Delving into the puzzle of stage fright

Posted on: July 31, 2015

In the August 3 issue of the New Yorker, Joan Acocella writes, “What’s behind stagefright? …
Stagefright has not been heavily studied, which is strange because … it is common not only among those who make their living on the stage but among the rest of us, too.” Among the musicians with the condition cited in the article are Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Charles Rosen, and Emanuel Ax. “Stagefright has been aptly described as ‘self-poisoning by adrenaline.’ … The person’s muscles tense, he sweats and shakes, his heart pounds, his mouth goes dry, he has trouble breathing, he may become nauseated or dizzy, and his throat constricts, making his voice rise in pitch…. Once, in 1901, Pablo Casals went hiking and a big rock fell on his bowing hand, crushing several fingers. Casals recalled that his first thought was: ‘Thank God! I’ll never have to play the cello again!’ By that time, though he was only twenty-four, he was regarded by many as the greatest cellist in the world.” The article cites Sara Solovitch’s 2015 book Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright, as well as treatments including beta blockers, E.M.D.R. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and yoga and meditation.

Posted July 31, 2015