09/20/07 - stagefright

In today's excerpt - Laurence Olivier and Carly Simon on stagefright:

"Stagefright is a traumatic, insidious attack on the performer's expressive instrument: the body. According to psychoanalyst Donald Kaplan, who studied this morbid form of anxiety, the trajectory of stagefright begins with manic agitation and moodiness, proceeds to delusional thinking and obsessional fantasies, and then to 'blocking'—the 'complete loss of perception and rehearsed function.' The actor stiffens, trembles, and grows numb and uncoordinated. His mental and aural processes seize up. His throat tightens, his mouth goes dry, and he has difficulty speaking. The experience ... is a simulacrum of dying. 'I died out there' or 'I corpsed', actors say. ...

"In what seemed to be a gesture of preemptive defiance, before a show Olivier used to stand behind the curtain muttering at the audience over and over, 'You bastards.'

"... Olivier wrote of his famous performance in 'Othello', 'I had to beg my Iago, Frank Finlay, not to leave the stage when I had to be left alone for a soliloquy, but to stay in the wings downstage where I could see him, since I feared I might not be able to stay there in front of the audience by myself.'

"... Carly Simon, who suffers from chronic stagefright, told me, 'It felt claustrophobic being in the spotlight and being expected to finish a song. So I left myself the leeway of being able to leave the stage at the end of every song. What I tell myself now is, 'If I just get through the song I'll be able to leave.' "


John Lahr




The New Yorker Magazine


August 28, 2006


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