Sometimes, no matter how well prepared your student may be, the Stage Fright Monster takes hold. You’re mid-recital and you glance over to your next performer only to see her frozen in fear, with her flushed face buried in mom’s shirt.
Her parents are panicked and embarrassed (after all, they brought 14 people to watch her performance…). The room falls silent as everyone waits for your student to come up to the piano. Mom stage-whispers and attempts to peel her child away from her. Seconds tick by like hours and your student’s face gets redder (and the parents become more and more animated and insistent). The Stage Fright Monster has arrived.
What to Do When the Stage Fright Monster Appears
The Stage Fright Monster is never far off – he’s likely to appear at any one of your recitals, and he doesn’t particularly care which student he chooses to affect. Even your most precocious and confident students can suddenly have a moment of weakness… and then he strikes. We can’t stop him from appearing, but here’s how to become a Stage Fright Monster slayer…
1) Learn to Spot Him – There is a difference between good old fashioned nerves and the Stage Fright Monster. Good old fashioned nerves are totally normal, and it’s important for kids to be encouraged to perform despite the butterflies in their tummies. The feelings of success that come from working through those nerves are powerful.
The Stage Fright Monster, however, causes extreme anxiety, panic, and the refusal/inability to perform. The two related… but they’re different, and it’s important to be able to quickly spot the difference when you’re mid-recital. As your recital progresses, keep your eye on your upcoming performers and do a visual check-in. It’s easier to deal with the Stage Fright Monster if he doesn’t take you by surprise.
2) Don’t Let Him Linger – It’s important to recognize that once a child is feeling extremely anxious, it’s fairly unlikely that any amount of cajoling, bribing, insisting or pressuring will get her up on stage. At that point, in her mind, the risks of performing far outweigh the rewards for her and her brain is so focused on her anxiety that you’ll have a real fight on your hands if you’re going to continue to try… and you’ll almost always lose.
Even if you do manage to get her up to the piano, the likelihood of this being a positive performance for her is slim. Her brain is in “fight or flight” mode… not “Minuet in G” mode. A stumbling and anxiety-ridden performance will do more damage to her confidence than missing out on this one recital experience. It’s best to just let her be. Don’t drag out the process of waiting, asking, convincing… just move on with the program.
3) Check to See if He’s Gone – Sometimes the Stage Fright Monster spontaneously disappears. As your little performer acclimatizes themselves to the recital environment, she may suddenly realize that things are not as bad as they once seemed and, once the Stage Fright Monster has retreated, she decides that she actually DOES want to perform the song you’ve worked on for months.
Do a quick check in with your once-frightened kiddo before the recital finishes and give her the opportunity to try again if she wants to. There’s nothing more triumphant than the performance of a child who has conquered the Stage Fright Monster.
Your Approach Really Counts…
These first experiences in front of an audience set the tone for many other aspects of your piano students’ lives. Public speaking, dance recitals… future Karaoke bar performances and Maid of Honor speeches… they will all be affected by a successful (or a terrifying) childhood grapple with the Stage Fright Monster. With a little help and understanding from you, your students can learn to keep that beast at bay… on their own terms, in an environment where they feel supported and understood.