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Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

 

Ahhh old mate Performance Anxiety… That little voice in the back of our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough…

I thought it was time to pen a little something on this topic, because I seem to be at a point in my career where performance anxiety doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Suffice to say I am certain there will be moments to come in my life when anxiety rears its ugly head and becomes unbearable again, as these things come in waves, but perhaps future Jess will find some comfort in these ideas, so that’s something.

Anxiety has always manifested itself as an evil little voice in my head, telling me I am not good enough. Super helpful, right? As soon as I approach that top note or that long, melismatic phrase, the voice says “Oh yes, this is the bit you’re going to screw up cos you actually suck. Ok well have fun then bye.” Cool. Thanks anxiety. Thanks brain. Super grateful. ❤

I had a mentor at Uni by the name of Tessa Bremner, whose input on this particular subject I really appreciated. She used to talk about that little voice, and called it something along the lines of ‘the parrot on your shoulder’, which is obviously an awesome metaphor. Whenever I had a brain block and the anxiety took over (usually to the point of me not even physically being able to sing anymore) she would tell me to “knock the parrot off”, and keep going. At first, doing exactly that was impossible; but I kept at it and succeeded eventually.

So I found myself in a place where, if I yelled inwardly at myself, I would be able to perform. Marginally better, yes, but there was a long way to go.

So much of what we do depends on a positive self-image and self love. I started to realise that when I focussed on what I was doing well, I started improving much faster (instead of damning myself whenever I got something wrong). To this day the performance recap I do with myself usually goes a little something like this:

‘OK so that particular section needs some work, but you nailed this bit and I loved the following things about that performance blah blah blah’

This manner of thinking has helped me no end. When I approach a performance now, I don’t panic about it (as long I have done the work – and I ALWAYS do the work). There will eternally be that rush of adrenaline before you walk out onto the stage – but that of course comes under the umbrella of ‘good stress’, and we need that energy to get through our performance.

Positive self talk, and acknowledgement of how far we have come is an incredibly helpful thing. Find yourself a teacher/ mentor who will encourage you positively, but know that it’s pretty much exclusively up to you to talk yourself up in a positive way. Know that you have something special and you have stories to tell. Keep going. Be kind to yourself.

It’s so hard to do, but practise (haha) and it will get easier. You will reap the rewards and see yourself improve much more. Go you good thing! I believe in you!

Auditioning for Schools in the UK

Blog Post.

The fist one.

Ever.

It’s a bit exciting.

Having travelled recently I thought it might be worth recording my experience for all the other young opera singers trying to break through the good old glass ceiling and get some exposure in that Mecca of Opportunity: the Northern Hemisphere.

Now let me get to the question you’re all thinking: How much will it cost? Will I be broke forever if I go? Are there special cooties overseas that I need to worry about? Well there are many different things to consider when going on this trip – here’s a breakdown for ya:

Part One: Of Budgets and Suchlike

  1. Return plane ticket: $2,500
  2. Cost of auditions at the Colleges and Schools: $1,100
  3. Accommodation: $2,000
  4. Extra travel: $1,000
  5. Singing lessons $1,000
  6. Amenities: $700
  7. Contingency: $2,000

So the total comes to a bit over $10,000. Ahhhh the exchange rate. Such fun.

Now, let me mention a disclaimer; I am the luckiest person alive and managed to stay with family and friends (therefore not paying rent) for the entire two month period I was away. So that was pretty fantastic, not gonna lie.

As to those of you who do not have this spectacular luxury, do not despair! There were several other Aussie song birds in the motherland while I was there as well and the general consensus was that staying in an Air B’n’B was the best thing. You can make your own food and practice etc. Staying in a hotel and eating out all the time gets very boring very quickly, and staying in a noisy hostel with backpackers is going to suck when you think about all the sleep and focus you need to audition well.

Next disclaimer; As to auditions, I could have done the bulk of them in one month. I was overseas for the extra month to have a wee sabbatical and meet many of my extended family. This extra month was made all the more worth it because I was invited to audition for the Opéra National du Paris Young Artist Program. Which brings me to the next part of the blog: The actual auditions.

Part Two: The Auditions Themselves

While overseas I auditioned for five post-graduate programs: The Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (Cardiff), Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal College of Music and The Royal Academy of Music (London). The experiences at each of these places were varied. Some were extremely positive, and others were not. As they are all musical institutions (and therefore extremely necessary for humanity) I will not elaborate on which were good and which were bad out here on the internet… so buy me a drink and I’ll tell you in person if you really want to know!

Some of the auditions were held in a small room with a two person panel, and some were held on a stage with a three – to – five person panel. Most of the auditions in the CUKAS system are in two parts. You go in and sing an aria or two and have a chatette with the panel, and then they ask you back for round two if they like you. Yours truly had a mixed bag with all of them, and two offers by the end of the tour. Sensational.

The audition at the Opéra National du Paris was the first of it’s kind I had ever experienced. Never have I been so privileged as to be able to audition for a contracted position. I waited behind the stage and then was introduced to the panel, went on, sang my aria… and that was that, really. It is my understanding that panels at this level always have a poker face – so prepare yourselves for that inevitability and don’t be thrown off your game because of it.

Part Three: CUKAS

Ah CUKAS…. So much of my life was spent on that online world of enrolment. Seriously, set aside about a month to get it sorted. You’ll need at least that long.

  1. You have to write a personal statement and list a whole lot of references as well (one academic and one character FOR EVERY APPLICATION).
  2. The cost of each audition ranges from £40-£100 With the exchange rate I ended up paying about $1000 AUD for all mine.
  3. (At time of writing) The CUKAS website is absolutely terrible to navigate. Possibly the worst and most confusing university website I have ever come across. Thankfully they have extremely helpful chat/online help… which almost makes up for the site.

Part Four: Practical Audition Stuff

  1. A few truths; you will ALWAYS WITHOUT FAIL wakeup with razorblades in your throat and a big pimple on your face the day of the audition. That said; neither of these things will impact your ability to perform, if you’ve done the work. So go out there AND BE AWESOME COS YOU ARE.
  2. Arrive early. I cannot emphasise this enough. If your audition advice letter asks you to arrive 30 mins before your audition, make sure you are there 40 mins before your audition. If you’re travelling around London, the tube is awesome but there is a lot of ground to cover. Also, the District and Circle lines are VERY slow so leave plenty of time to get where you need to go! You also have no reception on the tube as you are underground, so you can’t generally call someone to say you’re running late.
  3. The metro in Paris is pretty fantastic. I found it very easy to get around while I was there. Yay Paris!
  4. Take your time with your makeup. Steady hands make for even wings and blending skills. Slow breaths people, slow breaths.
  5. Remember that the result of the audition has very little to do with you. Get in there and tell a story – that is the best you can do. Then buy yourself a beer or an icecream. You did good : – )
  6. If you don’t get selected for the audition, send an email asking for feedback. Panels are usually happy to give you something constructive if they have the time.

Part Five: Useful Tidbits

  1. I took a QANTAS cash card over with me, which was AWESOME. You can load AUD, pounds, Euro and other currencies onto it. You can also withdraw cash in the local currency (even if you only have AUD on your card – the exchange rate is automatically calculated… ah the joys of modern technology) from ATMs with this card. It made the money side of things very easy, especially as I had a pay cycle from my normal job come through after I had left.
  2. I purchased a British sim card when I arrived in London from Three. It cost £40 for the month and came with UNLIMITED DATA. This meant that I could call whomever I so pleased on Facebook/Viber/Facetime/any other data based app, and it didn’t cost me anything extra. I mean, COME ON.
  3. If you’re seeing coaches while away, take cash to them. The going rate in London is £60 – £80 for a session.
  4. Banlangen Granules are the best immunity boosting thing ever. It’s worth buying some from an Asian apothecary (I got mine at the one in Haymarket, Sydney). The advice I was given by some wonderful mentors was that it was likely I would fall ill while there (especially after the flight and drastic change of season), and would be extra susceptible to the germs, as they would be foreign. I didn’t get sick while there, and I had a Banlangen tea every day. Coincidence? I don’t know… and I never will.