After playing the part of nervous drama student for the best part of a year, hearing someone invite me to watch a third-year student devised production at my university was like drinking a mug of tea through my ears. No more sleepless nights and frantic spontaneous line-runs to terrified students in the corridors. Now was the time, as ridiculously clichéd as it sounds, to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Or so I thought.
Having been part of the performance side of things for so long, I had completely forgotten all about life on the other side of the curtain. I’m not joking. Maybe it’s just my stupendously self-conscious nature and this is all hugely exaggerated in my head, but I am still constantly aware of every tiny movement and inaudible breath that I take, so as to not distract the performers.
There are a number of aspects that make up what I have termed ‘stalls fright’. All of them combine to make the audience member feel like the spotlight is on them, and all of them strike us at one moment or another. I hope.
Getting it right
For me, this is definitely the worst. The thought of emerging as clueless from the darkness as to what went on, as when I entered, fills me with a sense of horror… and so I try desperately to observe and analyse every gesture and irrelevant blink, in order to assure myself that I am understanding the “deeper meaning behind the piece. Yah.”
Coughing, sneezing and even itching. With this factor at least I know that I’m not alone. The last time I saw an opera, as soon as the first applause came, with it arrived a torrent of coughs that had been held in by the polite spectators. Too far? Or just polite?
…at the right moment. And hand-in-hand with this comes the patronising fear that others will choose the wrong moment, because they don’t really ‘get it’. It’s an awful vicious circle.
And then there’s the dreaded Micro-sleep.
When the micro-sleep strikes in the theatre it’s just the worst. That moment where you open your eyes and have no idea how long you were asleep for. Your eyes dart around the stage, searching for clues (was he wearing that before?) but you just can’t tell. Could be 30 seconds, could be 30 minutes. You’ll never know.
I’m not saying ‘stalls fright’ is anywhere near as nerve-wracking as stage fright. But it’s interesting to consider the pressures we (or I?) put ourselves (most probably just myself) under. And yet, with so many amazing productions on at the moment, I’m lucky that this doesn’t occur often at all. It’s usually exclusive to lectures.