performance, especially if one was doing a marathon run of the play, the stage fright got easier to deal with. But it never completely goes away, she quips! She is in fact thankful for that because according to her those butterflies however uncomfortable, kept the adrenaline up and that’s what gave performance art the rush that one craves for.
Dipika also agrees that some bit of nervousness works in her favour because it keeps her grounded. She says that once in front of the audience, she forgets that she is baring her soul and being judged, by hanging on the fact that she is about to present an art and skill that she is great at –that no one in the audience can rival. For Dipika, it is more of strife because of the perceived notion attached to belly dancing about being a cabaret style dance when in fact it is all about perfection of technique and involves a whole lot of hard work – which she is proud to present and that builds her confidence. Says Vasu Dixit, lead vocalist and guitarist of Indian folk-rock band ‘Swarathma’, that he tries to warm up his body by stretching, jumping, jogging, gearing up his throat with some basic vocal exercises etc to get rid of the nerves. He says what works is being able to calm his mind by getting in touch with his core where his inner confidence lies – trying to be positive and visualising a positive outcome for every show/performance Hence, according to him, it’s basically about settling the mind and body in a positive-balanced state.
Shraddha Hattangady Mehta, Hindustani classical vocalist, depending on the situation and the mood she is in, relies on her mind, and its imaginative powers to conserve her confidence. She says, thoughts that have helped her overcome the nerves in the past included imagining being alone in a beautiful place where the audience ceases to exist, just smiling and believing that she is singing beautifully and the audience loves what she can render. Quirky thoughts like telling herself that the audience really had no choice but to sit and listen to what she sang and even the simplest action of closing her eyes for a few moments and breathing before beginning a recital have assisted her in dealing with anxiety. She adds that anything that works for an individual is fine – one just has to device a sure shot personal defence mechanism. I, for one, remember my mother telling me every time I got on stage, that I should look for that one person in the audience who looked genuinely appreciative of the performance and just concentrate on that person. To each – her/his own!
Stage fright or performance anxiety is probably one of the most commonly found incidences in life’s stage – professional or just life in general. It stems from the tendency to resist and fight the fears rather than accept and work with them. It’s when one looks at fears as a threat rather than as a challenge to overcome. That also makes it one of the most treatable forms of anxiety. Belief in oneself, one’s talent, one’s ability to overcome all hindrances and give whatever one is doing the very best shot without worrying about the results, will go a long way in overcoming these fears. I also feel that as long as one is true to the talent one is blessed with and believes in completely enjoying what one is doing, jitters like these will only work as fuelling agents to draw out the best from within.
“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Easier said than done?? But it could be worth an attempt, nonetheless. Until I am able to imbibe this thought in my singing performances as well, what can I say…..i guess the JITTERS it is for me!!!!
Contributed by:
Anuya Naik
Industrial Designer, Amateur Dancer and attempted Singer and Musician.
Jeneva Talwar, Former Actor, Filmmaker now Pattisier.
Jeneva heads her own French pastry brand ‘Coquette’ and is based out of Delhi, India. In her acting career, she has been part of prestigious film projects like ‘Patiala House’, ‘Bombay to Bangkok’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to name a few.
You can find her on facebook : coquettebyjeneva. Blog :
Mithun Rodwittiya, Actor and Model
Based of out Mumbai, Mithun has to his credit , performances in the films ‘Inkaar’ and ‘What the Fish’. He has walked the ramp for many famous Indian menswear designers at the Lakme Fashion Weeks and has also modelled for the Leela Hotels ad campaign.
Shraddha Hattangady Mehta, Hindustani Classical Vocalist
Trained in classical vocals, Shraddha has performed at various venues and festivals across the country including the Saptak and Kabirostav music fests in Ahmedabad – her home town. She has also been featured in a promo campaign by the channel Sony Mix.
Dipika Vijay, Tribal Fusion Belly Dancer artist
A remarkable performer herself and based out of Mumbai, Dipika is a senior instructor at ‘Veve Dance’. She has been teaching belly dancing for the last six and half years and has won many awards in this field. She has choreographed many professional performances and has also trained many TV & film actresses in this dance form.
You can find her on :
Vasu Dixit, Lead Vocalist , Song writer and Rhythm guitarist, Swarathma
One of the founding members of one of India’s leading Folk Rock bands Swarathma , Vasu has to his credit many National and International performances. Swarathma’s unique musical flavour has been widely appreciated across the globe.
You can find them on :