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‘Confidence’, an article for The Stage Newspaper

 

‘Confidence’…an article by Leontine Hass

Confidence. How many times in your career have you been told that you just need more of it? Just thinking about it and the people who apparently have it is like a floodlight over an abyss. It reminds you in one foul swoop that a) you clearly look like a blithering, insecure, fumbling failure and b) that you have no idea what confidence is or how to get it and especially how to keep hold of it on a bad day, as those brief sparks of self belief are as slippery as an eel.

In the many years I have worked as a vocal coach with numerous performers including a string of established artists, I can honestly say that I have never met anyone with real talent who dwells in a consistent state of ‘confidence’. That being said, I have to admit I have met a few ‘artistes’ who certainly display attributes pertaining to this quality in abundance, but who in my humble opinion, are suffering from delusion. Perhaps this whole 21st Century self-help stuff where we should all walk around feeling entitled, worthy and able is all just a load of nonsense. Or perhaps there is a throng of ‘Ueber’ humans at large in the world brimming with the stuff of heroes and I’ve just never met them.

One of the things that is so fantastic about my job is that I get to work with people very closely and personally every day. It is something I consider an enormous privilege. Teaching singing and working with voices is very personal. I am so lucky that my students open up to me their inner most fears and talk about things they would not normally share.

It is my comprehensive work with performers that has lead me to believe that confidence is overrated. It is precisely the lack of confidence which fuels many successful artists and gives them wind in their sails. It can be the crippling self doubt, the fear of not making a mark, and the feeling of inadequacy that inspire us to reach for the stars. This coupled with passion, a lively sense of creativity and hard work.

Artists who succeed are not necessarily confident, but they tend to be determined and resilient and open. Open to failing, open to learning, open to absorb like a sponge and continue to grow. Open to taking risks. Great performers tend to have an immediate and palpable connection with their passion. Their job might terrify them but self-expression through their craft and creative discovery is part of their very being.

There are many great performers who give up. We have all come across them. The actors who shone at Drama school and then disappeared. The singers who could make a simple tune sound heavenly and gave up a couple of years after training. What I wish they knew is that they did not need to be confident. They just need to keep going. They need to manage their pride. They need to accept that as performers we learn our craft publicly. It is the nature of the beast. A bad audition is not the end of your career. We have all experienced them. One may want the earth to swallow us whole and spit us out somewhere in the glowing distance where no one knows who we are. But a failure is not really that bad. Learn from it. Laugh about it. Get up and do it again. Change your attitude and keep building experience. You cannot argue with experience. But experience takes time. You have to ‘stay in the room’.

Instead of trying to be ‘confident’ just try to be prepared, have a sense of humour and be practical. Practical things work.

So here is my practical list:

-Prepare and practice. Performers and creatives need to practice. You often cannot do this at home as you might be sharing your flat with 4.5 people and a small Nazi who complains of noise pollution, even when you are singing ‘Moon River’ like a boy soprano. Sort this out. Call a meeting. Find out when you can practice without annoying them. Bribe them with Whiskey, flowers or cake. Find a church hall. Find an aging aristocrat with an un-tunable Baby Grand who needs company. Do whatever it takes to find the time and the space to practice your craft. Share a practice room in your lunch break in town with a fellow artistic member of staff. Run lines with other actors. Commit to each other so that you cannot get out of it. If you don’t you won’t make it. It’s as simple as that.

-Let your work be your special sanctuary rather than the place to avoid or a guilt-fuelled duty.

-Feed your creativity and your passion. Be imaginative with your material and projects and explore other repertoire, other artists, other genres. Go to concerts, read, find out about great shows, teachers, books, artists, interpretations.

-Find professionals who are experienced and good and can help you. Most great artists have a team behind them, or at least many who have supported, guided and inspired them. You are not an island.

-Take any chance to perform and create. Performance takes practice. The more you do it the better you become at it.

-When an opportunity comes your way grab it with both hands. Opportunities are rare gifts. If you ignore them until a time ‘when you are feeling more confident in your ability’, they will pass you by.

– Think about what you do to sabotage yourself. If you procrastinate when you feel overwhelmed change it. If you suddenly focus on the problems of others when you have an important audition/performance/show/ project, change it.

-Make two lists. One list should be headed ‘Things/People/ Activities which unsettle me’. The other list should be headed ‘Things/ People/ Activities which center/ balance me. Do more of the latter.

-Experience takes time. Challenge the idea that your next performance needs to be flawless. All great artists have had many failures. That is why they have succeeded in the end.

-Aim to increase your success rate rather than aim to be perfect at all times.

And listen to the man with the cigar: ‘ Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’