The Harbinger Online

Pressured Performance


My left eyebrow starts to twitch uncontrollably as I stand up from my seat. The room is quiet despite a few scattered coughs. I pass dozens of people in their chairs as I attempt to walk with confidence toward the front of the room. I plaster a smile onto my face as I remember to act naturally. Then I step on the marked spot in front of the judges’ table and force my eyes to meet their faces. I’m answered with mostly blank expressions, a few grins, but the majority are too focused on the bowl of trail mix in front of them. I attempt to gather their attention by introducing myself. A nervous energy courses through the room as the kids behind me secretly pray for my failure and I scramble to remember the second verse of my song.

Then I hear the first chords of the piece.

I hate auditioning. The waiting, the judgement and the competition make me feel like a poodle in the Westminster Dog Show. Nonetheless, excluding the first show I ever did, I have auditioned for every one of the ten musicals I’ve taken part in. I force myself to audition. The only way to be a lead in a show is to try out and I refuse to pass up any opportunity to perform.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.01.46 PMThat desire powers me to find the courage to audition, and then do it again, and again after that, because I have to in order to do what I love. I trick myself into focusing on the final boom of applause, or countless laughs I’ll share with castmates once the show begins, rather than my rapid heart rate as I dread to be called next.

Their black and blue scribbling pens terrify me, because I know what is being written is an assessment of who I am. The pressure of success or failure at the hands of someone else’s opinion gets to me, adding to my own high expectations.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to politely thank someone for their time and leave the room before the tears start to spill because I’ve been disappointed in my performance. When I hit a wrong note or stumble on a line, my face reddens and my eyes well up, because I’m so embarrassed to be judged based upon that one performance. I have a single chance to make an impression. Each show during the summer is a month or longer, so my vacation could be made or ruined in that moment.

Even worse than the lost time: the vulnerability of auditioning. When I audition, I am myself. When I’m onstage, I am a totally different person: a ridiculous stepsister, or a polished secretary or a bird without a feathered tail. I’m distant from family, friends and strangers watching me from the audience.

But when I’m sitting at auditions and my name is called from a list of a hundred people, the panel sitting behind the table is deciding whether or not they like me, rather than a fictional character. There are no lights, no backdrops, no stage and no costumes to shield me. I must stand there in front of them, asking for their criticism. I would much rather play to thousands than feel the intimacy of their stares while I try to impress them.

As much as I try to avoid feeling the inevitable nervous, shaky legs, I know that auditioning forces me to improve. Auditions require preparation and confidence, and though I detest the experience, I always walk out the door a bit prouder than I came in.

There’s something to be said for setting that goal for myself, to do a little better than the audition before. Maybe in the future, it won’t matter to me how the man in the middle chair reacted to my acting. Maybe I won’t stress over forgetting a word of my song, or having to clear my throat in order to say a line. Maybe next time I’ll leave the room with my head held so high they can’t help but give me the part.

As I continue to audition, I hope to build my resilience against criticism.  Each experience humbles me; I know the rejection, the opinions and the pressure only better me.

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