First Day Nerves
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
As an actor, I am more than used to experiencing first night nerves on the opening night of a play. The dreadful fear that you are going to walk on stage and, as Denis Norden used to say, ‘cock up’. In reality, this rarely happens, but when it does the event can sometimes lead to national newspaper headlines. Or in this day and age, a social media frenzy and viral immortality.
The stories of actors being unable to remember their lines on Press Nights or being unable to leave their dressing room to perform, or just flying the white flag and running away completely, are indelibly printed on most actor's minds. As such, there is a genuine understanding in the profession of the now psychologically proven state of 'Stage Fright'. We know that it can strike at any time and very often out of nowhere.
The condition clings to all of us in the form of catastrophic dreams known as the 'Actor's Nightmare'. In these, you not only cannot remember your lines, you also cannot find the stage. When you eventually do, your dream body walks on without a costume and in some extreme cases, no clothes on at all. Excellent if your dream play is ‘Equus’ or the musical ‘Hair,’ but not a great look if you are supposed to be performing in ‘The Winslow Boy’ or ‘The Sound of Music’. It is a condition of which most performers are fearful and, especially with encroaching age, dedicate much time and energy to ward off.
This brings me to my present pre-occupation – how to ward of 'Publication Fright'. The sense of helplessness is, if anything, even more pronounced when a book you have written leaves the safety of your own protection and is suddenly available to readers worldwide. 'Launch Day Nerves' may not be as well documented a condition as its acting counterpart, but its effect on my nervous system is every bit as profound. There is nothing you can do to protect yourself. No fellow actor to feed you a forgotten line from your play. No costume to hide your shaking body. No second take for the camera. Your book is out there in the world, and you can't ask for it back. Will readers like it? Will they hate it? Will anyone bother with it at all? Your sense of helplessness on publication day is complete. So, with hope, fear and trepidation you get through the day and aim for a nice glass of the good stuff at its end. You toast possible success to repel possible disaster. Be it a standing ovation or a slow handclap, only time will tell.
As Butch said to Sundance- 'You can't swim? The fall will probably kill you’.
Robert, Ampthill, July 14th 2020