I am a member of a chorus. I also sing as part of my improv acting – and, in fact, my favorite improvised show I do is a musical (USS Improvise – the musical Star Trek TNG).
So, here’s an interesting thing.
I am completely horrified at the thought of singing in front of an audience.
I have never had acting stage fright. I have gotten over my fear of improv singing in public (mostly because the audience knows you are making it up on the spot – they forgive all the missed notes and flats and lack of ability to come up with the right words). But singing a prepared song in front of a bunch of people, while sober (ruling out all those times at karaoke), is downright frightening.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to face that fear by singing a solo – Since I Fell For You – at the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus “To Portland With Love” love-song matinee.
To get this solo I had to audition.
As far as I can tell, my fear stems from the knowledge that, in the act of singing a prepared song, what I am actually doing is stating, “I think I am a good singer and believe you should think the same, oh, and here is proof”. Basically, by singing a prepared song in front of an audience I am saying, “watch this”. Famous last words if I ever heard any.
Then there is the factor that the smaller the audience the more nervous I am. That leads me back to the audition. Bob Mensel is a delightful man and has truly been nothing but nice to me. But, to me he is intimidating. That’s true even just in conversation. But when I had to audition for him, at his house, in front of a video camera…
It was a cold day, and raining. I had worn a tank top, a sweater, a jacket and a scarf. By the time the audition was over I was down to just the tank top – not from some misguided pretense that I could wile my way into solos for the Gay Men’s Chorus – I was dripping with nervous sweat in just the tank top and wondering if points were being deducted for every layer I shed.
But, I did get in. And rehearsals were last week. That’s when I was supposed to sing in front of half the group that had made it into the show. When the pianist played my intro, I couldn’t find my opening note and I was so nervous my voice had taken on an unrecognizable vibrato. One of the men at rehearsal just put his hand on my hands as I sat back down and said, “You are so pretty” then he paused and said, “I mean, when you sing”. If not comforted by the sentiment, per se, I was certainly comforted by the solidarity.
Finally, yesterday came. We had a quick rehearsal starting at 1 for a show that was opening at 3. I was going to be the first soloist. I memorized the little spiel I was supposed to say to present the person following me in the performance. I put on the brightest red lipstick I own. I stood up at the right time and made it to my spot on stage. Then the music paused and waited for me. I looked right at the director and the words of my song spilled out of my head. Unfortunately, the path they took did not include my mouth. Shaking in my four inch heels (from nerves not height) I stood agape at the director and tried to will the words back into my brain or myself out of existence.
“When!” When is the starting word. OK.
“Sorry! I will remember that when the performance starts. I promise I won’t mess it up.”
I sang a bit of song and cut off for the sake of time. Then I introduced the next performer with no problems.
For the rest of the time before performance I sang the two opening lines of the song over and over and over again. As I did that, I talked myself out of having, “just a little nip to ease the nerves”.
The moment of truth finally came. I got up to sing my song. The chord hit. I hit the note properly. Everything was gravy (for values of gravy that equal incredibly unnerving to be singing in front of an audience and seeing a lot of my fellow chorus friends and also seeing some people in the audience mouthing the song along with me – that’s a lot of pressure, oh and did I mention my leg was shaking so bad that I am sure the audience thought that there was a fan blowing my skirt around).
I finished the song and started in on the intro for the next performer.
And that is when my fortitude collapsed. I completely forgot the prepared spiel. I had to leave my spot on stage and go grab my cue card off my chair (my dress had no pockets). I looked down at it and somehow mispronounced Eliza Doolittle as Elias Dostoevsky. I giggled a little, gathered myself together. Introduced the next singer and sat down on stage with a sigh.
I can’t wait for the next solo opportunity.