Monday, April 14, 2014
Now that I've been this new job for more than half a year, I've started to realize how curious it really is.
What I'm doing, you see, is essentially teaching the job, or at least the essential skills of the job, that I've done for better than a decade for Golden Handcuffs Consulting Amalgamated International and for another decade before that in other settings. That's the task that brings me to sunny Florida, where I now sit in a moderately dreary business hotel just a little too near an expressway, having dined off the slimmish pickings of the concierge lounge hospitality buffet and preparing for an early night.
Because, you see, I'm tired. Teaching, you see is hard. Were she here, my old pal Miss Rheba would alternately be wanting to slap me and laughing her head off, for she has been a very dedicated teacher for a quarter of a century or so, and my little pronouncement, to put it mildly, would not strike her as news. But for me it is.
Or rather, it's not so much that I'm surprised that teaching is a challenge, as that I'd never really associated it with a much earlier phase of my life, when I still indulged my predisposition to show-offiness in various kinds of entertainment. I was a funny kind of performer you see, not particularly expert in any one thing, but up for almost anything that came along. Over a decade or so, I built up a career (of sorts) of no distinction whatsoever except in its breadth. Looking across my string of non-hits, they take in everything from community-theatre Shakespeare to college musicals to truly terrible ballets and lamentable light-operatic productions, with a stint as a local-TV kiddie-show sidekick and a very minor presence in regional student films thrown in for good measure. In all these highly temporary incarnations, the only really consistent quality to which you could ascribe my performance style was a kind of unflappability. In short, I had no stage fright.
It amazes to me to think what a role stage fright plays in even some of the very greatest careers. The show-offiest person, possibly, in show business history, Miss Joan Crawford, was a sufferer, so paralyzed by nerves that it was only when the alternative was near destitution (or worse, in her estimation, near obscurity) that she took on the challenge of television. The stories of the greatest stage stars - Sir Laurence Olivier and many others among them - are rife with tales of crashing nausea before each performance or helpless shivering during intermissions. But, no, not me, not ever.
I would calmly get dressed, do whatever needed in terms of stretching or vocalizing or (as on the TV show) helping our aging headliner into her foundation garment with no trace of apprehension, chat my way into the wings, and then sally forth with confidence, however lamentable the actual performance turned out to be. I would sail through the show, cool and collected - until the moment I came offstage or finished for the day in front of the camera.
But then. Oh, then. A crashing dread; a realization of all the legions of things that might have gone wrong. Waves of regret and a feeling of definite, ineluctable doom. Shakes, sweats, and misery, for a good half-hour or more. I had a kind of retroactive anxiety about the just-concluded effort that defied all logic and that really made much easier my eventual decision to capitalize on my abilities to type and to mollify high-strung types (both skills much admired, and in the latter case terribly practical, back home) and move into production and management.
Now, you see, it's becoming clear that some interior part of me, down there in the lizard brain immune to logic or bribery alike, considers teaching another form of performance, and with comparable results. Not as debilitating, perhaps, as having to pretend that I have any gift at all for dancing or singing - for as a teacher, I'm learning, I'm not without some actual talent, a most refreshing realization - but still considerable.
Friends who are devotees of the kinds of corporate personality testing that were very much the fashion a few years and probably still are in some circles have told me with great solemnity that the reason, you see, is that I am at heart an introvert, and that (what sounds like a contradiction to me, but what do I know) outgoing introverts such as myself spend all our energy when we have to be "on" and so require a great deal more time for introspection and recovery than those who gain energy from similar circumstances.
I hate to say it, but it makes a kind of sense, and if nothing else explains why after a day of jollying along a roomful of corporate trainees (just as formerly was the case with an evening of muddling through Twelfth Night or The Fire Bird), at least for a little while, I more or less implode.
So here I sit, replete from crudités and tonight's hot snack special (chicken tenders in Thai chili sauce, heaven help us), artificially calmed by a glass or three of executive-lounge Pinot Gris, and ready to collapse until the morning comes again. Tomorrow is another long day of walking newer colleagues through the mysteries of our trade, and in the moment it will feel almost as good as the best kinds of stage work. That, I suppose, is the payoff for it all - the satisfaction of a job done well, even if it means that when, as is usually the case on the road, I'm carrying a class by myself I'm likely not to see much more than the view from the rental car or the hotel balcony. Perhaps by Friday I'll have gathered up the stamina to make it through the day and then go have a look around this warm, flat state. If not, well, it's crudités all 'round and another wee drappie from Geraldo the lounge attendant, and on the whole I suppose one could do a great deal worse.
How about you, Gentle Readers - do you suffer from stage fright? Does it threaten to take you down in the hours before before or after whatever your own version of going on stage might be? How do you handle it? If you've got any practical suggestions, consider them gratefully received...