The Most Common Fear

I handed a postcard to the young man. He seemed nice, interested in what I had to say. "It's a brand-new program at West Chester University," I explained. "For kids and teens interested in the performing arts." 
"Oh," he said. "You mean.... so they can grow up to become movie stars?" 

I get this kind of question a lot. 

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I was thinking about this exchange when I watched a video of a young woman named Samantha Fuentes. In case you haven't seen this clip yet, Sam is a high school student from Parkland, Florida. Two days ago, Sam stepped up to the podium at the March for Our Lives, in front of 50,000 people, to deliver a speech on gun control. She took a deep breath. Began her speech. And then she promptly threw up on international television. 

I have been a theatre teacher for many years now, and while puke isn't the first thing that comes to mind.... well, let's just say there hasn't not been puke in my experience as an educator. There have also been tears. Sweating. Shaking. Wide-eyed, dead-stare, paralyzing panic. And yes.... puke: backstage, before a show, after a show, while rehearsing for a show, and once, memorably: onstage, directly into a piece of scenery. It happens. 

And this might seem obvious, but is worth stating: it happens because we are afraid. It happens because fear of public speaking is continually atop every list of "Most Common Fears." Across ages, races, countries of origin.... when people are surveyed, the number one fear in the world is the fear of standing up and speaking in front of others. 

Number two? Death. 

I mention this because it is what we tell our students, before they perform. Across all ages, and races, across gender and religious identities, across all spectrums of students we have encountered, that same queasy, nauseous look is universal. We know that fear when we see it. And that's when we remind ourselves, and one another: this fear is completely normal. And no matter what happens out there.... even if you forget all your lines or fall off the stage or the worst, most embarrassing thing that you can imagine happens... just by taking a deep breath and walking out there, you are already so very brave. 

I think a lot of that fear comes from worrying that the audience will laugh at you, or reject you. But when watching that clip of Samantha, I was struck by how the crowd wasn't grossed out. They didn't boo, or turn away in disgust. They started clapping, and cheering. Cries of "You got this," or "Go, Sam" began to ring out. 

Being afraid -- having that fear of standing up and speaking up -- that's normal. Conquering that fear makes you brave. Makes you extraordinary. 

Samantha Fuentes threw up on national television. Then she stood up, laughed, made a joke about it, and continued her speech. 

If the shrapnel in her leg wasn't bravery enough.... this is one of the bravest acts I've ever seen. 

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Most of our students won't speak in front of thousands of people. Most of our students won't become movie stars. And that's okay. That's normal. Most of us don't want those things. 

But all of us, at some point in our lives, will encounter that fear. And if I can do one thing as an educator, it's to remind young people that this fear is normal. And teach our students how to breathe through it. How to recognize that fear, and how to move past it. How to stand back up and keep going. No matter what happens. 

It's what you do with that fear that makes you brave. 

- Katherine, Design Instructor
Pennsylvania Theatre Institute