The most difficult thing I ever had to do was sing Happy Birthday. True story.
Doesn’t seem that scary, does it? Certainly not in comparison to having a child, or going through some of the literally life-threatening madness that I did when I was younger. Or leaving a fulltime (and highly paid) job in the depths of a recession. But yeah…when I think back, singing the birthday song certainly springs to mind.
At one point, when I still wanted to be an actor, I attended the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal, not least that I didn’t want to be an actor. Oh, sure, that was still a big dream of mine – what I didn’t want to do is end up as a fifty-year-old waitress. So I bailed, but not before the Happy Birthday experience.
In one class we were discussing the things that made us the most afraid, and how to overcome that fear. I unwisely mentioned that the thing that scared me the most was singing in public. (I can sing. I actually have a decent voice. It just scares the bejeezus out of me to sing in front of people.) Anyway, bad move. As I should have anticipated, I was asked by our instructor to get up on stage and sing for the class. Anything I wanted. Sing Happy Birthday. I felt as though I was going to vomit, or pass out. Dying spontaneously or being transported away magically to an alternate universe was unfortunately not an option.
So I sang. I sang out loud. I sang with my legs shaking. I sang as I cried. I sang with snot and tears running down my face (I know – lovely image). But I stayed up there and I fucking sang until he said I could come down. And all the other hypocritical little bastards who were just thankful that it wasn’t them applauded and cheered for me.
But I did it. I would never want to do it again, as I now have an even greater fear of singing onstage (being up there under a spotlight with snot running into your mouth will damn well do that to you), but I know that I could do it if I had to. And I suppose that in itself is a valuable lesson to have learned. Nothing is so bad that we cannot do it if circumstances demand it.