Acting Naturally

Written by on in Mumbai

Namaste, Dear Music Lover,

First, I must note that this post is not mainly about thespian (theatrical/screen) acting. It’s really about what’s termed as composure or how one carries oneself on stage (and of course, wherever else one performs). Other related terms: posture, carriage, stage presence and persona.

Good Posture Matters

Being “in the limelight” (in other words, under the harsh rays of stage lighting) has both benefits and drawbacks. For those who by nature tend to seek the approval of others (like audiences), being front-and-center on stage can be life-affirming and exactly where they thrive, thrilled to bask in the audience’s rapt attention. So for such artists, that spot with lights and cameras pointed directly at them may seem almost like home.

In brief, everyone is mainly concerned with whatever they’re supposed to be doing or thinking about, meaning their concerns, not how you or others look or how they think or act, with the one caveat that all performers are subject to casual criticism—by virtually every member of their audiences.

As a point of reference, in 1933 a later-revered U.S. president (F.D. Roosevelt) said, and it also applies to stage fright,The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

However, at the outset, every performance is an opportunity to transport the audience to a sort of fantasy-land (where e.g., violence isn’t a problem, and suspension of disbelief [an effect of better movies] is more typical than dwelling over whether one finds every aspect of the performance instantly appealing). In short, it’s all about: confidence.

Great performances may impart such a sense of magic or mystery that could in some cases have lasting impact on the audience. We call some of the most-effective songs memorable or when in all aspects the quality is right, perhaps we even call them classics (especially if their popularity endures well past that of the film).

For some performers, standing alone at the edge of a big stage (right in front of a large audience) can be unsettling—to say the least. For these artists, live shows can raise one’s anxiety level nearly too high to endure. The common term for this is stage fright, and it’s a fairly common symptom (my teachers might say yes, a symptom of lack of training or preparation, lol).

I want to share a point of wisdom related to stage fright that’s helped many singers to keep focused and “on track” while performing. It’s been noted by sages that most people are not very interested in what’s important to nor in question for others.

Hence we singers can at least take comfort in knowing that it’s very unlikely that many audience members are actively trying to find fault with our work. So, to encapsulate the germ of this teaching, worry is 99.9% unfounded, hence simply unjustified.

This is not to insinuate that being oblivious to the observations of listeners and viewers will improve one’s odds for success (obviously). We can surely learn from audiences in addition to presenting them with our musical offerings. In most cases, even critics can offer valuable feedback; a key to understanding criticism is that it tends to arrive without the critic having the full story about any one performance.

Not to excuse mediocrity or human error, but it’s a simple fact that some performances are far better than others, and no one explains to the critics how e.g., one or another artist faced some heart-wrenching news before a show.

So any claim like, “If you’d have heard that song/watched that scene yesterday, you might’ve been very impressed.” (especially if delivered by artists themselves) might seem disingenuous, although it may be very true.

What I want to stress here for your process of achieving vocal mastery and eventual possibilities of singing in public to entertain and inspire others is that you definitely can control those fears of failure and give your best performances—without allowing your innate fear of showing vulnerability in public to be a deterrence to your evolution as an artist.

Every singer faces various doubts:

  • Is my physical appearance appropriately attractive?
  • Am I fully prepared to convey the optimal musical impact of the songs?
  • Are my technical abilities up to the tasks ahead in the next four minutes?
  • Will the band/orchestra play their parts right and avoid throwing me off?

Here’s the easiest yet most-effective tip: take multiple deep breaths and exhale slowly and fully. No need to overdo this by gasping for air and wheezing like one has been submerged for too long before breathing. No one needs to know that you’re using this technique—although a closeup view of your face might hint at it via flaring nostrils, etc.

I could unpack the myriad facets of each of the qualms (insecurities) noted above, however rather than overthink the process (our latest proven no-no), I’d rather simply share some general thoughts addressing them all as needed. Each of these possible worries is valid, and while there is no substitute for doing one’s fulsome preparation, I can give you some tips that will quickly eliminate most or all of them.

Some of the main goals of yoga and other exercise practices include stress reduction. Obviously, emotional stressors are known killers (of both human beings in general, and the beauty of art works if interpretations are hampered by discomfort).

There are countless usable (free) resources on the WWW for aspiring singers. Here’s an example of a web site (especially this page, presumably curated from writings by noted Vocal Power authors Elisabeth Howard and Howard Austin).

Some of the YouTube links on the below-linked image (from a TV appearance) may no longer work. If you want to see a working video of Broadway super-vocalist Idina Menzel singing “Defying Gravity” from the show Wicked, you can try this link: YouTube of Barefoot with Symphony.

In summary, how a singer “carries oneself” including such seemingly-obvious matters as how to interact (with an emcee or other artists, or flying solo) on stage is itself a fairly broad topic for discussion and possible teaching moments. I must admit that I’ve benefited from so many experiences and being coached by Bollywood and tutorial masters over the years, in efforts to improve or simply to maintain healthy habits for longevity when live vocal performance is the task at hand.

Certainly, for the purposes of musical theater, there is a more-involved meaning of the term acting (in other words, there exists an entire discipline surrounding the business of presenting a story (with spoken as well as sung vocalisations) as part of a theatrical presentation.

In summary, I hope that while I’m only sharing these teachings (really, from others who’ve studied stage presence and vocal techniques far longer than I have) for our reference and edification. I’m not pretending that any part nor all of it plus whatever related free tips out on the Web could possibly substitute for the normally multiple years’ courses of professional instruction that virtually the vast majority of pro singers complete prior to venturing out in pro music.

Your own evolution as an aspiring artist will obviously be unique, as it goes for every other singer. If we all learned the exact same skills in the same ways, imagine how boring the aural landscape would be.

Now I want to wish you: a) all the best of luck and divine providence in your quest to be the best singer you can be. If this seems really hard, I feel compelled to add: if it was easy everyone would/could do it!

Also, b) I also wish that eventually we will have a Forum here on my little AntaraMitra.com web blog-site, in order to delve more deeply into vocal tips and techniques, especially as they pertain to our movie industry, because there are definitely theatrical aspects to Bollywood singing. This isn’t brain surgery or rocket science; neither are most vocal techniques well-kept secrets. In fact, worldwide the business of televised singing contests is as popular and pervasive as ever. Our Bollywood movie industry will most likely be around for at least several more decades, too.

Best of luck to my aspiring-younger-singer friends and fans. May your singing practice routines and experiences bring you joy and satisfaction (like they’ve brought me)! Please note: there’s no way around the hard work and possibly some setbacks and learning experiences. Everything worth doing in life is also worth doing as well as we can do it!! So my best advice: keep reaching for your dreams.

Namaste, AM

PS: One well-known tip often recommended by wise elders to children and younger adults is this: when faced with a stressful moment in life, rather than react instantly in some knee-jerk fashion, one should consider simply counting to ten before reacting (in other words, detaching from the stressors and retaking control of one’s emotions, and the weight of the performance as a pursuit for which one is presumably there, that is, for singing).

While in most musical contexts, vocalists have exactly zero time for regaining lost composure, we do have opportunities to deal with any minor distractions that may arise amidst a live-on-stage situation (and please note: they’re all minor!). How we deal with adversity is well known as a measure of our character. For not every distraction even needs attention. That coughing (or yelling baby) audience member has rarely decided in advance to callously interrupt our performance. So rather than presume they had bad intentions and angrily call them out, perhaps a more appropriate reaction is no reaction.

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