By Kristen Kane November 12, 2016
Have you ever felt like you have so much to give in a performance but all of that positive energy is able to completely rush out of your body the second you hit the stage because of fear? In my case, I was dealing with the fear of the infamous high note! I am here to share with you my most recent battle with anxiety over "the high note", and how I was able to overcome and grow into a better performer because of it!
Everyone has their kryptonite. For Hillary Clinton it's starving children, for Donald Trump it's any form of criticism (Too soon?). My kryptonite the past month? Hitting the high E in "Kindergarten Boyfriend" in the NYC Regional Premiere of Heathers: the Musical at the White Plains Performing Arts Center in White Plains, NY. I was so beyond thrilled to have been cast as Martha Dunnstock in my first NY show that was PAID! The dream was certainly being realized and I was so grateful! But, the stakes were higher. The hours leading up to my first solo rehearsal with the MD was a time when I got really got in my head and "started thinking" (Never a good thing for Kristen Kane to do). I kept telling myself I wouldn't be able to hit the note, I didn't hit it, and I consistently left rehearsal feeling decent, yet a bit average. The rehearsal process was in full swing and I was feeling good, however portraying a character that was sporadically in and out of scenes left me a good chunk of time to marinate in the fear that was building up inside of me every day. I felt like I had so much to prove in order to feel like I belonged with all of these unbelievably talented people. Every rehearsal I would find myself constantly anxious, wanting to impress people, and feeling like I didn't do my best.
The more I sang "Kindergarten Boyfriend", the more anxious I was getting about the pinnacle moment that I knew all of the young super fans were going to wait for! I was constantly envisioning myself on stage, by myself, completely mute and not able to phonate at all. Finally tech week reared its head and it was time to pack up and make the commute up to White Plains, NY (which was lovely, by the way!). This time, as scary as it was for me, was really an amazing experience because I felt like we were creating something really special. Aside from the strep throat I got and was still recovering from, and the slew of technical issues throughout the week, tech was definitely a time of high highs and low lows.
My biggest problem, though? I didn't celebrate any of my successes. Even after the compliments, I just would not let myself accept any kind words. I let all of these tiny hiccups in our run-throughs ruin my night and I based my worth and talent based off that one note!
Opening night came quickly! My mindset was completely in the wrong space. I cared more about impressing the people in the audience (among them Laurence O'Keefe, the show's writers, and Ryan Scott Oliver...no pressure) with the high note than actually taking the time to stay in the moment and connect with my cast mates as the show progressed. After the first weekend of shows I began to see where I was going wrong. I was in disbelief with the great feedback I was getting from young people, their parents, even professionals! It finally started to dawn on me that maybe it wasn't all about that one E above the high C. Maybe I actually had impacted these young people in the same way that I was impacted as a young girl and teenager.
I went back to Actor Therapy during my week off from Heathers. One of the first things I said in response to "How are things going?" was "It was ok, I just can't hit the stupid note", or something like that. It was along the lines of "whine...whine..whine, whine, whine...whine", as I'm sure that is how Ryan and Lindsay deciphered it. All kidding aside, I was under valuing my achievements and felt the need to let everyone know that I don't think I am as talented as others think I am. Now, the reason for that? I have no idea yet...you will have to ask my therapist I have yet to find in NYC that accepts Aetna! It makes no logical sense! In that class Ryan said something that completely clicked with me. He said that my body remembered the fear and anxiety I was attaching to that note and each time I performed it and cracked my body became used to that feeling and it was just muscle memory! The mere fact was I was completely capable of hitting the note, it was just the mental approach that was holding me back.
People in this business always say "The stakes need to be higher"; in my case I needed to wash away all of the "stakes" and baggage and just let fucking go!
Letting go can happen in two ways. You can let go physically or mentally. The first weekend of shows I let go physically. Big mistake. The second weekend of shows I let go as much as I could mentally and it really paid off! I began to LISTEN to the people around me. I was accepting help, and I stopped trying to prove anything. I was just so grateful to be a part of such a beautiful show; I felt humbled. I was grateful to all of the friends, family, and colleagues that came all the way out to White Plains to see the show. It was the letting go that really helped me to get out of this experience alive! As performers and artists, we tend to over indulge ourselves and go into this "perfectionist" mode; creating these wild "what-if" stories and we can so easily psych ourselves out. We believe that since the stakes are higher we need to be perfect and always on our "A" game. While that is somewhat true, the most effective way to be successful in our endeavors, whether that be Regional theatre, or Broadway, is to have a positive mindset. Our minds are the most powerful thing in the world, and if we can take charge of our minds then there is no stopping us!