Today in my writing workshop one of the members mentioned that particular lack of joy that comes from sharing work (either on stage or reading) while being fearful of the audience response (or lack of it.) Sometimes it’s not the audience we are afraid of – rather it’s our own internal critic, created by punitive or judgmental parents or authority figures.
I call that “running from the tiger”. This phenomenon comes from having your attention in the wrong place.
In the days of early man, we had to worry about predators. If you had the misfortune to attract the attention of a hungry tiger, you ran, no doubt fearfully looking back over your shoulder to see if he was gaining on you. Chances are this didn’t turn out well – since tigers can run faster than we can, and since it’s very hard to run while looking back over your shoulder.
You cannot run from the tiger and be present at the same time. And being present is what good performance is all about.
My acting teacher Carol Fox Prescott used to say that acting is “behaving truthfully in an imaginary situation.” The playwright establishes that situation for us, and we use our vehicle (our emotions, our habits, our senses, our bodies) to communicate that situation. But when you are running from the tiger, what you are communicating is fear and the desire to escape. The audience has a built-in fear detector. We developed that instinct back in the ancient days too. So they see you running from the tiger and they focus on your fear. They lose track of what you’re saying, what the author intended, and the story is lost. Rather than being carried along, they are now watching a scared performer, and getting uncomfortable.
How do we counteract that? We make “being here now” the most important thing. Sure, we care what the audience thinks. But we have no control over that. Instead, we have to truthfully inhabit the life of our character. We either experience what that character is doing right now, or we focus on what that character wants in the future. We don’t look back over our shoulders. We don’t “run from the tiger”.