Supportive Families and Performance Anxiety

I have dealt with performance anxiety for most of my performing life. How can something that you love doing so much terrify you so much?

I think the more supportive your family and friends are in your formative years, the less terrifying performing is. However, that’s not always the case. I’ve had students with terrible anxiety who have wonderfully supportive parents. I’ve known people who have received no familial support throughout their lives who shine on stage and who create their own family unit from their theatrical peers.

I’ve mentioned Alfred Lubrano before, the author of Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams. For some people, the feeling of not fitting in impacts them both in the families they grew up in and the careers they choose to pursue. I think that is a major factor in my own performance anxiety issues. The feeling of being a fraud and that people will find out and kick me out of the lofty perch to which I’ve aspired – back to the old neighborhood where I was thought of as stuck-up.

My mother was not supportive. My father was, in his own way. He may have thought what I was doing was unrealistic, but he came to my performances – by himself. Mom came to the first Miss West Allis pageant I did, but it made her so nervous that she thought she was going to die of a heart attack. (She told my college advisor that she’d had to have a schnapps beforehand to calm her nerves, and Sister Ann asked me later, “Christine, does your mother have a drinking problem?” “No, Sister Ann, she has a drama problem.”) The next year I did the pageant, I begged her to come and she wouldn’t because she was afraid she’d die. (Hey, I was the one in the swimsuit!! ) Dad came. And I took 2nd runner-up that year. He also came to my first professional opera, Carmen (I was in the chorus – Florentine Opera, 1980!).

He came to many things until he had his stroke and could no longer drive. Once Mom was in the driver’s seat, literally, she was also… in the driver’s seat. If she didn’t want to go, she didn’t go. So he couldn’t go either. She was in control! (Any wonder why she got so mad when the doctor said she couldn’t drive any more? Or when she thought I’d sold her car while she was in the hospital? It was being repaired and detailed, but she was certain I’d sold it just to keep her from driving.)

Controlling mothers – there are pages and pages about them in textbooks and novels. Maybe if I’d gotten out from under her influence earlier, I could have had a better relationship with her later. It took me a long time to find my own voice in so many ways. It’s too bad she really didn’t want to hear it. I loved her very much and only wanted to please her. Once I decided I needed to please myself, she didn’t like it.

There are also pages and pages about performance anxiety. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it until you stop falling down. I’m going to try to remain upright for as long as I can.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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