In my experience performing with ukulele in hand, I have found that befriending the audience helps alleviate much of the stress from being vulnerable on the stage. When I befriend the audience, I am no longer standing up there in front of a bunch of strangers. I can create a temporary community with everyone in the room by being open and honest about who I am and how I am feeling standing on the stage all alone.
My day job is an interpretive park ranger. I interpret the stories of the past in ways that help people from the present make personal connections to those who came before. A skilled interpreter will ask seemingly simple questions at the beginning of a tour:
Where are you from?
What would you like to learn about X National Park during your visit?
And so on, and so forth.
These questions may seem standard, but they are a tool of the interpretive trade. They allow the interpreter to invite their audience into a dialogue. From this interchange, a temporary community can begin to take shape.
When I chat with visitors at the beginning of a tour, I introduce myself and share a little history in brief about my interpreter alter ego “Ranger M.” As I talk, I make eye contact with every person I direct a question toward, and I make sure to not leave anyone out. As I move around the crowd in this vein, I can literally watch people begin to relax and feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing little snippits from their own stories.
This technique may be trickier for a large performance venue; especially one where the lights are on you and the audience is in the dark.
As an alternative, introduce yourself to your audience. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Confide in them. Tell them you are nervous. They will understand. We have all been there, whether or not we are beginning musicians on a stage. Your audience will want to love and support you in your vulnerability. I have experienced this firsthand, and I believe it completely. They will think you are brave and successful just for getting up there. They will cheer you on!
You are brave, and it will get easier.
Has it gotten easier for you?
Share your scariest and happiest performance moments with me.
I hope to hear from you soon!