Walt’s Soapbox: Behind the Stage Lights

“When you see me
With a smile on my face
Then you’ll know
I’m a mental case.
I’m caught in a dream, so what?
I don’t know what I’m goin’ through,
I’m right in between, so I’ll
I’ll just play along with you…”

-Alice Cooper

I have a confession to make. Many of you may not believe me, but I am one of the most insecure fucks on the planet. It’s true. Even with all the poetry gigs, picket lines, and midnight shows I’ve done; for years, right after I finished a poetry set, I would bolt for the door for a smoke before I puked right there in the venue. And before my first out of state gig in Chicago back in 2011, I was such a nervous wreck that I could barely speak above a whisper when the MC asked me if I wanted an introduction before I went on. To be honest, for the first half of my set, I had the sides of the podium in a death grip my hands were shaking so badly.

I’ll tell you about one that’s happening right now; I got a role for this local play called Metastasis, playing at Khaos Company Theatre, and it’s the first real acting gig I’ve ever had. I told the director the first night we rehearsed that I was absolutely terrified that I would fuck it up. She tried to reassure me that I would be fine, but it still hasn’t calmed my nerves completely and I still worry that when those lights go down on show night, I’ll end up pissing myself or throwing up out of sheer terror.

So this asks two questions: Why am I such a nervous wreck and insecure when I perform? And how do I get past it and do what I do?

I think the reason I’m insecure is because of my past, I spent the first eighteen years of my life basically as a nobody. It’s true, I didn’t really get the first shades of this fast-paced gonzo, an emerging cult figure standing before you until I left Avon and went to college and was allowed to develop my own identity and persona.

So what that means is that no matter how many live shows I do, (be they poetry gigs, Rocky shows, or even plays) it doesn’t matter. No matter how many books, poems, or articles I write and how much people seem to dig them, I still have this fear that one morning I’m gonna wake up and all that art and acclaim will be gone like a beautiful dream, and I’ll go back to being a nobody, shuffling around without any accomplishments worth mentioning.

Now the second question: How do I get past it and do what I do? Honestly, it involves a little personality splitting. Much like one of my artistic idols, Vincent Furnier, when the lights go down, I step out of my Walter-skin for lack of a better term and become something else. I’m not exactly sure what that something else is, but I can tell you that he is absolutely fearless. He is able to get in front of a crowd of three hundred people in nothing but gold lamé hot pants and set the audience on fire. He’s able to grab a megaphone at a rally and bark pure hell fire that will be printed in the pages of tomorrow’s newspapers. He is everything I want to be off-stage.

By the way, you might know Mr. Furnier’s work under his famous alias Alice Cooper.

Adopting such a stage persona does have its drawbacks that in some ways make my insecurities worse. Since I’m portraying a character on stage and people seem to go fucking nuts for it (trust me, I’ve long become addicted to the roar of the crowd I hear on a midnight Rocky stage), I’m worried that if people knew me off-stage, they would hate me. They would see me without the mask, they would see that insecurity and vulnerability, and they would reject me wholeheartedly.

The final question to ask is: Why do this? If I’m such a nervous wreck, why put myself out there in the first place? The answer is simple, I find it extremely addicting, there is no better high in the world than to do something that I want to do, something that nobody forced me into doing, and have people love it. And if I have to wear a bit of a mask during the performance part, well, every high has its price, right?

Performing, even with the anxiety and nerves, allows me to escape for a little while. It allows me to forget the day to day of existence; the day jobs, the bills, the never ending student loan debt, and be somebody, even if that somebody is somebody else. It gives me a reason to live, something to look forward to, something to bask in, something to rush up my brain at lightning speed to remind me, “This is what true living is.”.

 


Featured image credit: http://schoolsoundandvision.co.uk/

 

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