Saturday, 23 August 2014

Stage fright

Stage fright: your instrument is a paintbrush!

The violinist Tom Eisner recently wrote an excellent piece for The Guardian on the problems of stage fright before and during a concert. A traumatic business for performing artists of all sorts. But there are not many, I guess, who have to face the challenge of nerves with a paintbrush as their instrument. I hear you asking "are you nuts?"

After designing, choreographing and memorizing my kinetic visual equivalents to the music, I paint these live in concert. As I paint, you can see enormous enlargements of my brushes on a screen of say 9 x 6m. that hangs behind the orchestra. Rather exposed, you might say.

My largest brush, performing with the Circle Percussion ensemble.

My brush may sometimes be trembling. Everything can go wrong! There are times when you have to be absolutely in synch with the music, so obviously the right brush in the right pot of colour is ready, placed one second away from the glass plate I paint on. But you must have just the right amount of paint on the brush, then stroke it with the right gesture, gently or with gusto on the slippery plate - and oh, I'm painting everything upside down (standing behind the overhead projector, so I can see the screen). Piece of cake. Using an instrument made of wood and hair, it's just like playing the violin. Yeah, it helps if you practise for forty years.

Rehearsing in the studio, using two brushes on one of five projectors.

The still shot below is a moment towards the end of Scriabin's sensual Poem of Ecstasy, when the orchestra has been pulling out all the stops fortissimo. I pick up the pulse of the trumpet solo with tiny drops of window cleaner on the glass plate, just enough to make it expand with the crescendo at the right tempo. In my rather ragged studio rehearsal video (see further below), I just miss the trumpet entrance (at No. 38 in the score) by one bar, but I practise to get it right on the night. Only two thousand people will be watching. No sweat.

Nerves? For me the nerves kick in before I go on stage. My personal solution is to tap on the acupressure points of the energy meridians that we all possess, using the EFT method (Emotional Freedom Techniques) founded by Gary Craig. The routine is simple - you sit quietly in a corner, tap on the karate-chop part of your hand, saying to yourself something like "Even though I'm as nervous as hell, I accept myself and my situation completely". Then tapping gently on the energy meridians, I quietly affirm my resolve to show to the audience something of extreme beauty that they have never seen before - and I'm going to enjoy doing it! Breathe out and repeat three times. 

Well that's the short version. It's easy to find more on internet, but it helps if you start with an EFT counsellor like the wonderful woman who helped and still helps me to deal with stress, stage fright and much more.  
My portrait of Gabrielle Rutten, my EFT therapist, tapping on the karate chop spot.

A 10 min. montage from my studio rehearsal of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, performed 
                                     with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2010.


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