Performance Anxiety Workshop

Conference Panel

SXSW Live Shots
Photo By Gary Miller

Performance Anxiety Workshop

Austin Convention Center, Friday 15 Dr. John Hipple, from the University of North Texas, asks the small, pensive crowd, "So, why'd you come?" A girl speaks out of the shyness: "We have performance anxiety?" "Yes," replies the doctor. "Yes, that's good. That's good." Such were the psychological revelations of this panel, which was equal parts self-help workshop, pop psychology seminar, and motivational speech. Dr. Hipple's methods are based on the simple idea that self-examination leads to incremental change based on the conclusions each individual draws from his/her introspection. A performer must think positively and focus on building strengths instead of dwelling on weaknesses in order to be successful. Or if not successful, at least comfortable. First off, explained Hipple, the person must figure out what they're afraid of. Push yourself to examine your fear, he said, in light of knowing there are two types of anxiety: true stage fright and preparation anxiety. There's also the kind of anxiety where you think about too many things -- your embittered significant other, your unhappy bandmates, the critical eyes in the audience. So there are actually three types. Anxieties manifest themselves in two ways, he continued. There's the cognitive, where you think too much, and there's the physical, like sweaty hands. There are also emotional concerns as well as social components that come into play. So there are four ways anxiety shows up. These concerns were duly acknowledged, but the pivotal point of how exactly does one figure out what their fears are, and how exactly do they calm down were met with generalities until the good doctor decided to take the room down a notch. Soft piano music tinkled on a boom box as all were advised to close their eyes, relax their bodies from head to foot, and take themselves in their mind's eyes to a "special place, a safe place." There we stayed for 10 minutes as he talked us through the exercise, and to be honest, you could feel a slight decompression in the room. Questions were met enthusiastically, and basically all things led to the idea that musicians, indeed all performers, should give up on the idea of perfection, because you're good enough, smart enough, and well, you know the rest.

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