Pre-Show Anxiety by Esther Barad Thompson

Last week was our once a year, poetry (and also skit) performance. I, a sophomore went second. This year, although my second year at SOTA, was my first year doing this specific performance. I had performed once before, maybe in front of around 40 people, but this was so much more. Hundreds of people, all listening to me, watching me, all eyes on me. And even though this was my first actual performance, I went second. I’ve never thought of myself as a good performer. I stutter from time to time, I don’t know what to do with my hands, I tell people I don’t get nervous when in fact, I’m just really really good at convincing people that I’m not nervous. So when I heard my name second while a student read the list of names in order, I truly wondered: who in their right mind would choose me to go second?! 

We were all sitting in a row of chairs behind the dark blue velvet curtain that hid us from the audience. I could feel the ground rumble, not knowing if I was making it up in my mind or the person next to me was anxiously bouncing their knee up and down. A bag full of perfectly ripe grapes sat beside me, and on the other side, a friend of mine. The lights had dimmed already, we could hear the chatter of voices and laughter only 50 feet in front of us. My friend and I had learned from a text message from their mom that “lightly bouncing up and down while holding hands helped your nerves.” Although I didn’t really believe this text message, I decided that my nerves truly needed to be saved, so I held hands with them, and we bounced. I had told everyone that I wasn’t nervous, I had almost convinced myself, but as the lights dimmed, and the sound of hundreds of people grew, my convincing just wasn’t enough. The jumping up and down had caught the attention of a senior and a freshman, and they asked to join. Soon, it was five people holding hands, quietly laughing, and jumping up and down (lightly.) I realized as I was jumping how lucky I was. I was around people who loved me, and that I loved as well. The theatre was full of nervous teenagers, but it was also full of love. 

You are going to do so great. They are going to love you. I’m so proud of you. You are amazing and this is going to be so. much. fun. Was all that I could hear now. Not hands trembling, or knees bumping. I wasn’t sure if the bouncing had truly helped, or I was just surrounded with so much excitement and joy that it had consumed and replaced the anxiety. I realized as I was sitting behind the curtain that everyone sitting in those chairs in front of me wanted to be here. They were here to enjoy us, to listen. My friends and family were there to support me and I could feel it. Nobody sitting out there was there because they didn’t like me, but I had convinced myself that something was going to go wrong. So what if I had stuttered, or was actually nervous! They wouldn’t care, they were here to see me, not some perfect, faultless person. As the crowd cheered, watching the first performer walk off the stage, I confidently walked my way to the middle of the stage. I wasn’t nervous. If I had my mask off, people would have seen it. I couldn’t have been smiling more, this weird, yet pure adrenaline-fueled- joy. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so uncontrollably. I don’t remember reading my poem, just the fact that when I walked off that stage, I was sure that It didn’t matter if I had messed up, I was still smiling, and happy.

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