It isn’t often you get to ask advice of your 96-year old mother about your own stage fright. But when I was speaking on my book tour (never having written a book or spoken publicly before), I was embarrassed that I would sweat profusely. That only added to my fear, convinced everyone noticed and was thinking, ’what’s his problem?’ I turned to someone with great experience – my mother.
Sono Osato danced with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the original company of American Ballet Theater as well as the Broadway shows ONE TOUCH OF VENUS and ON THE TOWN (as the original Miss Turnstiles). I mentioned my stage fright and asked her when was the most nervous she’d ever been and what she did about it. My mother didn’t miss a beat.
“It was at the Berlin Opera House in 1936. The Colonel (de Basil, manager of the company) had informed us that Himmler, Goering and Goebbels would be in the audience that night. I am sure I was not the only girl who prayed she would not accidentally look one of those men in the eye during the performance and have them take that as a signal.”
“Of what? That they liked the man?”
“Of course. I was terrified they might come backstage.”
“Ooh. What did you do?”
“The technique was to focus your eyes on a specific spot, whether in the theater or on a person. The stage lights will reflect back a little on the audience, so faces are visible. I realized I had to put my eyes somewhere safe during the performance. I chose the mezzanine façade. My eyes never met a Nazi there.
“So, dear, it’s best to focus on a spot, whether a thing or a person, to make a connection to the ‘out there’. That way you get out of your fear, out of your own way. Once you do that, somehow you’re not nervous anymore.” She made it sound so simple.
Luckily, my audiences weren’t Nazis, but Civil War buffs, students and American soldiers. Nevertheless, her advice worked.