I've performed on stage in some capacity for most of my life, and stage fright has rarely been an issue for me -- nothing beyond general nervousness that ends up just getting the blood pumping in your brain. The only handful of real debilitating stage fright episodes I've had came later, in relatively recent years.
The first was during auditions for "Godspell" in 2006. They asked for volunteers to go first during the singing part of the tryout. I shrugged and stepped up there -- no big deal. Until the music started and I looked at everyone staring at me, and suddenly, the muscles in my gut froze and I couldn't get any air. And of course, my brain partially shut down at the same time. I don't know what I sounded like, but I muddled through enough to have them listen to me again later when I was calmer. I was ultimately assigned a couple solos, so they were gracious to me.
The next time was when the dance ministry coordinator at Hope Church talked me into dancing a solo in a service. In theory, I was a little nervous but fine with this idea. Until I went to the church during the week before my performance day to practice on the "stage" floor. I suddenly found myself hyperventilating, stiffening up, my brain completely shutting down. I'd never experienced anything like that before and I panicked -- which, of course, made it all worse. A second practice day elicited the same results, and when Sunday morning came, I genuinely feared that I would totally fall apart up there in front of everyone. I didn't, but I was quite aware that the Spirit was doing this through me because I was completely incapable at that point.
Episode three was yesterday. When a couple weeks ago my BSF class had to sing our opening songs a cappella because nobody answered the call for an accompanist, I decided this was ridiculous and volunteered. It had been 15 years or so since I'd accompanied anything, but it was no-brainer stuff to me . . . or so I thought. When I got the music the day before lesson day and started practicing, it started up again: the brain freeze, the fingers stiffening, one slip of the hand to the wrong spot and I was lost and couldn't get it back again. I debated calling her back and saying, sorry, maybe next time when I have more time to practice. But I muddled my way through, and it turned out just fine last night.
What I've been considering after this recent episode is why now? After so many years, why all of a sudden has stage fright cropped up into my experience? Some things these episodes had in common: they all involved skills I had down pretty solid, but had not shared publicly with anyone for a long time (or in the case of the dancing, ever). They also all came after a significant point in my life as a "performer" -- a point I can't identify by time or place but by when I realized I'd passed it.
I was doing a monologue at Hope where I was a street person -- one I had to take on at the last minute with only a couple days of preparation. As I was trying on various scrungy clothes pieces, trying to get the right filthy look, it suddenly occurred to me: ten years ago, it would have KILLED me to go on stage looking this ugly. Ten years ago, my performances were about me looking good. I would never have said that -- I certainly didn't think in my heart that it was so -- but it was. Something had changed now. I actually had people after that street person skit tell me they didn't even know it was me up there. And that was perfect. My concern now was not about what they thought of me; my concern was now that God speak truth to them through me, that I become invisible, in a sense, and the message shine brightly.
And not until then did the Enemy attack me with the stage fright, which always feels more external to me than internal, weirdly enough. I remember hearing once that when the Enemy seems to be working overtime to get you, you must be on the right track. I guess there's some comfort in that. Even more comfort in God's record for speaking to his people more powerfully through my stage fright than any other time. For when I am weak, then I am strong.