Stage Fright Combat.
As part of my ongoing actor training and development I took part in a week-long intensive Stage Combat course just a little while ago. The course was run by a great tutor who was very encouraging but also kept us grounded. What we were doing was not the norm. People usually take around ten or twelve weeks of classes to do what we were about to do in a week. Over the course of that week we were introduced to Unarmed and Small Sword combat (a style similar to fencing with very precise and delicate movements) techniques. A lot was presented to us and the whole group was tired, mentally, and physically at the end of each day.
We found scene partners who we would rehearse with for our exam on the Friday. The result of the exam being a Fail, Pass or Merit Grade. At the start of the week I would’ve been happy with a Pass. As the week progressed however, something strange began to happen. I found myself really enjoying the process and being generally ‘not shit’ at the various tasks. I’ve never really been one for being good at anything physical like sports or dance. So for this completely new thing to be taking a hold was thrilling.
The days went by and my legs grew more and more painful, all that squatting in ‘en garde’ sure does take its toll. As the exam, or ‘performance’ as we had begun to call it, approached, my nerves grew.
My damned nerves.
Hang on- first a bit of background. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. When it came to trying new things, especially anything physical, it would be a case of worrying about messing it up so much that I wouldn’t want to do it. Then not doing it, then feeling guilty for not doing it. This thinking is more than likely why I saw a steady weight gain during my 30’s- should go the gym, don’t know how, might mess it up, won’t go, should’ve gone to the gym, get depressed eat and drink to punish and medicate myself. A typical self-destructive behaviour pattern, all the while moaning about being chunky without doing anything about it. Because somewhere inside I believed I couldn’t.
This also applies to a lot of other things in my life but I want to keep this blog below a five hour reading time.
In recent years I’ve looked back at a lot of my behaviour. Maybe middle age does that to everyone, I don’t know. I find myself analysing things that happened years ago and how they could play out differently and what it means. I would tie myself in knots about people’s opinions of me and the things I said, over-thinking to the point where the original conversation had been lost in a storm of conjecture, and comebacks that were never needed.
Now that the discourse around mental health is a bit more open I realise I’m what could be classed as socially anxious.
This realisation has allowed me to process events and encounters in a much healthier way. It means I know myself much better than I have in ages. I now had a handle on things that would creep up on me. I saw my lack of action in regard to my weight as a deep-seated lack of worth- I wasn’t deserving of getting thinner or whatever standard of beauty I was striving for that week. Nowadays I can stop those negative feelings from manifesting, mostly.
So when I blew it in the exam it made it all the worse.
Now, I say blew it. I still passed. As did my scene partner. We were given feedback on our exam piece and asked to do it again, taking that feedback into consideration. When it came time to start again I lost all focus and discipline, my punches were not what we had rehearsed and my brain just plain forgot the routine at one point, but if we stopped completely then that was a Fail! I managed to complete the routine but I could immediately tell I had wrecked our chances of a Merit.
As we walked from the room I could feel that old familiar sting as tears of frustration built in my eyes. At the time I was more upset at having ruined my scene partners chance of a merit, they had worked so hard!
Why? Why did I just go all wrong and cack-handed? Sure I was nervous as hell, more nervous than I had been in a long while. But I’ve been nervous before and I’ll be nervous again, it’s all part of being a performer, isn’t it? I think it was fear, fear of messing up, of failing. My wife (the patient soul) always says, ‘If you’re going to fail, make it Heroic!’ I guess I did at that. If I hadn't failed at this point then I might have failed when it truly mattered, on stage r on set. By messing up now I can take a minute, reassess and regroup.
The next step is to process all this, hence this blog. Accept I’m not going to be amazing at something in a week, but maybe in six months I’ll be half decent at it.
Trev, August 2021.