This is a guest post by Benjamin Spall. Benjamin writes on a variety of topics ranging from simple living, minimalist travel, and entrepreneurship.
I held onto a lot of fear at school. It wasn’t fear of anything in particular; such as a fear of dogs, spiders, or the inappropriate old man down the street.
No. This was an altogether different type of fear. I was fearful of an audience, or more specifically, I was fearful of the social implications an audience would bring.
Even something so little as putting my hand up in the classroom was enough to send my social anxiety into overdrive.
The crippling feeling of an audience was too much to bear. If the teacher were to pick me to answer the question, I feared having hundreds of eyes staring back at me as I struggled to answer a question I could have confidently reeled out if it were just the teacher and me alone.
One day, in year eight (aged 13), the opportunity came up to audition to be in the school rendition of Bugsy Malone.
Now I’m sure at this point you’re expecting me to say I auditioned for Bugsy, got the part, was dazzling as Bugsy (thrilling, even) and lost all my fear of an audience once and for all.
I’m afraid this is not the case. In fact, I didn’t audition at all.
I’ve never wanted to be an actor. I don’t enjoy acting, and as far as I’m aware I’m not very good at it (more recently, whilst helping a friend complete his university film production degree, I had to be told to stop looking into the camera on more than one occasion).
What I did want to do however, was work backstage.
I couldn’t have been more excited when I got the part. I say ‘got the part’ with great pride, yet I imagine aside from walking into the meeting dressed in all white with a booming voice, it would have been hard to have been turned away.
When we started rehearsing I could barely contain myself. Unlike my fellow classmates in acting roles who had to merly sit and watch whilst the rest of the production performed, waiting their turns patiently, I, and the rest of our small backstage team were “on stage” (an area we marked off with some silver tape) constantly.
I loved it. We rehearsed every Thursday for many more months than I can remember. My role was ever-changing. One week I may be standing in for ‘tree on the left’ due to the absence of not-yet manufactured set props, the next week I’d be running around the actors with a bucket of shredded paper, mimicking some kind of papier-mache storm.
The one thing that remained consistent, week on week, was my being centre stage. As I said earlier, I’ve never wanted to be an actor, but I knew in that moment I wanted to be somebody who made stuff happen.
Come the week of the production any fear of an audience, or indeed social fear I’d ever felt, completely vanished in favour of crippling excitement for the week ahead.
Aside from a few clumsy mishaps here and there (it turns out knocking over one prop can often cause a domino effect of prop-on-prop crime whilst stacked behind the theatres back curtain… a curtain which, unfortunately for itself and mine, cannot claim to be the greatest sound barrier this side of the Atlantic), Bugsy went off without a hitch.
Each night I’d peak out of a hole in one of the side curtains, watching the audiences reaction to the performance taking place. At the end of each night, and most in particularly at the end of the final night there wouldn’t have been enough money in the world to have stopped me from running onto the stage to take my bow.
For this was not just a play to me. This was me getting over my fear of an audience, not just the audience of parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents being performed to each night, but the audience of cast members I held a central role with each night, and every Thursday for many more months than I can remember.
I embraced being a part of the backstage team because it was something I truly wanted to do. I threw caution to the wind and ignored my previous fears and doubts so to pursue something I knew I’d love.
Don’t let fear get in the way of opportunities as they arise. Grab hold of opportunities before you have the time to convince yourself otherwise, and take your bow.