There are only 2 types of speakers in the world. 1. the nervous and 2. the liars ~ Mark Twain
ABES students have frequent opportunities, both in class and on stage, to learn about stage fright. Parents of children who transfer to ABES often report that their children miraculously overcome fear of public appearances here. We know that this occurs for several reasons. First, the task at hand is so engaging and so exciting that it’s worth facing down the dragon to participate. Second, we tailor the roles to suit each child’s ability, so the success level is high. Third, we directly teach management of stage fright. And last: we do a lot of it. Clichés about fear of public speaking over death aside, stage fright can be debilitating, and not just for children. The skills we teach about coping with fear of public oratory may serve students well in end-of-grade testing, and in many adult professions and personal situations later on.
According to my assistant and mother of three ABES graduates, “The gift of being able to stand up in front of people and present oneself is a lifelong gift.” Here are some of the lessons ABES students learn, tailored to adults: Number one: BREATHE! Write it on your hand: BREATHE! Write it after a line on your script. BREATHE! Hang it on the wall where only you can see it during the performance or speech. Or just slow down enough to remind yourself. The most crippling symptoms come from attempting to control your symptoms. Try careful, unbiased, gentle focus and acknowledgement to yourself of your symptoms. Imagine you are about to perform (or arrange to do a small dress rehearsal so you can observe yourself, with a real audience.) Do you breathe faster? More shallowly? Do you feel tightness in your chest? Do your hands shake? Shoulders tense? Just observe, without judgment. Once you have acknowledged these, try intentionally increasing the symptoms. Make your hands shake even harder, HARDER! Now shift your attention to the chest. Tighten it more, more MORE. As you acknowledge and then increase each symptom, you join the moment instead of fighting it, and sometimes it will even make you laugh. This is ideal, as laughter puts your body into perfect position for speech.
I tell Kindergarteners that when they notice butterflies in their tummy they should say hello and notice them. Adults who have a speaking engagement or a solo to sing can do the same thing. What color are they? Can you make them fly in formation? Can you add more butterflies of a different color? Can you get them to do some flips and cartwheels? A kindergarten teacher took that idea and suggested that the kindergarteners draw their butterflies. Give them lots of detail, I say. Give them cute little faces with eyelashes and maybe a pretty crown. They are your friends! They make your performance even more energized. Good old butterflies! Be loving with yourself about the symptoms. Your body thinks you need to run or fight, so it's getting you ready. Sweet little body! It wants to help you! Reassure it that your really are safe, these people love you.
~ Mary Siebert, arts curriculum coordinator