I won't lie, I was nervous. I speak for a living and am passionate about oratory but ...
At the last video conference before leaving for the DC retreat the Ford’s staff dropped the bomb that each of us was expected to write a speech and be prepared to present it at the retreat. They went on to say that one of the teachers would be selected to deliver their speech with the students.
That gave us about two weeks to come up with a speech. Part of my panic was time. This is the busiest time of the year for me and this year I had the prep for the retreat itself. Student Council pancake feed and end of school dances were days away and on the homefront, there were calendar issues as well.
Part of my panic was concern. I have been billing this as a chance for students and now it felt awkward to say I would be performing alongside of them. This was their moment. I watched a college choir director who picks solos for himself every concert because the choir ‘deserved ‘ a great voice to play off of. He always contended the students loved it but they didn’t. It don’t want to be that guy.
But there was another reason. As I have gotten older, I am scared to perform outside of the two or three ‘safe’ places I frequent (classrooms…okay, I guess just one safe place) I still perform occasionally but I haven’t been at peace with a performance for about a decade. The nervousness is consuming and so the work done suffers. I can get it to one level but never to the higher level I know I can. I am going to be honest, sometimes I decide to not audition or perform-- focusing on how it could go wrong--not how it could go well.
This wasn’t always the case.
I love performing and I love the process of ‘figuring it out’. What’s the essence of the song or character and how do I get that across. I’ve gotten to sing and perform in some really amazing places and with some amazingly talented people. For years, it didn’t occur to me to be afraid on stage. Somewhere down the line that changed.
To be selected meant I had to confront that. I think the coordinator at Ford’s had me figured out, because, when she announced my selection, she said that I needed to “put on my big boy pants.” What she doesn’t know is that that statement was a gift. As I worked on the speech in the early morning of the performance day, it was her voice I heard when I would start to spiral into doubt and anxiety. Between that voice and the impromptu audience in the Metro-I was ready.
At the theater, I kept thinking the following things:
· •Be in the moment
· •Put your big boy pants on
· •Quit sweating
· •Savor the moment-this is a big deal
· •Be fearless...you have something to say that deserves to be heard (the text of the speech is here)
· •did I mention ..."Put your big boy pants on"
I am a terrible critic of my work--I can tell you how I would do it differently, but I can also tell you I savored the moment. I built moments into the speech to take in the stage and the people. I wish I could put into words the rush I had during those two minutes. It went fast, to be sure. But it was a good sort of fast… There was enough time to enjoy the moment itself, not just survive it. I was standing centerstage beneath Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater. I was saying something I believe people need to hear and grapple with. I was still nervous and there was the sweat rolling down my brow, but, for the first time in a long, long time, I allowed myself to enjoy myself as a performer. As I introduced the next speaker I had a little moment of déjà vu. I had a memory of getting off of a rollercoaster as a kid wanting to get back in line and do it again.
On that stage at Ford’s Theater, it was as fun and felt as natural as it used to feel. Was it perfect? No it was not? Will I spend the next few days replaying how I could fix it? Yes I will. But the words I keep coming back to are ‘personal best’ and ‘honorable attempt.” I was honored to get the chance, I worked hard in the time I had and I walked away feeling content with what it was. Again, if I were honest, I haven't felt that way about a performance in a long while. It felt good. This is a feeling I had wished for my students. I didn’t expect to have it as well.